NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres. Bruins-Sabres stream coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
The Bruins didn’t miss a beat when both of their goalies were out. Jeremy Swayman is why.
Tuukka Rask is since back and unquestionably their No. 1 goalie heading into the postseason, but the rookie out of Maine made a strong case to be the guy in the future.
In just his first pro season, Swayman has showed unflappable poise in net. He was previously the Hockey East goalie of the year, and made his professional debut with AHL Providence earlier this year.
He impressed. Called into duty in Boston earlier than expected, the young goalie was hardly fazed.
No, that doesn’t mean it’s time to sit the Vezina-winning, Stanley Cup-leading Rask. There’s no need to overreact to a rookie playing well. But it is worth thinking about how he’s going to fit in in the future, especially when he’s off to such a strong start.
The 22-year-old Swayman has won four of his first five outings with the Bruins, including a 25-save shutout of the Islanders. In Boston, the fanbase has been thrilled enough to have “Swayman for President” signs in the crowd during warmups.
“That’s just the best,” Swayman said. “I know I was a fan once when I was a little kid and I’d be so excited when a player acknowledged me. So, I just wanted to give back, and I know how much it means to other kids. And that was a pretty good sign. They put a lot of effort into that. Kudos to them. That was a pretty cool moment.”
His personality has captured the hearts of fans already. Quips about not being a “weird goalie” and loving shootouts have certainly been a deviation of the norm.
Swayman’s NHL career has tested him, too; of goalies with at least 200 minutes played, his .893 save percentage on high-danger shots is the best in the league. His poise has shown in the states as well. According to InStat, he’s allowed just four shots on goal off a rebound.
It’s easy to get too excited about young players with an early flash of success, especially goalies. Traditionally, netminders take a bit longer to develop and be ready for a full time role. Carter Hart, a 22-year-old who was the top goalie prospect in the league, has struggled in his second full season.
“Very composed,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Swayman. “He does have some of that Tuukka (in him). That technically sound, composed guy that never looks out of control. It’s good to see, good for him. He’s a good kid, he works hard. Both our young goaltenders have really stepped up when we needed them.”
Rask and Jaroslav Halak, the Bruins backup who has been on Covid protocol, are unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. The Bruins are in unknown territory where, it looks like Swayman is ready for a role, but they don’t want to bite off more than they can chew so early.
“You’ve gotta be careful with these young guys, especially at this position,” Cassidy said. “But having said that, this is five games where I don’t believe he has allowed a bad goal.”
The Bruins went 9-6-3 without Rask, led primarily by Swayman and fellow rookie goalie Dan Vladar, who also stepped up while Halak went out as well. This has also been during a stretch where the Bruins have been without Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk, and Charlie McAvoy and Kevan Miller missed time.
Rask’s return is a welcome one; he’s still an elite goalie at 34 years old, and they historically play better with him than without, overreactions to be ignored.
The Bruins already had some choices to make this offseason. There’s an expansion draft, there’s a flat cap, and their two veteran goalies are free agents. Speculation always follows Rask, who can’t seem to catch a break from the spotlight no matter what it is he’s dealing with.
Whether Swayman has made that choice easier or more difficult remains to be seen. It’s still just five games, and perhaps that’ll be all it is for some time. Or, maybe, fans should get used to seeing No. 1 in the crease.
And if that is the case sooner than they projected, they’d be smart to look to recent examples of why pacing a young goalie is so important.