After three seasons of starting in the crease at Boston University, Jake Oettinger is gearing up for his first full season of professional hockey in the AHL this season. And when you take into account his talent level and determination, he provides refreshing potential for the Dallas Stars organization.
The summer of 2010 brought a wave of change in the crease for the Dallas Stars. That change included parting ways with longtime names, relying on trades to pay off, and restocking the prospects pool for the future.
It all began in February 2010 near the trade deadline when Joe Nieuwendyk, still in the midst of his first season as general manager of the Stars, acquired Kari Lehtonen. The move was made both in relation to starter Marty Turco (who was approaching age 35) entering the final stages of his career and the team needing a young and competent goalie that could be next in line to take over the crease.
Two months later, the Stars announced that they would not re-sign Turco after nine seasons with the franchise. It was a clear signal that the Stars, after missing the playoffs in two consecutive seasons, were ready for a change in the crease.
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And as the first round of the 2010 NHL Draft got rolling, they reinforced that belief by drafting 18-year-old goaltender Jack Campbell with the 11th overall pick. Although it’s not typical to see a goalie taken in the top half of the first round, Campbell was considered the best in the 2010 class at the position and Dallas needed a new franchise net-minder to grow and build around. And so, the new era began in the Dallas Stars crease.
But as the previous decade unfolded, there seemed to be many more bumps than smooth stretches in the road. When Kari Lehtonen assumed the role of starter at the beginning of the 2010-11 season, an era of inconsistency immediately settled into the Dallas crease.
The Stars used seven different backups in a span of eight seasons, but could never seem to find a permanent solution. Names like Andrew Raycroft, Richard Bachman, Anders Lindback, Jhonas Enroth, and Antti Niemi all cycled through the Stars organization, but not one of them survived more than two seasons in a Dallas jersey. And as the backup search continued to haunt the franchise, Lehtonen moved swiftly through his prime years as a starter. By the time the Stars traded for Ben Bishop in May 2017 to take over the starting role, Lehtonen was in the tail end of his career.
And through all of the mess at the NHL level, there was another dose of disappointment brewing in the AHL.
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After starting his pro career on a promising note with the Texas Stars in the 2011-12 season, Jack Campbell had hit a rut. Injuries and an inability to produce consistent numbers when starting had forced Campbell out of the “next in line” role that seemed to be his to lose for so many years and into a battle to simply stay on the roster. And after posting a 7-7-5 record and .884 save percentage in the 2015-16 season, the Dallas Stars shipped their former first-round pick to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for depth defenseman Nick Ebert (who was released by the organization one season later).
With all of the misfirings and lack of success, GM Jim Nill and the Stars returned to the drawing board. They drafted Colton Point in the fifth round of the 2016 Draft to try and stabilize the shakiest position across the board in the organization. It wasn’t a franchise-altering pick, but when considering Point’s success with Colgate University at the NCAA level, it seemed to be a step in the right direction.
But in June 2017, Nill took his next big swing at fixing the crease for a long-term basis when he traded up in the first round of the 2017 Draft and selected goaltender Jake Oettinger at 26th overall.
The move wasn’t a surprising one, but it was more than necessary. With Bishop and Lehtonen both in their 30’s at the time of the draft and no quality No. 1-caliber prospect waiting in the system, the Dallas Stars needed a filler. As a result, the Boston University starter was thrown into the role.
It’s now been a little over two years since Oettinger was selected by the team. And after two more solid seasons at BU (including a .926 save percentage and 2.45 GAA in 2018-19), an appearance in the World Juniors, and an opportunity to further round out his skillset as a goalie, Oettinger signed his entry-level deal with the Dallas Stars and joined Texas in the AHL at the tail end of their 2018-19 campaign.
"“It’s great. It’s a dream come true and it’s something I’ve been looking forward to ever since I got drafted. To finally turn pro is really exciting and I’m looking forward to the year I’ve got ahead of me.” –Oettinger on signing his entry-level deal"
In his first six starts at the professional level, Oettinger posted a 3-2-1 record, .895 save percentage, and 2.47 GAA as Texas ended up falling just short of qualifying for a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
“It was great,” Oettinger said of his first pro experience during Stars development camp. “There’s a lot of things that are different than playing college, and to get those three weeks under my belt was huge. Just to get to know all of the guys and the trainers will make my adjustment to pro hockey that much easier.”
For the 20-year-old, his first pro stint was centered around getting accustomed to the demands of the pro level and trying to prove his abilities on a new stage. And though it was a short stint, it seems as though he succeeded at both.
“I think for Jake, it was a good chance for him to get his feet wet moving forward to understand what to expect this season,” said Texas Stars head coach Derek Laxdal at Stars development camp in June. “It’s not going to be new for him because he’s already been through it. We’re starting to see him build his book on his game and he’s got a chance to understand what the league is all about, the quickness of the game, and the shooters. It’s going to help him moving forward through development camp and moving forward into training camp.”
