Five Bruins Training Camp Questions: Part 1 – Who will back up Tuukka?
All this week, Bruins Daily will countdown the most important questions surrounding the Boston Bruins entering training camp. In Part 1, we’ll take a look at the battle for the backup goalie spot.
The backup goaltending position in the National Hockey League is one of the toughest positions in sports. Often times, the goalies in that spot have to wait for their opportunity to showcase their ability behind the workhorse who mans the pipes on a nightly basis.
The Boston Bruins are no exception to that rule. Tuukka Rask is their backbone and that won’t change in the foreseeable future. Even so, Rask and the rest of Black and Gold benefitted in years past from having a solid presence behind the Finnish net-minder.
In the 2013 lockout shortened season, Anton Khudobin came in for 14 games, posting a commendable .920 save percentage and 2.32 goals against average to go along with a 9-4-1 record. That was enough to give Rask some time to prepare for the postseason grind as he played an instrumental role in helping the B’s to their second Stanley Cup Final appearance in three seasons.
The following season, Khudobin departed to Carolina and Chad Johnson came in to back up Rask. Despite playing only 10 games in three seasons prior to his arrival in Boston — with the Rangers and Coyotes — Johnson, like his predecessor, proved to be a very serviceable backup behind Rask going 17-4-3 in 27 games played with a .925 save percentage and 2.10 goals against average. Tuukka, meanwhile, earned his first Vezina Trophy and represented Team Finland in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Even with Johnson departing, it seemed like the trend of strong play from the No. 2 goaltender would continue when Niklas Svedberg made the jump to Boston after two solid seasons in Providence. Unfortunately for Rask, Svedberg would not live up to Khudobin and Johnson’s play before him and head coach Claude Julien would have to rely on his No. 1 far more than he hoped.
Although the numbers would indicate that Rask had another good year with a 2.30 GAA and .922 save percentage, his 70 games played were a career high; for too many even in this day and age.
Though his abilities as an elite goalie are not in question, Rask will need to have a serviceable backup behind him to keep the pace on his nights off.
Svedberg departed to play in the KHL after going 7-5-1 in 18 games last year (along with a .918 save percentage and 2.33 GAA). His departure opens the door for a new backup behind Rask. Who could it be? We’ll take a look at the candidates who will be front and center at Bruins training camp in a little over a week from now.
With Svedberg’s departure, the Bruins’ 2012 first round pick becomes the top goalie prospect in the organization.
Subban spent time his first year in Providence backing up the Swede. The following season, Malcom was set to become the top goaltender in Providence, but Jeremy Smith (more on him below) wound up taking that spot away later in the season. Still, Subban did get some playing time in Boston, but would be sent back down after allowing three goals on six shots in his first career NHL start, a road loss to the St. Louis Blues, back in February.
He’s yet to showcase his potential on a nightly basis down in Providence, and Subban will likely start the season down in the minors, at least on paper. Regardless, a strong showing at camp for the Toronto-born goalie could really help his progress and his confidence heading into 2015-16.
For a guy who’s spent his first six seasons waiting for his call up, Jeremy Smith hopes that he’ll finally get his chance this season.
Following a year where he posted an AHL career high save percentage (.933) and goals against average (2.05), Smith earned a one-year, two-way contract and returns to the organization after a solid showing in Providence.
In 204 career AHL games, Smith has notched a 101-71-15 record to go along with a 2.41 GAA and .916 save percentage. His career has also included stops in Milwaukee and Springfield.
Six years is a long time to wait for any player to get his chance. Smith has certainly persevered through it all with stints in both the AHL and ECHL (with Cincinnati). Now he’s hoping those dues will pay off and he’ll finally get a chance to earn his first career NHL start behind Rask.
Following an impressive three years at the University of North Dakota that included two Frozen Four appearances, McIntyre is ready to make the jump at the professional ranks. The sixth round pick in 2010 notched 58 victories in his collegiate career and was a runner-up for the Hobey Baker award last season; a campaign where he went 29-10-3 in 42 games with a 2.05 goals against average and a .934 save percentage.
McIntyre is the favorite to backup Subban down in Providence, but the Bruins brass is pretty high on him. They have a luxury of having two young and exciting prospects in the system but also know, if needed, they can use them as trading chips if GM Don Sweeney needs to improve his team come the deadline.
On Friday, Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman reported about the Bruins adding a veteran to training camp:
Was wondering if TB might look at FA Jonas Gustavsson, but hearing he will go to BOS camp on a tryout.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) September 4, 2015
Unlike Smith, Subban or McIntyre, Gustavsson has a few years of NHL experience after spending time with the Maple Leafs and Red Wings. His best season came as a backup to Jimmy Howard in Detroit where he went 16-5-4 in 27 games with a .907 save percentage and 2.63 goals against average in 2013-14. He got his only two career playoff starts that season — replacing a flu-ridden Howard — in the team’s first round loss to the Black and Gold that April.
Given last year’s inconsistencies with the backup goaltending, inviting Gustavsson to a tryout makes a good amount of sense. But even with his track record — compared to Subban, Smith and McIntyre — the Swede still has to prove that he belongs in the league after an injury-plagued season in 2014-15.
Check back tomorrow for part 2 where we look at the off-season additions to the Bruins roster.