After an up and down start to his professional career, Rich Peverley put up career bests across the board last season: 22 goals (3rd on the team), 33 assists (4th) and 55 points (3rd). He was also tied for 13th in the NHL in faceoff percentage, and tied for 3rd in the league with five short-handed points.
He talked with RealGM about his rollercoaster ride to the NHL, his recent personal success, some of Atlanta?s trades, his thoughts about hockey on the world stage and who he thinks is the toughest player to play against.
RealGM: For most Canadian, and particularly Ontario-raised youths in hockey, the road to the NHL involves the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). You didn?t play there, what road did you take instead?
Rich Peverley: Although I grew up watching the OHL very closely and wanting to play in that league, I chose the US college route because of the emphasis my family and I placed on education. During that time, the main prerequisite for getting drafted to not only the OHL, but also the NHL, was based on size and not skill or speed. US College at the time (and still) was known for being a fast and skilled game and I thought that would better suite my style of play.
RGM: For those who haven?t followed you closely, talk about your path to the NHL as an undrafted player. Were there major road blocks and how did you deal with them?
RP: Not being drafted can immediately make a player more motivated and that is the effect it had on me. The year I graduated from college was the year of the lockout and there were very limited spots in the AHL because every NHL team had sent prospects and even NHL roster players to their respective AHL affiliate teams. During this time I was sent to the ECHL after a short try out with the Toronto Maple Leafs and that turned out to be the best thing for me. On that team, I was fortunate enough play a lot of minutes and that helped me adjust to the professional lifestyle. From there, I was given an opportunity with the Nashville Predators? farm team Milwaukee Admirals, and was later given a chance to play for the parent club. Anytime you are cut or released from a team you are very disappointed but you need to be able to turned it into a positive and look at it as a challenge and that is what I did.
RGM: Describe the feeling you had during your first NHL experience.
RP: My first call up was an absolute dream. I was able to play against the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks. During my fourth shift I won a draw and got my first NHL point. It is a day that I will never forget.
RGM: You wear #47 with Atlanta, and wore #37 with Nashville ? any personal significance for those number choices? They aren?t your typical NHL jersey numbers?
RP: I wore 37 in Nashville because that was the number they gave me when I first started in Milwaukee. In Atlanta I was unable to wear 37 because of the death of Dan Snider and also I felt I needed a change. Atlanta only had a few numbers available and 47 resembled my old number a little bit and I liked it.
RGM: What is your pre-game routine?
RP: I have a pre-game meal, sleep, then hit the rink.
RGM: When you were with the Milwaukee Admirals you were one of their top offensive players (122 points in 111 games in your final two seasons), but when you played with Nashville they kept sticking you in a checking role, sometimes even on the wing. Did the coaches or anyone in the front office ever talk with you about their expectations of you, where you fit in, or how comfortable you were with their use of you?
RP: I took it as a challenge and a chance to be in the league. If I was to be in the league I had to be an all round player and that is what I always strive to be.
RGM: Was there one particular moment where you first felt like you belonged in the NHL?
RP: It was during my time with Nashville, while we were pushing for a final playoff spot. I really felt like I contributed and became part of the team.
RGM: Describe the rollercoaster of being put on waivers by Nashville, ready to go back to the AHL, to then be told you had been claimed by Atlanta.
RP: It was definitely a crazy feeling, being in limbo for 24 hours waiting to get the call the next day at noon. Being put on waivers is never a fun feeling but I looked at it as a challenge and another road block in making it to the NHL.
RGM: What was the first meeting with Atlanta?s brass like? Did they tell you they were going to use you as much as they did right from the beginning?
RP: In my first meeting with John Anderson and the coaching staff, they immediately put me on the top line with Ilya Kovalchuck and things turned around from that point on. My first game was a little shaky, but during my second game I scored the OT winner (against Toronto) and played very well. I am always grateful to the Thrashers organization and John Anderson for putting me in a position to succeed.
RGM: It immediately looked like a great fit, as you had 35 points in 39 games to finish out that season. What type of personal goals did you set yourself after that season, entering into this past year? Have you already made goals for next season?
RP: I have personal goals every year. I believe you must have something to strive for and more importantly I really just try to improve every single year.
RGM: At the start of the year, did the fact that you were in the last year of your contract put added weight on you mentally?
RP: My contract was in the back of my mind, but I knew that if I played well it would take care of itself .
RGM: You came out of the gate on fire, cracking the top-20 in league scoring for the better part of the first two months. But instead of trying to cash in on your much improved stats and become a free agent at the end of the season, you signed a contract extension in October for what is below-market value for someone with your production (2 years, $1.3 million per season; far below what a guy like Matt Stajan signed for - $3.5mil. You had 55 points, Stajan 57.). Why go that route?
RP: I was very grateful for the opportunity that Atlanta gave me. I really had only done fairly well in the league for the short time I was with Atlanta. I believe this contract is a stepping stone and another step at becoming an elite player in the league.
RGM: What was the thought behind doing a two-year deal, instead of something longer to give you more security? Was that a team decision or yours?
RP: Two years takes me until I am 30 and hopefully towards a longer contract.
RGM: Were the Ilya Kovalchuk contract negotiations & subsequent trade rumors a distraction for the players?
RP: His situation was not a distraction until he was finally moved.
RGM: How do you feel about Atlanta?s team going forward now without him and with the added pieces (Bergfors, Oduya, Cormier)?
RP: The pieces we got back are all great. Oduya is a great shut down defensemen and Bergfors is a tremendously skilled player.
RGM: You were chosen by Mark Messier to represent Team Canada at the World Championships in Germany this spring. How did you find out you were chosen, and were you surprised?
RP: Mark Messier called and left me a message on my phone. I immediately called back and was absolutely excited to represent my country. It was a tremendous opportunity and a great experience.
RGM: There is talk that this is the last Olympics in which NHL players will partake; do you think the NHL should keep allowing their players to participate?
RP: I firmly believe that NHL players should play in the Olympics. The hockey and the style of play is amazing for the fans.
RGM: Who is the toughest player to play against?
RP: Chris Pronger. His toughness, size and hockey smarts are incredible.
RGM: What advice would you give to young players out there who aren?t top prospects and may end up going undrafted like yourself?
RP: Always follow your dreams and never let anyone tell you that you cannot make it. There will always be people who don't believe in you but believe in yourself.
RGM: Lastly, tell me your thoughts on the Byfuglien trade.
RP: Being able to acquire Stanley Cup champions is a great addition to our team. Having that experience will make everyone on our roster better. Dustin has great size and hands and is a force in front of the net. Brent is a great shutdown defensemen and Ben is a tremendous forechecker.
Nick can be reached via email firstname.lastname@example.org or @NickObergan
Via Nick Obergan/RealGM
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