By Don Stewart
READING, Pa. – It’s a nine-hour drive from Milwaukee to Nashville. Rich Peverley is getting awfully familiar with those 560 miles.
The former Reading Royals center has been called up to the NHL’s Predators from the AHL’s Admirals three times this season. It’s a bit discombobulating for Peverley, whose fiancée lives in Milwaukee while his dreams reside in Nashville.
“You want to always remain focused and work hard,” said Peverley, who went to Nashville March 11 to fill in for an injured David Legwand.
“Wherever you happen to be, if you’re in the American League (AHL) or the National League (NHL), you gotta focus on being there, be confident in yourself and just know that you can play in both leagues.”
Peverley, 25, has seven points (three goals, four assists) and is plus-3 in 26 games with Nashville this season. He picked up his first NHL game-winning goal last Saturday in a 4-1 win at Detroit.
Not too shabby for a fourth-line center who only sees about 10 minutes of ice time each night.
“He has improved,” an NHL scout said. “I believe more than anything he had a chance to adjust to the (AHL) level, which allowed his skill level and intelligence for the game to be noticed. Rich has great skills and experience and he has polished those qualities. To make it from the ECHL to the NHL is a major accomplishment, no matter what the circumstances.”
It might be nine hours between Nashville and Milwaukee, but the journey from the ECHL to the NHL is, figuratively speaking, a much longer journey. Undrafted after four years at tiny St. Lawrence University, Peverley began his pro career in 2004 with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays.
He had an impressive showing at Manchester’s AHL training camp the following year, but there wasn’t a spot for a tryout player such as Peverley due to an abundance of NHL and AHL-contracted guys on the roster.
So Peverley went to Reading, where he’d signed an ECHL deal in the fall. After 11 games with the Royals, he earned a legit AHL chance with Milwaukee. Peverley racked up 46 points in 65 games with the Admirals and eventually earned a two-way NHL-AHL deal.
“We actually developed a pretty good relationship,” Royals coach Karl Taylor said. “I do believe I was able to help him somewhat. Then he went to Milwaukee, where Claude (Noel) helped him get to the next level.
“I think we gave him enough rope. He had to learn when to take his opportunities and when not to press. I think he did understand that when he was with us. He’s (in the NHL) because he’s a great player and he’s worked hard at his craft. Hopefully he’ll get to stick with Nashville.”
Last season, Peverley had 68 points in 66 games with Milwaukee and appeared in 13 games with Nashville. This winter, he’s developed into Milwaukee’s top offensive threat while earning more opportunities for a Predators team fighting for an NHL playoff spot.
Peverley, who still comes off as polite and humble, believes his time in the ECHL was essential to his development. He saw plenty of ice time with South Carolina and Reading, which helped build his confidence.
“Starting in the ECHL I think was great for me because I got to play in every situation and I got to play a lot,” Peverley said. “I’m not sure where I’d be if I’d have started in the American League right off the bat.”
Given his situation, Peverley isn’t sure where he’ll be next week. Legwand’s foot injury isn’t expected to be long term, and Peverley could be sent back to Milwaukee when he returns. Or he could end up in Nashville for the playoffs, if the Predators make it.
“I just kind of take it day by day,” said Peverley, who won nine of 10 faceoffs Thursday against Detroit. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself. You just try to focus on playing well every game. I think that helps you stay even keel and just work hard.”
“He has great skill and can skate,” Predators associate coach Brent Peterson told the Nashville Tennessean, “but if he stands around and watches, he gets into trouble. Sometimes veterans get away with doing it, but young kids have to find ways to draw eyes toward them. Playing with confidence and showing consistency is the key to staying here.”
Listed at 6-foot, 185-pounds, Peverley feels he must improve his strength in order to have a better chance to stick at the NHL level. He said he also needs to develop confidence through experience, something he’s getting a chance to do in Legwand’s absence.
“It’s been a tremendous opportunity for me,” Peverley said. “I’ve been given a good opportunity by the coaching staff here. I’m really lucky. I just want to help the team get as many points as we can down this playoff stretch.”