Bruins: Comparing Swayman and Rask’s First 10 Starts

One of the biggest and more surprising stories of the 2020-21 season for the Boston Bruins has been the emergence of rookie goaltender Jeremy Swayman.

Entering the season, the 22-year-old was the fourth goalie on the Bruins’ depth chart behind Tuukka Rask, Jaroslav Halak and Dan Vladar. While there were certainly some high hopes in regards to Swayman, nobody could have anticipated his first 10 career games to go as well as they did.

Jeremy Swayman Boston Bruins
Jeremy Swayman has earned his role as the Boston Bruins new backup goalie (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The 2017 fourth-round pick would split his 2020-21 season starts fairly evenly between the AHL and NHL. While playing with the Providence Bruins, Swayman would go 8-1-0, allowing 17 goals and posting a 1.89 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. When making the jump to the NHL, Swayman wouldn’t miss a beat. In 10 games, he’d go 6-3, allowing just 15 goals on 271 shots-against. That equates to a very solid 1.50 goals-against average, a .945 save percentage, a 9.94 GSAA and two shutouts.

For any goalie at any level, those numbers would be considered pristine. For a 22-year-old rookie goalie making his first 10 starts in the NHL, it’s a feat that simply cannot be ignored.

Swayman Performed Well Despite the Circumstances

In Swayman’s first NHL start, he’d be thrown to the wolves by his team. Though the Bruins are capable of playing very good defense, they would force Swayman to make 40 saves to earn his first career win. He wouldn’t be forced to make quite as many saves in any of his subsequent nine starts, but that didn’t mean the circumstances were always easy for Swayman either.

Most notably, Swayman’s last start of the season saw him play against the Washington Capitals in a game that saw the Bruins resting the vast majority of their starting lineup. Included in the list of players who didn’t suit up for the Bruins’ regular-season finale were Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci, Taylor Hall, Craig Smith, Charlie Coyle, Sean Kuraly, Ondrej Kase, Rask, Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, Mike Reilly, Brandon Carlo, Jeremy Lauzon and Kevan Miller.

The Capitals, on the other hand, played just about all of their regulars in this game.

Related: Bruins & Capitals Have Memorable Playoff Meetings

Before the puck ever even dropped, it felt like the Bruins had absolutely no chance at competing in this game given the mismatch across the board. Still, the young players given an opportunity proved more than capable of competing with the Capitals and perhaps nobody was more ready for the challenge than Swayman. Though he’d pick up a loss in this game, Swayman would allow just two goals on 32 shots and would look excellent despite the lineup in front of him.

It’s not surprising, then, that the Bruins would name Swayman the backup to Rask entering the playoffs, cementing him as a crucial part of the team not just in the future, but for the present as well.

A Look at Swayman’s First 10 NHL Starts

Not all starts are created equal. For that reason, it makes sense to at least look at the quality of competition that Swayman played against in his first 10 games. For this, we’ll look at the team he played, the number of goals scored against him that game, the shots against him that game, the game result, the opposing team’s end-of-season record and their scoring rank this season.

TeamGoals AgainstShots AgainstResultTeam Season RecordLeague Scoring Rank
Washington Capitals 2007-Present Secondary Logo233W35-15-5T3
Washington Capitals 2007-Present Secondary Logo232L35-15-5T3

In his first 10 games, Swayman played against a mixed bag of talent due to the way the schedule was set up for the 2020-21 season. While he definitely benefited from playing against the Buffalo Sabres three times, he still held his own and then some against some of the top teams in the NHL. Allowing just five goals on 94 shots in three games against the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins is an accomplishment in and of itself.

10 games isn’t a huge sample size, but it was encouraging to see how well Swayman played every single time he was called to the crease for a start.

Given how Swayman is being deemed the goalie of the future for the Bruins, comparing his first 10 NHL starts to the first 10 career starts of the team’s current starter in Rask’s could be a fun experiment.

A Look Back at Rask’s First 10 Starts

Though Tuukka Rask may be the most polarizing figure in Boston sports, it’s also hard to look at what he’s done from a statistical standpoint and argue that he hasn’t been an above-average goalie throughout his career.

When looking at Rask’s first 10 career NHL starts, it seemed apparent early on that he’d be a franchise-changing piece for the Bruins when he was ready to permanently take over the reins as the starting netminder.

Tuukka Rask Boston Bruins
Tuukka Rask looked like the Boston Bruins starter of the future early on in his career (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Though Rask would allow one goal on three shots in a relief appearance against the New Jersey Devils in 2007, suffering his first career overtime loss, it feels fairer to only include games in which Rask started. For that reason, this appearance will be skipped when looking at how he started off his career.

He’d start his career off with 10 starts spread across three seasons. In those 10 starts, Rask would go 6-3-1, allowing 24 goals on 288 shots. That equates to a 2.40 goals-against average and .916 save percentage and two shutouts.

As these 10 games would come across three different seasons, the team’s end-of-season and league-scoring ranks will reflect the season in which Rask played against them.

TeamGoals AgainstShots AgainstResultTeam Season RecordLeague Scoring Rank

In his first 10 starts, Rask won the games he was supposed to while struggling at times against some of the better scoring teams in the NHL. This isn’t too surprising given that Rask was only 20-years-old in his first season with the Bruins. Still, he flashed a lot of upside that had many feeling he could legitimately be the starter in Boston for years to come once he took over the job from Tim Thomas.

Fast-forward to the year 2021 and it’s pretty clear that Rask has lived up to the hype.

Just for fun, though, we can also look at the 2009-10 season which was the first season that Rask would get a chance to truly compete with Thomas for the starting job in Boston. When given the opportunity, Rask proved up to the task time and time again.

It was the first season that he’d be given at least 10 starts, allowing him to feel some sort of consistency from start to start. He’d end up playing in 45 games that season and starting in 39 of those contests.

He’d go 7-2-1 in those games, allowing 22 goals on 289 shots. That would give him a 2.20 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage. Impressively enough, Rask would finish the season with a 22-12-5 record, a 1.97 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. He’d also finish third in the league in GSAA with a 24.34 behind only Ryan Miller and Tomas Vokoun that season.

TeamGoals AgainstShots AgainstResultTeam Season RecordLeague Scoring Rank

All in all, Rask would go on to have one of his best seasons at just 22 years old. If it weren’t for Thomas playing the best hockey of his career during this stretch, Rask likely would have taken over the job a lot sooner. Instead, he’d yield the starting job to Thomas for a few more seasons before taking over the crease full-time as the team’s franchise netminder.

While it’s way too early to hand the keys to the Bruins off to Swayman on 10 career starts, it would also be foolish to ignore what he was able to do this season. As Rask did over a decade before him, Swayman has lived up to his goalie-of-the-future title early in his career. He’ll have to continue to do so to be given the starting role, though.

Related: Bruins Have Options on 3rd & 4th Lines for Playoffs

With that said, expectations are high for Swayman and he’s undoubtedly earned the opportunity to prove he’s capable of more.

With Rask and Halak both in the final year of their respective contracts and both nearing the end of their careers, Swayman’s time to shine could be a lot sooner than anyone expected. Still, the Bruins should look to re-sign Rask and keep him in the fold as the starter for at least one more season while Swayman continues to develop in a backup role for the time being.

Swayman’s time is coming, though, and fans should be excited.