The 2020 calendar year brought many questions regarding the Pittsburgh Penguins and their situation at the goalie position. Matt Murray continued to show his struggles with consistency while Tristan Jarry found himself at his first All-Star Game.
Both Jarry and Murray had highs and lows during the 2019-20 season, which was a contract year for both of them. In the end, the Penguins decided that Jarry was going to be the No. 1 goalie going forward. A trade was made that sent Murray to the Ottawa Senators for a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.
With the stage set for Jarry to be the clear-cut starting goaltender going forward, here’s how the Penguins goaltending depth chart stands throughout the organization.
Coming off of a stellar 2019-20 season, Jarry will be looking to continue his All-Star caliber pace as the sole No. 1 goalie for the Penguins. In 2019-20, he played in 33 games and recorded 20 wins with a .921 SV% and three shutouts. With his new contract, the 25-year-old will use the next three seasons to prove what kind of player he can grow into. The team believes he has the skillset to be a winner and help contend for another Stanley Cup.
The 2020-21 season will be Jarry’s first as a full-time starter in the NHL – with that, may come some growing pains. Fans shouldn’t expect him to be perfect right away, as he will have to get used to the pressure and workload that comes with the starting position.
With only 62 career games played, he is among the least experienced starters in the NHL. The New York Rangers’ Igor Shestyorkin (12) and Washington Capitals’ Ilya Samsonov (26) are two Metropolitan Division counterparts with fewer games played.
While Murray left his mark as one of the most memorable goalies in Penguins’ history, it is Jarry’s turn to live up to his own hype and become a top starter in the league.
After a full season in the American Hockey League (AHL), Casey DeSmith is looking to regain the crease as the Penguins backup goalie option. Unless a move is made that brings in another NHL-ready name, DeSmith will be the No. 2 back stopper in Pittsburgh.
DeSmith has been no slouch when given the call to start games for Pittsburgh. Between his two seasons in the NHL, he has started in 41 games and holds a record of 21-15-6. As mentioned, he had to spend the entire 2019-20 season in the AHL, playing 41 games he had a record of 18-18-2 with a .905 SV%.
One major benefit of DeSmith at backup is his contract situation, making $1.25 million for another two years. Combining that with Jarry’s contract, the Penguins have $4.75 million wrapped up in their goaltending duo for the next couple of years. Considering the lack of growth in a salary cap, this is a good situation for the team.
DeSmith is one of the handful of players who has found his way all the way from the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL to the Penguins in the NHL, and it’s likely he’s here to stay.
Barring any sort of last-minute goalie signing, the first line of defense in the system is the recently acquired Maxime Lagace. If that name sounds familiar, note that this is not Stanley Cup Champion goalie Manny Legace, rather, one of the five goaltenders the Vegas Golden Knights had to use during their inaugural season. Those 16 games in 2017-18 were his first in the NHL where he went 6-7-1 with a .867 SV%. Since then he has only played one NHL match, which resulted in a loss.
Lagace spent all of last season with the Providence Bruins of the AHL and went 22-7-3 in 33 games played. A .919 SV% helped lead the Bruins to an Eastern Conference leading 82 points before the season was shut down due to COVID-19.
Since Lagace has some sort of NHL experience, and is almost four years older, expect him to sit above Emil Larmi in the depth chart for the time being.
This is a strange position for Larmi to be in. The Coronavirus outbreak has forced him to be placed on loan to HPK Hameenlinna of the SM-liiga in Finland, rather than gaining more experience on North American ice. Currently, in Finland, he holds a 1-1-6 record and .890 SV%, but will be returning to the AHL to split time with Lagace when the AHL season begins.
The argument could still be made that Larmi is a top 10 prospect and top young goalie in the organization, which is where he will stand until 2020 Draft picks Joel Blomqvist and Calle Clang sign contracts to join the Penguins in North America.
The difference in play between continents shouldn’t be ignored. It’s important for any European player to get reps in across the pond before being thrust into an NHL roster. Remember how the Sergei Plotnikov experiment went?
After the 2020-21 season, assuming the Penguins offer the social media favorite a new contract, Larmi will be a step closer to being a top-three goalie in the depth chart.
Both of the following names are players that can’t sit somewhere in the depth chart because they are recent draft picks and are yet to officially sign a deal with the organization. For now, they are goaltending prospects to keep an eye on as time passes. Both are making cases to join their respective countries’ World Junior Championship (WJC) team.
Chosen with the aforementioned 2020 second-round pick from the Murray trade, the Penguins began to regrow their field of young goalies with Blomqvist from Finland. Only 18-years-old, there is still plenty of time before he begins to battle for an NHL job, but that’s exactly what he is projected to do one day. He has time to grow into his hockey sense and should be a starter in the coming years.
The Penguins didn’t stop with just taking Blomqvist – in the third round, they chose Clang from Sweden. There is still some time before Clang makes his way into the Penguins organization, but for now, he is getting a shot at the Sweden WJC team. Also 18-years-old, there is plenty of room to grow into a professional in his own right.
The Penguins goaltending depth chart isn’t bone dry, but it sure looks to be lack-luster for the moment. There have been discussions if the team should make an attempt at signing a third-stringer if Jarry or DeSmith go down with an injury. Given the Penguins’ injury history, it would not be the worst idea, but it’s also possible that management has faith in their depth at the position.
Nick Horwat is a graduate of Point Park University and was born and raised in Pittsburgh. A lifelong Penguins fan that has been watching and going to games for as long as he can remember.