Who Will Be This Year’s Anton Khudobin?

Revolving Goalie Door Leaves Many Options for Playoff Cinderella

Hey weekday subscribers. Just a reminder that we tackle timely topics in our Pregame Skate weekend columns, which are for paid members only. Last weekend, Parker Milner shared his thoughts on the Penguins-Islanders series and why playoff goaltending is different this season.

Surprise Goalie Hero Options Plentiful 

What Happened Last Year: 34 years old. Seventh round draft pick. Never having played in more than half an NHL season. It’s not exactly the sterling resume teams look for in a goalie to lead them to a Stanley Cup Final. But that’s exactly what Anton Khudobin did last season for the Dallas Stars. 

After splitting the regular season with Ben Bishop (44 starts for Bishop, 30 for Khudobin), Khudobin — a career backup who had never started more than 37 games in a season — won the crease in the playoffs, starting 25 of the Stars’ 30 games. Going 14-10 with a .269 GAA and a .917 save percentage, he became a household name, bringing the Stars to within two wins of winning it all. 

With this year’s playoffs over a week old, which goalies are in the running to be the out-of-nowhere saving grace?

The Candidates: There are options galore. Whether due to strategy, performance, or injury, the leashes on goalies are seemingly shorter than ever. If their name isn’t Vasilevsky or Helleybuck, has the goalie position ever been more unsettled? Let’s get to it:

Smith | Oilers Instagram

Jack Campbell, Toronto: Perhaps the most likely option due to strength of team and ease of path. The North division appears weaker and the Leafs have a clear path to the semi-finals, if they play to their potential. Oh, and Campbell went 17-3-2 this year with a 2.15 GAA in his first year getting starter minutes. 

Mike Smith, Edmonton: 39-years-young, Smith led the Oilers to one of their strongest seasons in a long while. A career 2.69 GAA and .912 save percentage don’t exactly scream playoff ringer, but Smith put up a 2.31 and .923 this season and is the perfect dark horse. 

Alex Nedeljkovic, Carolina: A bit of cheating here as Nedeljkovic was not only the starter all year, but posted a sub-2 GAA. But, he was also on waivers earlier this season, and with James Reimer and Petr Mrazek being the mainstays before the season, seeing Nedeljkovic carry the load in his first full season would be a great story. 

Carey Price, Montreal: Okay, this one’s just for fun. But, Carey Price is 33-years-old and has been on a steady decline for years. Would it be a bigger surprise if he were stellar or put up a sub .900 save percentage?

In Tandem: Long gone are the days of Martin Brodeur or Dominick Hasek playing 70 regular season games and then running the table in the postseason. Other than a handful of household names, the NHL has quietly entered the tandem era. A candidate can come out of nowhere — or the press box — to make a remarkable impact. 

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A Question for the Peanut Gallery

Who’s the best bet to be this year’s Anton Khudobin?

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