It’s not like Anton Khudobin is at risk of losing his job any time soon.
Even with a couple of rough showings against Carolina this weekend, Dobby is the Stars’ No. 1 goalie.
That doesn’t mean Jake Oettinger isn’t going to get his time to shine. The rookie who was on the roster in the Stanley Cup Final made his regular season debut on Thursday where he backstopped the Stars to a win over Detroit.
On Saturday, he relieved Khudobin and stopped all 10 shots sent his way.
He starts again Tuesday against Columbus, and it seems is going to continue to get opportunities to play. As a 22-year-old goalie with a Cup Final appearance under his belt, the Boston University alum is already ahead of the curve.
“We’ve said from the get-go he’s going to play, and he’s going to play,” said Stars head coach Rick Bowness. “Dobby cannot play in every game. The kid’s got to play, and to get him in after the relief performance he gave us the other night is important.”
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Oettinger’s first chance in net worked in every way the Stars could have hoped; they’d already won their first three games, were finally at home at American Airlines Center, and facing, well, the Red Wings.
They helped him out a bit with a seven-goal showing on offense as well, giving the rookie a chance to settle in and build confidence. He only faced five shots in the first period, which, sometimes isn’t what a goalie wants, especially if they already are entering the game with high energy.
Widely considered the future of the organization in net, it’s everything they could have wanted for getting Oettinger into the action.
“The ones that went in, (Oettinger) had absolutely zero chance on,” Bowness told reporters after that game. “He made the saves that he had to make. He looked very comfortable in there, very confident in there. The guys played very well in front of him.”
Ben Bishop and Khudobin were supposed to work in tandem, but as Bishop continues to rehab injury, it’s an opportunity for Oettinger — who is on the roster throughout, thanks to the policy of teams carrying three goalies this season — to prove he should keep getting opportunities.
Before the Stars officially brought Khudobin back there was buzz if Oettinger would end up the backup. He’s been there anyways, and all early showings indicate he can handle the role.
His lone two playoff roles came in mop up duty against Vegas in the postseason. But, some playoff reps are better than no playoff reps, and it’s not like Oettinger has never been on a big stage before, seeing time with Team USA in the World Junior Championship and having some significant college hockey performances for the Terriers.
It’s still a career that started inside out, in a postseason bubble in Canada before suiting up in net for the first time in the regular season in a pandemic-clouded year.
That’s a lot for any player, not to mention rookie, to handle. But Oettinger keeps handling everything that’s come his way, and that’s something the Stars like about him. No matter the spotlight, he’s performed.
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“Just being able to watch Dobby so closely in the bubble and obviously now is just an invaluable experience for me,” Oettinger said after Thursday’s game. “He never gets rattled. He’s just out there playing and having fun. Goals are going to go in; that’s part of the game and part of the position. The really good goalies and the ones that stick around for a long time are the ones that can let one in and you won’t be able to tell after that.”
He’s been cool and calm and everything a team would want from a goalie, especially one so young. Since 1996, the Stars have had just two 22-year-old goalies make their debut in net; Kari Lehtonen and Jack Campbell. Since 1943-44, he is one of just two goalies to make their NHL debut in the conference finals or later.
It can be tempting to get overhyped about a young player, but especially a goalie, can get exposed too quick without being handled just right so young. There’s a reason it’s rare to see goalies in the spotlight without a few years backing up.
The Stars have a solid one in Oettinger, and the big moments seem to find him. Even if it’s not officially his time to own the net, it is his time in the NHL, and the Jake Oettinger show is just getting started.