As a person, it's really hard to dislike Carolina goaltender Justin Peters. Ever since he has been a part of the Hurricanes organization, Peters has worked hard at every level and has never complained about things like playing time or not getting enough opportunities in the NHL. There have been a few instances where Peters was passed over for the Canes back-up job when he had a solid chance of earning it, but instead of sulking Peters continued to work on his game in the AHL and seemed to improve there every season. This was especially true for this year.
After posting a .931 save percentage in seven NHL games last year, Peters signed a two-year contract with the Hurricanes and it looked like he was going to battle Brian Boucher for the Hurricanes back-up spot. Had it just been Boucher he was competing with, Peters would have had a great shot of being in the NHL to start the year, and then Dan Ellis came along. Peters and Ellis spent the NHL lockout sharing the starting job for Carolina's AHL affiliate in Charlotte and both were invited to training camp once the NHL resumed. Boucher ended up being traded and Ellis beat out Peters for the starting job. Some players would be discouraged by this, but Peters seemed to be more motivated in the AHL, posting a .921 save percentage and earning a spot on the AHL's All-Star team.
While it was nice to Peters showing progress at the lower levels, there has been a reason why he had played only 28 NHL games despite being with the Hurricanes organization for eight years. Part of that is because goalies in general take a long time to develop, but another reason is because Peters just hasn't been that good in the NHL. Prior to last season, Peters' performance with the Hurricanes was less than impressive and he was only able to give the Canes replacement level goaltending, at the very most. Even when you factor in his .931 save percentage last season, Peters was unproven as an NHL goaltender and this is still true after this year.
The original plan for Peters was to keep him in Charlotte for this year until the one-way part of his contract kicked in and then he would hopefully take over as the back-up next season. An injury to Cam Ward put a cog into this plan and he found himself splitting the starting duty with Ellis for the second half of the season. Initially, this wasn't such a bad thing because Peters is 26 and has been in the AHL for six years now. If there was a time for him to make the jump to the NHL, this was it and he wasn't able to do that.
Many fans and writers pointed to goaltending and Ward's injury as to what crippled the Hurricanes this season and the play of Peters was one of the reasons why this ended up being an issue. With how Ward was playing this year and the Hurricanes being a stronger even strength club than in year's past, all Peters and Ellis had to do was give the Canes above-average goaltending for them to stay in the hunt. Ellis managed to do this for most of his starts while Peters, unfortunately, did not.
I think Peters' strong work ethic will land him an NHL job somewhere down the line but with him being on a one-way deal next year and the Canes needing a back-up goalie now, it's tough to see him in Carolina's future plans. After the jump, we'll look at why this is so and what went wrong for Peters in this past season.
Justin Peters 2012-13
This year was seen as an audition for Peters to earn the Hurricanes back-up job next year and while he had his moments, his overall performance was unimpressive. Peters gave the Hurricanes a solid chance of winning in only 6 of the 18 games he played in and finished the year with a save percentage below .900. He also gave up three or more goals in 11 appearances, which obviously isn't good. That being said, it's a little unfair to judge Peters based on his save percentage alone because the Hurricanes played some very poor defense in front of him and this is part of the reason why he has been tagged with so many goals against. However, it's also why Peters' future with the Hurricanes is up in the air.
The thing with Peters is that he doesn't allow a lot of "soft" goals and his mechanics aren't bad either. His lateral movement is pretty solid and he is capable of making a big save from time to time. What Peters has struggled with is rebound control and stopping point-blank chances that a lot of goaltenders would be able to. Most of this isn't Peters' own fault because the Hurricanes expected him, along with the rest of their goalies, to bail them out when they had one of their all-too-common defensive breakdowns and he obviously wasn't able to do that most of the time. This is why I think a change of scenery might do Peters some good because while he hasn't proven himself to be an NHL goaltender, he isn't the only goaltender who has looked bad behind this defense.
That being said, both Ward and Ellis were able to post respectable numbers behind this same defense while Peters' performance was about what you would expect from a replacement level goaltender. That's the difference between him and an NHL goaltender, which Peters has yet to prove himself to be. His career numbers speak for themselves.
Over his career, Peters basically had only two stretches of play where he provided the Hurricanes with solid NHL goaltending, those two stretches being last season and his first five games this year. Other than that, he has been at or below replacement level. Again, I don't think it's entirely his fault because Peters has proven at the lower levels that he can be a good goaltender and playing behind the Hurricanes defense can be "trial by fire" at times. Ultimately, though, Peters hasn't proven himself as a serviceable NHL goaltender and that is a problem for the Hurricanes because they need him to be one right now.
Goalie development is something I don't know a whole lot about because they generally take a longer time to develop but at 26, most would believe that Peters would be ready for the NHL at this age. That hasn't been the case even though he has made progress in the NHL.
Peters' numbers in the NHL have been scattered and frustrating, but he has gotten better every year in the AHL. This gives me confidence that he can be an NHL goaltender in a different system, even though he may have not worked out with the Hurricanes.
Season Grade: D+
It's tough for me to give Peters a full mark because I like him a lot both as a person and a player, but a .891 save percentage just isn't going to get it done in the NHL. He was forced to play behind a bad defense but both Ward and Ellis played well behind this same defense corps and put up better numbers. Peters was given a chance to show the Hurricanes that he could be a serviceable back-up but at the end of the day, Peters' status is what it was at this time last year; unproven.
The Final Word
What the Hurricanes end up doing with Peters this fall will be interesting. On one hand, he is on a one-way contract next year and can play for the Checkers for a little extra cash per year. However, Carolina also runs the risk of losing him for nothing through waivers if they choose to send him to the AHL and that would be bad for the Checkers since he has an important role there. The Canes have been waiting on Peters for almost nine years now, though and moving on from him might not be the worst option for both parties involved. A change of scenery might help Peters because playing behind Caroilna's defense has hurt his NHL development a little and Carolina might need someone better than Peters if they are planning on developing a goalie from within. You never want to see a second round pick not amount to much, but moving on from Peters seems like the best option for both parties here.