Ever since Jacob Markstrom set the Swedish Elite League on fire after his 2008 draft year, scouts and pundits have eagerly awaited his arrival in the NHL. The 6’3” netminder was the first pick in the second round in 2008. In retrospect, there are plenty of teams who wish they could take a mulligan and pick the Swedish goaltender before letting him slip to the second round. He has all the makings of a guy who will be able to play in the NHL—and play very well.
In his first full seasons with Brynas in the Swedish Elite League, he put up an impressive 2.38 goals against and .917 save percentage—all while sharing time with a goaltender NHL fans may have heard of: Andres Lindback. The next season he exceeded all expectations by putting up even better numbers with Brynas. When a goaltender puts up a 2.01 goals against and a .927 save percentage, he’s dominating no matter what league he’s playing in.
But something happened on his way towards his coronation in the NHL. The talented Markstrom started the season with Florida’s AHL affiliate in Rochester and showed that his game still had a little maturing to do. He played 37 games with the Amerks before a knee injury knocked him out for the remainder of the season. For anyone who was worried about how a 21-year-old would recover from a serious knee injury, fret not. Panthers’ goaltender coach Robb Tallas was more than impressed with the Swede’s progress:
“I think you can see a huge difference in him from last year. You can see the confidence. And this from a guy who hasn’t played a full game since [February]. I’m real happy with how he played. He tracked the puck well, the goals that beat him were good shots.”
Even better news from the Panthers point of view is that they won’t be forced to rush him to the NHL. By signing Jose Theodore to split time with Scott Clemmensen, the Panthers bought another year of development for their prized prospect. Of course he’ll be available in the event of an injury, but otherwise he’ll be able to work on his game and improve on his pedestrian numbers from a season ago. If all things go well, he’ll be ready to challenge for the starters job in 2012-13.
Keep in mind, despite all of the moves the new-look Panthers made this offseason, there are those who think that Florida will still struggle to string enough wins together for a playoff spot. If they’re out of the race by March, Markstrom could get an extended look at the end of the season to prove to the organization that he’s ready for the full-time job.
One thing is for sure—the Panthers do not want to rush Markstrom. Most people agree that goaltenders take longer than skaters to fully develop their game to an NHL level. They’ve shown great patience thus far, as they let him play a couple of seasons in Sweden before adjusting to the North American game. If they can resist the temptation to throw him into wolves this season, they could have a goaltender for the next decade.
As the long season rolls along, we’ll see how much patience they can demonstrate.