This year several teams seem content heading intot he season with unproven or largely unknown backup goaltenders. Here's a few, in no particular order, that you'll get to know this year.
Joey MacDonald - New York Islanders
Passed over in the NHL draft despite a decent (but not great) junior career with the Peterborough Petes, MacDonald came up through Detroit's minor league system. He spent 4 years playing in AHL Grand Rapids then was moved to the Boston Bruins organization during the 2006-07 season. Last season he jumped to the Islanders sytem and spent most of the year with their minor league affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
With Wade Dubielewicz moving on there is a vacancy on Long Island behind starter Rick DiPietro. The battle for the job falls to MacDonald and Yann Dannis but the Nova Scotia native appears to have an edge. With DiPietro's health a concern, MacDonald could see more playing time than expected.
Erik Ersberg - Los Angeles Kings
L.A. has been the place goalies went to die but that may be slowly starting to change. Jason Labarbera has claimed the starter's job after a fairly decent year with the Kings. Several goalies played last season but it appears that unless the team goes out and acquires a veteran like Nikolai Khabibhulin or Dwayne Roloson, the back up job will fall to Swede Erik Ersberg. According to the Kings website... that might be the sensible plan to take:
In only 14 appearances last season, Ersberg had a modest 6-5 record, but his .927 save percentage was anything but. His best appearance came in a 40-save shutout of the Ottawa Senators on March 6, 2008, followed closely by a 39-save 2-1 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks on March 26.
Tobias Stephan - Dallas Stars
With Mike Smith gone to Tampa Bay the Dallas Stars will have a new second string keeper behind former Michigan Wolverine Marty Turco. That appears as though it will be Tobias Stephan, Dallas' 2nd round pick way back in 2002.
Stephan has been playing in the AHL for Iowa the last couple of years after leaving his native Switzerland back in 2006. His numbers are fairly ordinary, barely a .500 goalie with pretty pedestrian stats, but the Stars seem willing to give him the job. It's not like he's going to have to play much unless Turco happens to get hurt...
Pekka Rinne - Nashville Predators
He has been a standout in the minors for the past few years but Pekka Rinne's AHL career looks to finally be at an end. He was a 8th round selection by the Pres in 2004 and has spent the last 3 seasons in Milwaukee going all the way to the Calder Cup Finals in 2006. He was also a 2008 AHL All-Star as well.
Rinne is big at 6'4 and nearly 200 lbs, and although Dan Ellis should be the starter, should he falter under the pressure you can expect Nashville to not pause long before getting Rinne in. They like him and have confidence in his ability to be another in a long line of Finnish born NHL goalies.
Curtis McElhinney - Calgary Flames
He's got the 1-way contract on his side so most people expect the former Colorado College netminder to win the reliever job behind Miikka Kiprusoff in Cowtown. Playing second fiddle there will be a lot like the same workload in Vancouver... as in pretty light but the 25-year-old London, ON product should be ready for the next step. He'll be pushed by Matt Keetley but the competition should bring out the best in McElhinney as well. He only played five NHL games last year but has been one of the best 'tenders in the AHL over the last 3 seasons.
Now, while none of these guys are expected to be starters this season but circumstance and fate could lift them into bigger roles than most expect. Last year Chris MAson was supposed to be the guy in Nashville and he lost his gig to Ellis... it's not unthinkable to believe the same could happen for one of these five in 2008-09.
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