Peter Budaj made the most of his opportunity with the Los Angeles Kings’ organization when the two parties came to a one-year agreement following the New York Islanders picking up former Manchester Monarchs’ goalie J.F. Berube. Budaj was offered an invitation to the Kings’ training camp on a professional tryout and signed with the team on Oct. 9 before the start of the AHL season.
Budaj did not play a single game in the NHL last season and posted a .880 save percentage and a goals-against average of 3.55 in 19 games played in the AHL with the St. John’s IceCaps. Budaj failed to earn a win in those 19 games with a record of 0-9-6. Before last season, he served as a backup for the Montreal Canadiens for three years and played 242 games with the Colorado Avalanche after being drafted by the team in 2001.
Big AHL Goalie Skates to Fill
The Monarchs won the Calder Cup Championship for the first time in franchise history and Berube served as the No. 1 goalie for the majority of that year, playing in 52 games during the regular season. Berube had a 2.18 GAA and a .913 save percentage and could have come into camp competing for the position as Jonathan Quick’s backup. Instead, Berube was susceptible to being claimed off waivers, given his contractual status before the start of the season, and while Berube doesn’t have any NHL experience, the Islanders chose to claim him on Oct. 6.
In addition to Berube having a strong year, the Kings 2013 fifth-pick, Patrik Bartosak, played 28 games for the Monarchs last season with a GAA of 2.23 and a save percentage of .919 during the regular season.Bartosak stepped in to the last two games of the Calder Cup Finals to relieve an injured Berube and was able to help Manchester preserve their series lead and win the Calder Cup in five games.
Budaj’s Play So Far This Season
Both Berube and Bartosak had better numbers than Budaj last season and both played more games. Those two factors, along with Budaj’s statistics last season, would have left Budaj with a very small chance to make a Kings’ team had Berube not been claimed. Berube was claimed and the Kings’ minor-league affiliate, now the Ontario Reign, has played five games this season with a record of 5-0-0. Budaj has played in all five games and is among the league leaders in save percentage and GAA.
Budaj has a GAA under 1.00 (currently 0.98) and a save percentage of .955 to start the season and has already recorded three shutouts. The Reign’s next game is on Friday against the San Antonio Rampage, who are off to a 3-0-1 start to their season.
The Reign signed Ray Emery to a professional tryout earlier this month and now the team has three goalies in rotation with Bartosak, Emery and Budaj. Both Bartosak and Budaj are signed through this year, according to capfriendly.com, and Budaj is quickly trying to establish himself as the No. 1 goalie in Ontario.
Cole R. Querry resides in Southern California. Having played hockey through college and a background in science and math, he promises to bring an objective analysis to the team and sport he loves.