23 rookie goaltenders have appeared in the NHL this season, many of whom have grabbed traction in this year’s Calder Race. A new era of goalies has arrived in the league, as many new faces establish themselves as franchise netminders.
Across the league, these goalies are leaving their mark in the crease, and appear to be primed to be grounded as the game’s best stoppers for the next two decades. A golden age of goaltending could very well be upon us. The timing is perfect as these netminders are arriving all at once.
The Metropolitan Division has the brightest collection of these future stars. The first stop is in New Jersey, where Mackenzie Blackwood has emerged as a future Devils All-Star. With the injury-provoked demise of veteran Cory Schneider, Blackwood grabbed a hold of the net and showed how spectacular he can be.
His winning record of 22-13-8 is quite impressive, especially considering the team as a whole sits at a dismal 28-28-12 overall record. It goes to show how much better Blackwood alone makes the team. While the Devils lost any legitimate chance at the playoffs long ago, Blackwood has ensured that the team does not sink to the league basement.
During February, he compiled a personal six-game winning streak, to go along with a superb .967 SV% and 1.27 GAA for the month. His success solved New Jersey’s goaltending issues, giving them hope they can return to prominence in the near future. Despite league-low performances on defense, Blackwood has remained strong. He led the team to one of the best records in the league since the All-Star break.
With 22 wins, he is only five shy of the Devils’ rookie goalie wins record, held by Martin Brodeur who had 27 wins in 1993-94. The two goalies share the initials “MB,” an encouraging omen, as Blackwood hopes to follow in the footsteps of one of the greatest goalies of all time.
On the other side of the Hudson, Igor Shesterkin has begun to garner Calder talk as well for the New York Rangers. Since his midseason call-up from Hartford, he has brought the Rangers back into the playoff race. The 24 year old has posted a .931 SV% over 11 games, as his play ignited the Rangers to start February.
However, Shesterkin fractured his rib in a car accident, causing him to miss two weeks. In his return to the net Saturday in the Rangers’ game against the Devils, he was not the same dominant puck stopper he was prior, allowing six goals. The Rangers hope he will be able to shake the rust off quickly, as their playoff chances depend on Shesterkin’s play.
Even though this season may not go anywhere for the Devils and Rangers, expect to see Blackwood vs. Shesterkin at the forefront of the Hudson River Rivalry for years to come. New York is ready to pass the reigns over from “King” Hendrik Lundqvist to the young phenom, while Blackwood has already begun creating his legacy in New Jersey.
Down the Turnpike in Philadelphia, Carter Hart has dominated this season, his second in the NHL. Consider him the pioneer amidst this group of young goalies, breaking on the scene a year before his fellow young netminders. He is the leader of the goalie revolution, following up his tremendous rookie campaign with a .913 SV% and 2.43 GAA over 42 games played in his age 21 season.
In Philadelphia, Hart is a savior, providing a cure to the franchise’s goalie debacle that has hindered them ever since they had Ron Hextall decades ago. For years, they have gone through countless goaltenders, one after the other, with very few able to hold down the position. Finally, the Flyers have their man.
Continuing south to the nation’s capital, another rookie, Ilya Samsonov, has come in and essentially stolen the Washington Capitals’ starting job from Braden Holtby. This is no easy task, especially when you are up against the goalie who helped the franchise to its only Stanley Cup in history. But Samsonov’s 16-6-2 record, complemented beautifully by a .913 SV%, has completely overshadowed Holtby’s play.
The veteran, who is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, has an uneasy .897 SV% on the year. With Samsonov proving excellent, he made it the decision easy for them to save cap space, and move on from Holtby come the summer.
To complete the trip around the Metropolitan Division, Elvis Merzlikins has excelled for the Columbus Blue Jackets since his December call-up. His eight game winning streak, which included an astounding five shutouts during January, made him an instant phenom and Calder candidate.
Like the other young goalies, Elvis has boosted the Blue Jackets to be a much better spot than they would be in otherwise. With a .923 SV%, a solid workload of 33 games played and a decent chance at the playoffs, he may finish highest of the bunch in the Calder Race voting.
Each of these netminders, who have united to make the Metropolitan Division a goalie gold mine, appear to have long futures ahead of them in the league. In the next decade, we will see which of these stars rise to have the greatest careers.