Major junior numbers are flawed indicators of a young hockey prospect’s talent, at best — and that’s never truer than it is for a young goalie.
Even NCAA and minor league numbers are still often flawed. A netminder posting a .921 SV% in the AHL can easily allow three goals on his first six shots in the National Hockey League; as you jump between the levels of QoC, it’s easy for a goaltender to lose whatever edge he may have had in a different pool of players.
That being said, though, it’s extremely rare to find a netminder who has never finished a season with less than a .900 SV%, particularly when his hockey career spans multiple leagues.
Joel Rumpel, though, has done that.
Over two seasons with the Penticton Bees of the BCHL and four years playing for the University of Wisconsin, the Saskatchewan native have never gone a season with a save percentage worse than .902 (which he posted this year). He’s never gone a full season without recording a shutout, even though this current season has been his worst to date — the University of Wisconsin has had a pretty rough year, and his 4-23-4 record reflects that.
The San Jose Sharks are looking beyond what’s been a rough season for the Badgers, though — as of Thursday morning, the team announced that they’d signed the six-foot-three netminder to a one year entry level deal. He’ll be reporting to the Worcester Sharks for now, although good play could earn him an appearance before too long.
As Pro Hockey Talk points out, the Sharks are one of the weakest teams in net — although starter Antti Niemi and backup Alex Stalock have been perfectly competent this season, there’s no true goaltending depth behind them. They’ve got another NCAA netminder in the system right now — AHL starter Troy Grosenick is an alum of Union College — but beyond that, the prospects are looking pretty grim.
As a former Hobey Baker finalist, Rumpel is second all-time in career shutouts for the Wisconsin Badgers, and he’s coming off a four year stint that saw him post a 2.51 GAA during his tenure in net. For the Sharks, his ability to smoothly transition from the BCHL to the NCAA should be a sign that he’s confident — something that hinders teams with more than just goalies. The jump from one level of competition to another can often see top prospects leave parts of their game behind, as they struggle to adjust to no longer being significantly better than their peers. This is something we pointed out on Wednesday with recently recalled forward Viktor Arvidsson of the Nashville Predators — who has six SOG in his first two games with Nashville, something that many prospects struggle to do when they first hit the big leagues — and for San Jose, that’s likely an attractive trait for Rumpel.
There have been doubts that backup Alex Stalock could competently take over the starting position when veteran Antti Niemi either moves elsewhere or retires, so the quick pickup of an already well-developed netminder shows a willingness out of the Sharks to start preparing for big changes in the near future — and although they also made a nice pickup in defenseman Joakim Ryan of Cornell University, the fact that the struggling Pacific Division franchise made finding a netminder a priority should buy general manager Doug Wilson at least a little bit of forgiveness from his restless fanbase.
It’s looking less than likely that the Sharks see the post-season, so fans may not get a glimpse of Rumpel in person just yet. If he does well in the AHL, though — and he likely will, given his track record — San Jose could see him as soon as opening night with strong enough play and confidence. They certainly need it — a good outcome from this signing could be the first step in San Jose’s inevitable retooling.