ST. LOUIS — Through the first six seasons of Tristan Jarry’s professional hockey career, rarely has he had certainty about his future. The 24-year-old goaltender has spent most of his days in AHL Wilkes-Barre waiting for his chance, getting only one extended NHL opportunity before this season.
Jarry found himself the other day counting his number of call ups with teammate Joseph Blandisi, who’s made the cross-state trip a handful of times already this season. Every time the goaltender would make his way to Pittsburgh he had no idea how long his stay would last.
The 2017-18 season saw a bit of of a breakthrough when Jarry played 26 games with the NHL Penguins, backing up Matt Murray. But last season he took a step back and appeared in only two NHL games after losing the No. 2 job to Casey DeSmith.
But while his road to a consistent NHL stay appeared blocked and his name popped up in trade rumors, Jarry kept his head down and worked.
“It was just trusting the process,” he said during Thursday’s NHL All-Star Media Day. “They knew what they were doing and they wanted me to go develop another year in the [AHL]. I think that was the right choice. I thought I grew as a player and being able to play every night in the [AHL] that really helped me. It helped me grow and helped me work on the things that I needed to develop.”
Jarry played 47 games last season in the AHL and posted a .915 save percentage, biding his time and working to improve his game in the process. Getting the opportunity to play regularly helped and maturing better prepared him for training camp in September where he would take the No. 2 job from DeSmith. But keeping his place in the NHL would require even more work and better preparation, something he admitted wasn’t up to par in the past.
“A big thing was my practice habits, just making sure I was coming to the rink every day prepared and having a mindset to get better,” Jarry said.
By working alongside Murray, who he shared a crease with in Wilkes-Barre during his first pro season in 2015-16, Jarry had a sounding board available to him.
Adjusting his mindset to the grind of the NHL was another lesson to learn.
“The mental aspects. Just being able to do it every game and making sure you’re prepared for every game,” he said. “It’s a long season, there’s lot of ups and downs. Just preparing for every game is a big thing.”
The work paid off and as Murray struggled in December, the door opened for Jarry to take the No. 1 job and run with it. In 25 appearances this season he’s top 10 in even strength save percentage (.935) and tied for third in goals saved above average (11.09), per Evolving Wild). That play earned him a spot on the Metropolitan Division All-Star roster.
The Penguins will open up the second half of the season late next week in a playoff spot. The injuries that have ravaged their lineup has not had an affect on the on-ice product and whether it’s missing bodies or a changing of the guard in net, they’ve pushed ahead. Jarry’s had a large part in that success, it just took a little time.
“I think Pittsburgh’s done an amazing job with me in my development, letting me know where my career was at and the spectrum I was on,” he said. “The big thing was just trusting them and trusting that they knew what they were doing. Just coming up from junior, I’ve always had to wait a little bit.”
The 2020 NHL All-Star Skills Competition will take place on Friday, Jan. 24 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2020 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 25 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).