After a thoroughly solid start to the 2014-15 season that saw Darcy Kuemper pitch back to back shutouts to open the year, optimism shone bright within the organization. Minnesota finally thought they had their goalie of the future. We all know how this turned out however. As the 2014-15 season went up in flames, Chuck Fletcher was forced to make that desperation trade to bring in Devan Dubnyk from Arizona. The final analysis of Darcy Kuemper was that after his third year with the club, after his desired one-way contract was signed on the dotted line, he had his chance to prove that he was the number one goaltender in Minnesota, but he blew it, and so back to the bench he would go.
The rest is history, as Devan Dubnyk posted career best numbers in his first year with the Wild, largely carrying the team on his back into the postseason. Kuemper would not see much more ice time, and would enter the second year of a two year contract as the primary backup to Mr. Dubnyk in 2015.
The biggest question surrounding the Wild as they entered this season remained, would Devan Dubnyk be forced to play the bulk of the year again with little or no help from an inconsistent bench? By the end of October, it seemed so. All that was asked of Kuemper entering this year, was to provide efficient enough net-minding when Dubnyk needed a breather, and how often would that be honestly?
Winnipeg Manitoba: The Jets are playing host to the rival Minnesota Wild in a Sunday matinee, as Wild fans bore witness to another typical Darcy Kuemper performance that included his signature goal-line back and forth “uh-oh” pace (the Darcy Dougie?). With 4 goals against on 18 shots faced in a mere 21 minutes of play, Darcy Kuemper was pulled from the tilt just a minute into the second period, capping off another horrifying and inconsistent performance that Wild fans had come all too accustomed with from the 25 year old net-minder, just in time for Halloween.
This was a bit of a head scratching performance from Kuemper, as just a little over a week prior he had pitched an impressive outing on the road in LA (where he loves playing), where he stopped 35 of 37 SA in an overtime loss, which was his season debut. At the same time, that had been the story of Kuemper’s young career with the Wild, a highly talented but sophomoric goaltender who could yet string together enough solid games in a row.
Fast forward to today, where Darcy Kuemper is on the verge of starting his fourth consecutive game for the Wild, when they begin their first of a two game home-stand against the Vancouver Canucks. This home-stand commences a tough closing to 2015 for the team, but sees the Wild right in the mix of things in the West, thanks to Darcy’s December. The net became Kuemper’s as the immediate starter when Devan Dubnyk was forced to leave a game against the Colorado Avalanche on December 5th.
Midway through the second period of that game, Dubnyk unexpectedly exited with an unknown injury (later diagnosed as a groin strain) ensuring that Wild fans’ hearts skipped a beat not knowing how long their number one would be out of action. With Minnesota already doing their best to avoid the continuity of their annual midseason-ish slump, Kuemper would be forced to prove himself once more.
So far, he has been more than up to the task.
That’ll do Darcy…
Kuemps has posted a career high save percentage of .920 through six games (NHL numbers only) and a 2-0-4 record, highly acceptable numbers coming from your backup. Regardless of all those OT losses, points are points this season in a highly competitive conference. While his starts may again decrease following Tuesday’s match up with the ‘Nucks due to Dubnyk’s return, his stout play surely has instilled confidence in not only Mike Yeo to trust his backup, but also the team in front of him, especially a team that has struggled to score goals of late.
Through six games in the month of December, the Wild have scored just 10 times, yet their December record is 4-0-2. Darcy has been a large part, if not the largest part of their success during this stretch. All you can ask of a goalie is that you keep your team in each and every game that is played, by avoiding the allowance of the soft ones, and everyone knows Kuemper’s history of having a knack for a softy or two in games where he makes an appearance. Fortunately, this has not been the case since having to replace Dubnyk temporarily.
This is probably some of, if not the best we have seen of Darcy Kuemper. Fresh off a 2-0 win over the Sharks, in San Jose no less – a building the Wild never win in – Kuemps notched his 6th career shutout to go along with the Wild’s league-lead in that category as well (six combined shutouts). It’s also good to see that if/when Dubnyk goes down due to injury or fatigue, this year’s Kuemper (or so far at least) has been able to come in and provide the Wild a chance to win each night. So far, it looks like some maturation has played a note on Kuemper, who has now been behind Dubnyk on the depth chart for nearly a year.
If Kuemper’s game maintains this long desired consistency into 2016, it will be interesting to see how management handles the backup goalie situation come Summer time. Niklas Backstrom will finally be coming off the books, freeing up over $3 million annually, and Kuemper is due another $1.25 million in this, his final year under contract as well before hitting free agency.
Jon Nomland is a Journalism student out of Colorado, and currently a Minnesota Wild contributor for The Hockey Writers. When not engaged in Wild hockey, he enjoys following the Philadelphia Flyers due to his Pennsylvania roots.