“I thought he looked very comfortable early and the games meant something,” added Dallas goalie coach Jeff Reese at development camp. “They weren’t out of it and they were still in the fight, so he played some high-pressure games and he did very well. He’s going to play a lot more this year, but he’s going to be in a dogfight to play games and get the net. [Landon Bow] is going to push him and [Colton Point] is going to push for a spot. We’ve got some good young goalies here. They’re all going to push each other, which is good.”
Oettinger participated in his third development camp with the Stars this past summer and will now turn to his first full season of pro hockey. And while that doesn’t mean the Dallas Stars will be requiring his services (though that option can never truly be ruled out until the season gets rolling), the rookie is ready to get his pro career underway.
Over his past few seasons at BU and in other various camps and tournaments, Oettinger has focused on building and further polishing his own skills as he prepares to make the leap to the pros. He was regarded as one of the top goalies in the 2017 Draft class, but hasn’t let the status stop him from growing into a more confident and reliable goalie.
"“I think basically every part of my game has gotten better since then. I think my athleticism and quickness is something you need if you want to be an NHL goalie. I think the work that I have done off the ice over the past couple of years is something that has really contributed to me being a lot more athletic.” –Oettinger on how his game has grown since 2017"
“Well, his size and athleticism and he’s very polished,” Reese said regarding what he initially liked about Oettinger. “He’s got a chance to be special. He’s going to have to pay his dues and fight through some adversity. There will be adversity along the way, and he went through a little bit last year at BU at the beginning of the year. But he’s got a chance to be very good and you can see it in his ability. He’s a great kid, a hard worker, and he wants to be good.”
Oettinger will be pinned in the middle of a goaltending battle throughout training camp and the preseason along with two other goalies, being Landon Bow and Colton Point. With Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin forming one of the strongest duos in the NHL in 2018-19 and both being under contract for 2019-20, the year ahead is an opportunity for Oettinger, Bow, and Point to compete for their spot on the organization’s depth chart and get themselves in a position to be the “next man up.”
It’s a challenge that Oettinger is ready to embrace.
“You’re a professional hockey player, so you’re going to have to beat out really good goalies no matter where you are,” Oettinger said. “I think the competition is healthy and obviously you still have to be a good teammate. We’re all on the same team. But I want to be the guy in the net and I want to be the guy that gets called up. At the end of the day, that’s what I’m working towards and I’m looking forward to it.”
But even with the trio of talent vying for a limited amount of playing time in Cedar Park, Oettinger also understands the need to keep a level head and focus on the team aspect as much as he focuses on the competition aspect in the crease. That’s where maturity comes in.
“Both of those guys have been really good to me,” said Oettinger about Bow and Point. “Like I said, while they are technically competition, we’re all on the same team. At the end of the day, the only thing I can control is how well I play and not how well they play. For me, it’s just focusing on the things I can control. Hopefully if I do all of the right things, I’ll be the next man up.”
This approach and Oettinger’s overall potential brings a breath of fresh, necessary air to the Dallas Stars organization. And while it may not be immediately realized at the NHL level, it’s certainly a nice reminder.
The thing about Oettinger is he has all of the makings of a franchise goaltender. He’s got impressive positioning and athleticism for a young goaltender and pairs it with a solid frame (6-5, 205 lb.). Oettinger’s hockey IQ is high for a 20-year-old goaltender, he’s quick on his feet, and he knows how to shut down a shooter’s options while also reading plays well.
Considering he’ll have half of his first full pro season under his belt before his 21st birthday, the young prospect looks to be on a promising track in the organization. With Ben Bishop under contract for four more years and Anton Khudobin’s deal keeping him in Dallas until next summer, the door seems open for Oettinger to take a handful of impressive strides towards the NHL in the 2019-20 season. And even if his name isn’t called for the 2020-21 campaign, it’s not unrealistic to think that he could be in Dallas sooner rather than later so long as he stays on track in his development.
And after spending the past decade recycling veteran NHL goalies and never developing a drafted, homegrown goaltending talent within their system, it seems as though Oettinger could be an answer to the Stars’ prayers.
“I think everyone’s path is different,” Oettinger said about growing into an NHL talent. “Obviously, I want to be in the NHL as fast as I can. I don’t think I need that long. It’s all about making the most of your opportunity and playing well when you get the chance. Whether that’s this fall or whenever I get my chance, I’m going to be ready to go. I don’t think there’s a set-in-stone path for me and I want to be in the NHL as quick as I can.”
The 2019-20 season should be a perfect starting point for Oettinger as he begins reaching for that goal.