The Arizona Coyotes‘ goaltending situation was precarious enough before Carter Hutton went down with a lower body injury during Monday’s 5-3 loss to the Florida Panthers, and now that he’s presumed to be out for 2-4 weeks, rookie Karel Vejmelka’s three NHL starts suddenly make him the most senior netminder on the club’s NHL roster.
The Coyotes opted to call up goalie Ivan Prosvetov, who has just one NHL start to his name, though the organization’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Tucson Roadrunners aren’t exactly busting at the seams with goalies that have NHL experience. Fellow Roadrunners goaltender Josef Korenar did start seven games with the San Jose Sharks last season, but Prosvetov’s numbers were far better in the AHL this year, so he earned the call-up prior to Thursday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It won’t be an easy road for either netminder, considering Prosvetov and Vejmelka have a combined 378 minutes of NHL experience, but here’s what you can expect from the Coyotes’ newest call-up.
Prosvetov Has Been Solid in the AHL This Season
Though Tuesday’s announcement was hardly a surprise, Prosvetov’s lack of NHL experience (compared to Korenar’s, at least) meant very little considering how he’s performed in Tucson this season. In three games, the 22-year-old goaltender has posted a goals-allowed average (GAA) of 1.34 and a save percentage (SV%) of .944.
In contrast, Korenar has recorded a 3.05 GAA and .880 SV% in one game with the Roadrunners this season.
Prosvetov, who was drafted 114th overall by the Coyotes in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, ranks 10th in the AHL in GAA, and 18th in SV%. His SV%, is actually fourth-best among goalies who have played more than two games this season. Last season wasn’t as forgiving for the Russian netminder, as he posted a 3.54 GAA and .895 SV% in 18 games.
It should also be noted that another 2018 Coyotes draft pick, David Tendeck, owns a 3.01 GAA and .918 SV% in two games with the ECHL’s Rapid City Rush this season.
He’ll certainly have his work cut out for him, whenever he finds himself between the pipes, given Arizona’s slow start to the 2021-22 season. The winless Coyotes (0-5-1) have allowed the most goals this season (29), and have scored the second fewest (11), ahead of only the Montreal Canadiens and Vegas Golden Knights (10). On top of that, the team boasts the league’s worst penalty kill (35.71), nearly 20 percentage points behind the 31st-ranked Winnipeg Jets (54.55).
Vejmelka Has Played Admirably Despite Adversity
Many were surprised when Coyotes coach André Tourigny announced Vejmelka would back up Hutton to start the season, so it was even more surprising when he became the de facto starter through six games this season. Including Monday’s loss, when he entered for the injured Hutton to start the second period, Vejmelka has played nearly 248 minutes, compared to Hutton’s 116. He’s been statistically better in almost every category, including GAA (3.15 vs. 7.76), SV% (.899 vs. .741), and goals allowed (13 vs.15).
Prior to his NHL debut, Vejmelka had never played professional hockey in North America, though he played a substantial amount for HC Kometa Brno in the Czech Republic’s Tipsport Extraliga. He recorded a 2.79 GAA and .911 SV% in 35 games in 2020-21, and a 2.05 GAA and .911 SV% the season prior, and won the championship in both 2016-17 and 2017-18.
With all of that said, they are likely to split time in net, considering neither has considerable NHL experience, and here’s an interesting stat: Assuming Arizona stays with both Vejmelka and Prosvetov, their roster will not have a goalie with a single NHL win to their name. How’s that for baptism by fire?
What To Expect From This Tandem
It’s anyone’s guess, to be honest, considering how inconsistent Arizona’s play has been between the pipes to start this season, but fans need to be patient with this duo considering their lack of NHL experience. Combine that with upcoming dates against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, and Carolina Hurricanes — all on the road, no less — and there’s likely to be a rather large learning curve.
It certainly can’t be ruled out that we’ll see Korenar at some point, either, because at this stage of the season, anything can happen. Once Hutton returns, Tourigny may have more of a pressing question on his hands regarding who the appropriate backup is, but for now, the Coyotes are simply searching for their No. 1 netminder.
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A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.