By Michael DiGiorgio | Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio
The NHL free agent period is used to sign not only the league’s biggest stars but also a time where General Managers sign collegiate hockey players their organizations have scouted for several months. The Bruins’ General Manager (Don Sweeney) has long valued National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) players, and this newest signing is no different.
The news broke last night though it is important nonetheless. The Bruins’s past few playoff exits (excluding the St. Louis Blues defeat) were due in part to their small defensive core. As Mark Divver points out, Peski fits that need. Andrew is an undrafted free agent from Ottawa, Ontario. The 6’2, 220-pound right-handed defenseman played all four years at the University of North Dakota. He’s only amassed 21 points in these four years, but thankfully teams don’t only look for points out of defensemen.
Before college, Peski played three years in the CCHL (Central Canada Hockey League) from 2012-2015. Peski’s three years in the CCHL with the Brockville Braves proved fruitful for the young defenseman. Andrew was named to the CCHL All-Rookie Team in 2013-2014, and in his final year, Peski won the league’s Top Prospect Award. He ranked third among the league’s defensemen in points with 42 points in 57 games at age 17. His next move would be to the USHL (United States Hockey League) in 2015. This season with the Tri-City Storm ended up being crucial to his future.
The USHL is the country’s top junior hockey league, allowing players a path to the NCAA. Players in the USHL are not paid, which makes each participant eligible for collegiate hockey. The USHL has many alumni currently playing in the NHL, including Torey Krug, Sean Kuraly, Andre Svechnikov, Ryan O’Reilly, and many more. The Tri-City Storm has a few well-known alumni of their own, including Jaden Schwartz and Blake Coleman, both of whom are Stanely Cup Champions.
The 2015-2016 season for Peski and the Storm was one for the record books. The Storm started off the year with four straight wins, which was its best start since 2003. The team also enjoyed a record-setting winning streak of 13 games in February. The Storm swept the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the finals to earn the team’s first league championship and Peski contributed in ways other than the score sheet.
The clip above shows game one highlights from the championship. Peski (#23) makes a few key plays from the 1:12 minute mark through 1:51 en route to his team’s victory. At the beginning of the clip, Peski takes away the opposition’s shooting lane in a high-danger zone area, forcing the forward to shoot wide.
At 1:37, Peski notices the puck squirt out front of his goal where there is no Storm player and dives in front of his netminder. In doing so, Peski knocked the puck loose from one opponent and gave the second forward a tough angle to shoot.
In the final part of the video at 1:45, Peski makes a heads up play, not only using his feet to clear the puck away from a threat but also making a pass to the eventual goal scorer.
These types of plays rarely make a game recap highlight reel in the NHL. In fact, they usually go unnoticed, but they’re imperative to a team’s success. The Bruins have struggled with net presence mainly due to their lack of size at the defensive position. Peski has shown the ability to keep the front clear of any threats, and his big frame will be used effectively at the professional level. He will also lend a helping hand in clearing the puck out of the zone, an area that the Bruins and their affiliate team need to improve.
As Dave Starman (NCAA announcer) points out, Andrew has the tools that most organizations look for in a defenseman. NHL teams don’t always go for the Charlie McAvoy and Victor Hedman types. The Brandon Carlo’s of the NHL are valued just as much as the superstar offensive defensemen. Andrew’s ability to play on the penalty kill and “killing plays early” is an ingredient to a winning recipe.
Given Andrew is an undrafted free agent, his road to the NHL is inherently more difficult than a draftee. The Bruins’ American Hockey League affiliate is thin at right-handed defensemen. The only two RHD on the roster are Victor Berglund and Steven Kampfer, and the latter will spend some time in the NHL. Peski will slot in the lineup rather quickly and could see the second and third pair duties to begin the year.
It’s unclear how long it will take the 23-year-old to adapt to the speed of the AHL. He is in great hands under the guidance of Head Coach Jay Leach. Leach has had a hand in developing players like Jeremy Lauzon, Matt Grzelcyk, and Connor Clifton. We won’t see Peski in a Boston uniform for at least a year, but if he continues to grow as a player and keep up his strengths, he could be in Boston in a few short years.