A little known goaltending prospect Darcy Kuemper provided the Minnesota Wild with a major bright spot on Tuesday night. The Wild’s offense mustered only one goal in yet another toothless effort, but 22-year old Kuemper made 28 saves to keep his team in the game against Northwest division leaders Vancouver. It may ultimately have been in vain, but Kuemper’s performance was yet another sign of the promising prospect pool that Minnesota possesses.
To say that Darcy Kuemper was an unknown before Tuesday’s game would perhaps do him something of a disservice, but the reality is that his stock has risen rapidly over the past 10 months. Suddenly, it looks like Minnesota might just have another legitimate NHL prospect in their organization.
Kuemper was born in Saskatoon, Canada and played junior hockey in the WHL with the Red Deer Rebels. He was drafted in the sixth round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He was notable for his size, and the fact that he still possessed decent athleticism to go with that size. Still, he was ranked third on the goaltending prospect depth chart for Minnesota by Hockey Future Magazine. He was ranked behind the consensus franchise goaltender of the future and fellow 2009 draft pick Matt Hackett and 2010 pick Johan Gustafsson.
It seemed that the goaltending situation for the Wild was worked out for the foreseeable future with Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding on the pro roster and with Hackett impressing in action during the 2011-12 season.
One game doesn’t change that picture completely, but perhaps the body of work that Darcy Kuemper has put together should. After starting the year in the ECHL, he quickly impressed with the Houston Aeros last season posting a .923 save percentage and 2.36 GAA in 19 appearances.
That success continued in the AHL this season where he arguably outplayed Hackett. He played in 16 game posting a .938 save percentage and 1.79 GAA compared with Hackett’s 35 games, 2.67 GAA and .906 save percentage. Kuemper also posted four shutouts and claimed a 10-6-0 record. When Harding had to be held out due to MS symptoms this week, it was clear that Darcy Kuemper had earned an NHL call-up more than Hackett had.
Tuesday night’s performance was not the beginning of a new era for Minnesota Wild goaltending. Darcy Kuemper is young and the developmental curve for goaltenders tends to take the long road. He still has significant work to do on his positioning and poor rebound control is something that is punished far more severely in the NHL compared with the AHL.
Still, what Minnesota fans can take from the play of Darcy Kuemper is that this organization’s goaltending future does not rest in the hands of just one prospect. Tuesday night was just one more reason to feel confident about the future of this franchise.