In a very short amount of time, the Peoria Rivermen have begun to truly turn their season around. With the shootout win vs. the Hamilton Bulldogs last night, they picked up their fifth win in a row and twelfth of the season. Also, they successfully propelled themselves from fifth in the midwest division into a three-way tie for first. In addition they jumped from twelfth to eighth in the western conference. Needless to say, it’s a little crowded at the top.
Of course, there have been numerous factors responsible for the quick turnaround, but I would like to make the argument that a healthy Derek Nesbitt has been one of the most prominent. Since returning from injury, Derek Nesbitt has been nearly an unstoppable force on the ice for the Rivermen. For example, in last night’s shootout win, Nesbitt scored twice in regulation and in the shootout as well.
Derek Nesbitt was undrafted and is a former Ferris State University Bulldog. He began his professional career with seven playoff games as a Bossier-Shreveport Mudbug in the CHL in 2005. Before coming to Peoria early in 2010 on a PTO, Nesbitt bounced around both the AHL and ECHL. Soon after, Nesbittt earned himself a full AHL contract with the Rivermen for 2010 and he’s been here ever since.
2010 yielded 17 goals and 42 points in 55 games for Nesbitt, while last season 22 goals and 55 points were produced in 75 games. This year, Nesbitt is well on his way to surpassing both of those totals as he has already tallied 10 goals and 17 points in 23 games.
Some measure of Nesbitt’s success can perhaps be attributed to the near psychic connection he appears to share with linemate TJ Hensick. Their chemistry was instant and for the past three seasons, “Nesbitt from Hensick!” (and vice-versa) has been a phrase that Rivermen fans have delighted in hearing. Radio voice of the Rivermen, Brendan Burke once referred to them as “Hensbitt, like Brangelina.” Essentially, they know each other well, and playing together only serves to improve both of their games.
But perhaps the greatest part of it all? Though Nesbitt brings seven plus seasons of professional hockey experience and leadership skills to the Rivermen, he is not yet considered to be a veteran in the AHL because the majority of his career has been played in the ECHL. He sat at 253 career AHL regular-season games before the season’s start, and that adds up to just shy of the 260 games needed for the league to recognize him as a veteran. Why is this beneficial, you ask? Simply because of the AHL’s “veteran rule;” it states that no more than six AHL veterans may suit up for a team on any given night. This rule exists in order to maintain the AHL’s integrity as a developmental league and prevent richer teams who can afford to sign a good number of people to AHL contracts from trotting out a veteran-heavy line-up on a night-to-night basis. With Nesbitt on the ice, the Rivermen get all the benefit of a savvy veteran winger, but none of the restrictions.