With every passing season, new goaltenders emerge as top talents in the NHL. Two seasons ago Cam Talbot impressed his way from a light-workload backup to a starting goalie. Last season, Thomas Greiss came out of the shadows and Matt Murray rose from the AHL to Stanley Cup champion.
The 2016-17 season should be no different, as even if there are not clear vacancies for candidates to fill, talented netminders will always find a way to wiggle their way into starting jobs. There are a few candidates likely to work their way to starting spots for their respective teams this season.
Hellebuyck is one of the top goaltending prospects in the NHL, hence his inclusion on Team North America in the World Cup of Hockey. Last season Hellebuyck posted a 0.918 save percentage in 26 games for the Jets, finishing with a record of 13-11-1.
Considering the Jets had a horrific season, finishing above 0.500 was no minor feat for the young netminder. Hellebuyck led the Jets goaltenders in (5-on-5) save percentage, medium-danger save percentage, and high-danger save percentage.
For context’s sake, Hellebuyck’s 0.820 high-danger save percentage topped that of Devan Dubnyk, Steve Mason, and Semyon Varlamov.
The Jets have an abundance of options for the present and future in the net, but Hellebuyck is the clear choice to be given the opportunity. Ondrej Pavelec carries the large cap hit and Michael Hutchison requires waivers, but with Patrik Laine in the fold, Winnipeg will likely desire to play the best goalie of the bunch. Should that be the case, look for Hellebuyck to step up as the No. 1.
When John Tortorella is Head Coach, anything is possible. Despite Sergei Bobrovsky carrying a cap hit of $7.425 million and Anton Forsberg receiving more prospect fanfare, the guess here is that Joonas Korpisalo will get the most games in net for the Blue Jackets.
Tortorella is not afraid of making drastic changes to turn around his season, and although Bobrovsky is paid like his #1, if the Russian goalie does not get off to a good start he can quickly find himself in Tortorella’s doghouse.
Enter Korpisalo, who led the Blue Jackets in all even strength save percentages, blowing away Bobrovsky (.843-.794) in high-danger save percentage. Korpisalo made the most of his time as the starter when Bobrovsky was injured last season, planting the seed in Tortorella’s mind that he could handle the workload.
Considering the Blue Jackets aren’t considered a particularly defensively stout team, Tortorella may instead look to paint the blame on his goalie, Bobrovsky. Korpisalo would be the beneficiary of Tortorella’s impatience. If that happens, he has shown he could compete as a No. 1.
If you don’t know who Juuse Saros is, we can’t blame you. Saros doesn’t have the resume of Hellebuyck or Korpisalo, as his NHL experience boils down to one game last season.
Instead, he’s best known for his dominating performance in the 2014 World Junior Championships, where he was named Top Goalie. Saros posted 0.928 and 0.929 save percentages in the Finnish league before moving to the AHL, where he impressed with a 0.920 save percentage for the Milwaukee Admirals.
When the Predators let backup goalie Carter Hutton leave to sign with the St. Louis Blues, it was expected Marek Mazanec would get the backup job. The guess here is Saros outperforms Mazanec and earns the nod instead, or at least edges his way into the first man in role should starter Pekka Rinne get hurt.
Rinne’s ability (or lack thereof) to be a reliable starter is where things get most interesting. A year after notching the best 5-on-5 save percentage of his career, Rinne took a major step back and finished with the second worst mark in his professional career. Rinne’s 0.763 high-danger save percentage ranked worse than all NHL goalies with 30 or more games played other than Michael Hutchison and Karri Ramo, one of whom is likely to be waived, with the other now in the KHL.
Rinne’s athletic and inconsistant style can be frustrating for any team, but for a team with high aspirations like the Nashville Predators, it could be infuriating.
There is certainly a believeable scenario in which Rinne gets off to a slow start or suffers an injury, Saros is promoted to keep Nashville afloat, and Saros never ends up giving up the starting job. Financially that may be a concern, considering Rinne’s $7 million cap hit, but the Predators haven’t shied away from difficult decisions in the past, and the team is in win-now mode. That just may mean Juuse Saros wins the starting gig this season.
Goalie stats via Corsica Hockey