McLellan: Workhorse Talbot ‘has been better than I thought he’d be’

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To hear Edmonton head coach Todd McLellan explain it, not much went to plan in goal this year.

The club didn’t expect Jonas Gustavsson to go bust as Cam Talbot‘s backup (which he has). It didn’t expect Talbot to play in 64 of 71 games thus far (which he has). And it didn’t expect Talbot to play this well.

Which he has.

“We had a group of goalies we thought could play and contribute and he was at the top of the list,” McLellan said, per the Edmonton Sun. “He has been better than I thought he’d be, to be honest, but he works at his craft.”

It’s understandable that McLellan had tempered expectations.

After acquiring Talbot from the Rangers at the ’15 draft, the Oilers knew they were taking a gamble on a talented, yet unproven entity — and that gamble looked troubling following Talbot’s start in Edmonton. The first three months of the ’15-16 campaign were a disaster to the point where, in December, he said the situation had become “extremely frustrating.”

But things changed.

Talbot played well over the second half of the year, finishing with a respectable .917 save percentage while emerging as the club’s No. 1 netminder. Edmonton cemented that with a three-year, $12.5 million extension, and that security seemed to propel Talbot to the next level.

This year, his numbers are terrific and there’s a major case for co-team MVP consideration alongside Connor McDavid. Talbot sits first in the league in starts, shots faced, saves and time on ice, sitting top-five in wins and shutouts.

“This group plays for Talbs, not with him,” McLellan explained. “That’s a huge thing for goaltending.”