Backup goalies, the often forgotten member of an NHL team. Their importance only noticed on the back-end of back-to-back games, when the starter has a rough night, or when the top dog suffers an injury. While not regularly counted-upon members of the team, these goalies must be sharp in spurts, and that’s what makes good backups special.
Here are the best of the best among the NHL’s most under-appreciated fraternity.
5. Jusse Saros – Nashville Predators
Saros – who has shown signs that he will be a very good goalie in the NHL – will be up for a renewal this off-season, and with Rinne’s contract up the year after the Predators will have to decide if Saros is the heir to the throne between the pipes.
His play this season has been stellar, causing him to earn three shutout victories – including a 43-save shutout against the Vegas Golden Knights, and a 46-save shutout against the Edmonton Oilers. At just 22 years of age, Saros could be a future Vezina Trophy candidate if he can play the way he has so far in his career over an entire season as a starter.
4. Darcy Kuemper – Los Angeles Kings
A sixth round pick of the Minnesota Wild in the 2009 NHL draft, Darcy Kuemper has been more than what was bargained for with the 161st selection. After playing as a member of the Minnesota Wild for six straight seasons, Kuemper left for warmer pastures in Los Angeles.
Kuemper has not rekindled the magic of former Kings goaltending tandems such as Quick and Bernier, or Quick and Jones, but he has been a good backup goalie. Kuemper is 9-1-3 on the season, and rocks a .937 save percentage and 1.70 goals against average which falls second only to Carter Hutton amongst goalies with 10 or more starts.
His resume also shows three shutout victories this season, including an impressive road shutout against the Stars on January 30th. Kuemper is on pace to break his previous single-season records in goals against and save percentage.
3. Aaron Dell – San Jose Sharks
Aaron Dell certainly has had to work for the opportunities he receives. Just three short seasons ago Dell was backstopping the Allen Americans of the ECHL. Now he has two seasons of being an NHL backup under his belt, and he’s produced a 25-10-4 record for the San Jose Sharks.
While he has been shaky of late (16 goals allowed in last four games), Dell is still a viable option for the Sharks when they elect to give Martin Jones the night off, and an elite backup option in the NHL
2. Anton Khudobin – Boston Bruins
While Khudobin has bounced around the NHL over the past five seasons, he seems to play his best hockey when he is wearing the black and gold. Since Tuukka Rask has returned to health and a high level of performance, Khudobin has not been called upon as much, but what he did for the Bruins in the month of November was admirable.
Khudobin started four straight games, and picked up three road victories over Los Angeles, San Jose, and New Jersey, and a win at home against Pittsburgh. His record of 11-3-4 this season has allotted the Bruins opportunities to rest Rask when needed.
1. Carter Hutton – St. Louis Blues
There is a case to make that Hutton is in fact the starter for the St. Louis Blues, and that is exactly why he is number one on the list. Despite Jake Allen’s rocky month of January which included a pair of five goal showings against the Flyers and Panthers, the number one job is still his.
Hutton being the solid backup goalie he is, has backstopped the Blues to wins in five of his last six outings. Hutton sports an NHL best .944 save percentage, and 1.44 goals against average which is accompanied by a solid 15-5-1 record. Hutton is the guy teams want to see operating the bench door when times get tough for the starter.