Ducks’ Lukáš Dostál is emerging as an NHL-Ready Goaltender

During a season in which nearly everything has gone wrong for the Anaheim Ducks, one of the more positive developments has been taking place between the pipes. After injuries sidelined both goaltenders John Gibson (lower body) and Anthony Stolarz (lower body), the Ducks were forced to test their depth for the bulk of this most recent five-game road trip. In their place, Lukáš Dostál and Olle Eriksson Ek, the usual tandem for the American Hockey League’s (AHL) San Diego Gulls, have been on the Ducks’ roster for the last several games. While Eriksson Ek has yet to see the ice, Dostál has played in each of the last seven games, including relieving an injured Gibson on Dec. 13 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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With Dostál in net, the Ducks managed to defeat the Montreal Canadians and Edmonton Oilers. The back-to-back wins match Anaheim’s season-long winning streak and are the club’s second and third regulation wins this year. Goaltending has been a thankless task in Anaheim for a few years, but playing behind this current iteration of Ducks’ defenders has been the most trying. Anaheim has surrendered more shots than any other team in the league, including a league-leading 423 high-danger chances against at even strength. Additionally, Anaheim is the second-most penalized team in the NHL while also allowing the second-highest conversion rate on the penalty kill (67.77 percent). Combined with the second-lowest goal support in the league (2.36 goals per game), Ducks goaltenders have needed to keep games close and low-scoring in a league seeing its biggest scoring boon since the 1990s.

Lukas Dostal San Diego Gulls
Lukas Dostal, San Diego Gulls (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Dostál’s solid performances during a difficult road trip is an encouraging sign for the future of the Ducks. As the years continue through this current rebuild, it’s becoming less and less likely that Gibson will be the starter for Anaheim’s next playoff run. Dostál emerging as an NHL-ready goaltender is a huge boon for Anaheim’s rebuild and helps round out a talented prospect pool with high aspirations in the coming years.

Dostál Stands Tall During Road Trip

Dostál was with the Ducks from the onset of their recent road trip after Stolarz didn’t travel with the team. With the road trip beginning with a back-to-back, he was given the start for the Dec. 12 game against the Ottawa Senators. The Ducks lost 3-0, but he performed well in his season debut. Dostál stopped 31 out of 32 shots at even strength, and 35 out of 38 overall. He would have likely taken a backseat to Gibson for the rest of the trip, but after a lower-body injury knocked the veteran netminder out of the following day’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Dostál was there to shoulder the burden.

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Eriksson Ek joined the Ducks for their Dec. 15 game against the Montreal Canadians, but he was only there to serve as a healthy backup. Dostál started the final three games of the road trip, stopping 106 out of 115 shots (.921 percent) in order to help the Ducks salvage the road trip with a 2-3 record. His best performance came against the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 17. Despite the Oilers’ six power-play opportunities and 49-17 shot differential, Dostál shined against one of the more potent offenses in the league. Edmonton finished the game with a gaudy 5.49 expected goals but only lit the lamp three times. After the game, he praised Oilers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, claiming, “it’s unreal, those guys are something else” (from ‘Anaheim Goaltender Lukas Dostal Denies Oilers Stars,’ Toronto Sun, Dec. 17, 2022).

Dostál Figures into Anaheim’s Future

Dostál’s recent stretch of play in the NHL is encouraging for the future of the Ducks, but he can carve out a role sooner than anticipated. Once again, Anaheim is in a position to spend this year’s trade deadline as sellers. Gibson has been a popular trade suggestion for playoff-hopeful teams that need reliable goaltending. His numbers have seen a steady decline through the course of Anaheim’s rebuild, but a lot of that blame could be placed on the roster in front of him. However, trading for a $6.4 million cap hit over the next five seasons is a significant risk in a league where general managers tend to be risk-averse.

The Ducks do have an interesting and easier to move trade chip in Stolarz. The 28-year-old backup goaltender was solid last season while backing up Gibson, posting a .917 save percentage and 8.2 goals saved above expected in his 28 games. Stolarz’s numbers have declined a bit this season behind Anaheim’s patchwork defense, and his injury does have him on injured reserve for the time being. But with only this season remaining on his $950,000 contract, he would be easier to trade than Gibson. A handful of playoff-hopeful teams have abandoned the concept of a 60-game workhorse goaltender in favor of a cheaper 1A and 1B option. Stolarz’s cheap contract would cleanly fit onto a playoff roster, and it would open the backup spot in Anaheim for Dostál.

Dostál’s usage since the injuries to Gibson and Stolarz suggests that the coaching staff is comfortable with him between the pipes. Even in a back-to-back, Dostál was given the nod over Eriksson Ek in each game, forcing him to see 83 shots in 24 hours. With Gibson reportedly nearing a return, Dostál’s usage will certainly see a decrease, but he should maintain the backup role until Stolarz returns from his injury.

Statistics courtesy of Hockey-DB. Salary cap info courtesy of CapFriendly.

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