Jake Oettinger, the 22-year-old goalie from Lakeville, Minnesota, is starting to turn heads yet again for his play in the two NHL starts he has this season; the 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues and the 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings. Many Dallas Stars fans, including yours truly, do not understand the thinking of Dallas Stars General Manager Jim Nill and Head Coach Rick Bowness. It appears they trust Oettinger enough, but not enough. Let’s explore the whole situation with Jake Oettinger and why it appears he will just be sent back to AHL once Holtby returns.
At the beginning of the 2020-2021 season, with Dallas Stars Ben Bishop on LTIR (long-term injured reserve), the goaltending tandem appeared to be Anton Khudobin as the starter and Jake Oettinger as the backup. Khudobin had just finished his stellar 2020 Stanley Cup Final run in the bubble in Edmonton.
At the time, many were hesitant, but excited to see what young Jake Oettinger could do. Throughout the course of the season, Oettinger started to make a case to be the Stars’ #1 goaltender. Articles around mid-March started questioning whether Oettinger should be given the lion-share of the starts instead of Dobby.
By the end of the season, the stats spoke for themselves. Oettinger finished the 2020-2021 season with an 11-8-7 record, a 2.36 goals-against average, and a .911 save percentage while Dobby concluded his season with a 12-11-7 record, a 2.54 goals-against average, and a .905 save percentage.
Now, you can always question the stats and say things such as “Did Dobby play the tougher teams?” and “How did the team in front of Dobby or Otter play?”. But just looking at those stats, it’s logical to say that Oettinger was the better goaltender throughout the 2020-2021 season.
Furthermore, Dobby was replaced by Oettinger five times throughout the 2020-2021 season just like he was replaced by Oettinger on Thursday night’s game against the Minnesota Wild. So, not only do last year’s stats say that he shouldn’t be in the AHL, but they say he should be given the chance to take over as the #1 starter.
Despite the play of Oettinger in the NHL, I can understand why Nill and Bowness are cautious to just hand the reins of the net over to young Oettinger. First, Oettinger is only 22 years old and even though he’s played his entire life, he still has a lot to learn about preparation, the speed of the game, etc.
However, there have been many young goalies that have emerged over the past several years and have done very well. Some evolved into starters earlier than others, but the case can be made that young goalies can be successful in the NHL early on.
Matt Murray came into the league as a rookie goaltender for the Penguins, pushed future Hall-of-Famer Marc-Andre Fleury out of a job as the starting goaltender, and won back-to-back Stanley Cups mostly as the starting goaltender.
However, you have some young goalies who have taken the NHL by storm and then have immediately faltered. Carter Hart of the Philadelphia Flyers had a fantastic sophomore campaign in 2019-2020 in which he was the undisputed #1 goaltender. He completed the season with a 24-13-3 record, a 2.42 goals-against average, and a .914 save percentage.
The very next year in 2020-2021, Hart finished with a 9-11-5 record, a dreadful 3.67 goals-against average, and a .877 save percentage. Now, this season, Hart is playing much better, but I’m sure Nill and Bowness are looking at the whole Carter Hart situation and realizing they don’t want that for young Oettinger.
Here’s my frustration with that thinking though. How do you know which way Oettinger will go unless you give him the opportunity? Nill did not give Oettinger that opportunity when he signed Braden Holtby in free agency this past offseason. As soon as I heard of the Holtby signing, I knew Oettinger would be sent back to the AHL despite arguably being the Stars’ best goaltender in the 2020-2021 season.
So, what would I do if it was my decision? Give the young guy a chance! We threw away goaltending prospects before and they’ve turned out to do really well in the end. Look at Jack Campbell in Toronto right now! Mr. Nill & Mr. Bowness, please give Oettinger the chance to prove himself!