As we inch closer and closer to a potential return for the NHL and their new playoff format for the 2019-20 season, the Wild get equally closer to that play-in series matchup against the Vancouver Canucks with the winner going on to the Round of 16.
The biggest question that looms over the Wild roster heading into said play-in series is who will start in the goal for Minnesota. They have three options — Devan Dubnyk, Alex Stalock, and Kaapo Kahkonen — considering rosters will be expanded for the round as well.
There is good and bad coming with each starting goaltender for the Wild, as there is no clear-cut favorite until they get in front of their head coach Dean Evason in training camp, which could begin on July 10.
Here is a quick look at the pros and cons of each starting goaltender the Wild will have on the roster.
Pros: It’s a bit cliche, but Dubnyk has the most playoff experience on the Wild roster. Between that, the extended rest since the March pause and the fact his wife Jen is recovering after having a serious medical scare during the season, Dubnyk could come back into camp in a great mindset and could get hot right from the start. There is an if here, but there is the potential to him coming in and firing on all cylinders again.
Cons: Tony Abbott wrote a while back that Dubnyk’s play is likely the norm now. His play just has not been up to league average the past two seasons, and his 90.45% save percentage at 5-on-5 this season is well below that average as well. Also considering the Wild has one of the best defenses in the league, Dubnyk’s poor performance really comes into light and could lead to a potential buyout at the conclusion of the season.
Pros: The South Saint Paul native was the Wild’s best goaltender this season and kept them from drifting into obscurity time and time again. In fact, there is a case for Stalock to be the Wild’s MVP because he was such a stop gap for their season. It would be very easy for Evason to go back with Stalock to open the play-in series out of respect for Stalock, who started a career-high 36 games this season and had a respectable 92.0% save percentage at 5-on-5.
Cons: That great play from Stalock this season was an outlier if you look at his career numbers. His career save percentage is 90.9% at all strengths and 91.8% at 5-on-5. While he enjoyed good success in goal this season, his heater may have come to an end when the season paused. If he cannot pick up where he left off, Evason will have to give the 32-year-old a quick hook.
Pros: Kahkonen was named the AHL’s goaltender of the year, as he posted incredible marks for the Wild’s farm club. He also looked sharp in his first three NHL starts this past season, stopping 107 of 113 shots in those respective games. There’s a very good argument to be made that Kahkonen may be the most talented goaltender on the roster heading into the series, given his age and results.
Cons: While Kahkonen showed promise in his first three NHL starts, his last two were far from great. He allowed nine goals on 59 shots in those final two appearances before being sent back to Iowa for the remainder of the season. Combine that with the fact he has NHL experience in just five regular-season games along with no postseason experience, you have the makings of what could be a shaky option in goal for Minnesota. All it takes is one bad goal from Kahkonen in a game to break the dam and shatter that confidence if you roll with him in goal.
In the end, there is good and bad potential from each of the Wild starting goalie options. Again, the decision definitely won’t be made until training camp, and it’s likely to be the goaltender that is at his best after the layoff. Can Evason make the right call and roll with the goaltender that can get the Wild past the Canucks? If he picks correctly, you almost certainly can bet on him removing the interim tag from his job title.
Data in this post courtesy of Evolving Hockey.