GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes signed Nuremburg, Germany native Niklas Treutle to a one year, entry-level deal in the 2015 off-season.
He was coming off an impressive season with Red Bull Munich, one of the Tier I teams in the DEL – Germany’s pro ice hockey league. His 2.06 goals agasint average was the lowest in the league during his final season overseas, and his 0.923 save percentage with Munich was one of the best in the league, as well.
When he arrived in the United States, Treutle sat down with Today’s Slapshot to talk about what he was most looking forward to in North America. He’d been quite open in admitting how much he’d fallen in love with the pace of the game on the smaller North American ice surface, preferring skaters pushing into the crease and releasing faster because of the excitement the game held.
Now, seven months into his time with the Coyotes system, that remains the case.
“I had always wanted to come over after the World Juniors here in Buffalo, because I loved the smaller ice surface. It wasn’t really working out for a few years, but when I got the call from Arizona I knew it was a great opportunity,” he said after practice on Wednesday.
He’s been recalled by Arizona to replace backup Anders Lindback behind fellow rookie Louis Domingue; the former AHL tandem will potentially play as starter and backup for Arizona until Mike Smith is fully recovered from core muscle surgery underwent in the middle of December. The two both started out with the Springfield Falcons of the AHL; now, they’re both in the NHL.
“I was working hard all year and finally got the call,” said Treutle, reflecting on how it felt to hear that he’d been brought up to the big leagues. “Now I just want to make sure that the coach can see that I can play.
Louis got called up, so I was playing all the games [in Springfield]. It was pretty good for me to get used to the American game and American rink again.”
Treutle has been playing hockey since he was three, which is rare for children born and raised in Germany. He’s always been fascinated by goaltenders, he admitted, but emphasized that German goaltending still has a ways to go to catch up with the rest of the world.
“Sometimes kids who are 14 or 15 are still getting a goalie coach for only an hour maybe once a week,” he said, talking about how Germany still lacks a proper system for developing goaltenders. “It’s getting better, they’re starting to certify goalie coaches more and more…but it still has a lot of ways to go.”
Some of the areas of development he thinks could be improved? Tracking, puck play, and minimizing movements. He learned plenty of this from goaltending coach François Allaire, who he’s worked with for a while through his goaltending coach in Munich and during summer camps in Switzerland – but he said that there’s still a lot that he learned when he came here.
“Minimizing movement to conserve energy and make it easier to move, that was something I have gotten to work on a lot this year,” he admitted. “Not picking up your skate until you need to, the way you hug the post and don’t move until you need to, I learned more of that.”
As for tracking and puck play, those have both been huge areas of improvement since coming to North America, as well. The lanky netminder mentioned that he’s learned to always keep his eye on the puck with daily tracking drills; he’s worked on occasionally making quick movements to observe the rest of the play, helping with accurate predictions of skater movement and shooting trajectory.
He’s also worked on tracking the puck into his glove, something that isn’t emphasized as much in German goaltending training – not necessarily a bad thing, admits Treutle, just different.
Finally, he mentioned puck play – something that German goaltenders use in the DEL, but in a much different way.
“The play is much faster and the space is smaller, so you have to be more aware and look before you play the puck,” said Treutle.
“You can practice that as much as you want but the only way to really get better is in games. North America has really helped with that.”
Treutle has gone 9-11-5 behind a relatively weak Springfield Falcons roster this year, but his numbers – which show that his hockey skills in North America are hopefully still a work in progress – haven’t been bad at all. He sits on a 0.909 save percentage in all situations with a 2.91 GAA, pitching in with two shutouts on the year and an assist to boot. Where some European netminders need a year to really get their feet under them in the smaller, faster game played stateside, Treutle has adjusted fairly well.
Of course, he hasn’t had to make the transition alone, either. He has fellow German and former DEL forward Matthias Plachta playing for the Falcons in Massachussetts, while Tobias Rieder – a long-time national teammate of Treutle’s from their teen days in Bavaria – is an old friend here in Arizona.
The Coyotes may still need to bring in additional goaltending help, whether it be this season or next. The Pacific Division club wasn’t getting what it needed out of Smith prior to his injury, and Lindback’s injury has him out for the remainder of the season. This means that Treutle could be up for a few weeks, or just stop up for a few days – it’s hard to tell.
No matter how long he gets, though, he’s relishing the ride.
“I think we’ll need a big name in North America to really get kids to believe, and I wouldn’t call myself that,” said Treutle, talking about the impact he has on Germany and hockey development in his home nation. “Kids can still see, though, that they can do it, and that’s good.
This has always been a dream, since I got my first Playstation. I’m happy to be here.”