The Dallas Stars have been through the wringer when it comes to their goaltending. Ever since Marty Turco finished his tenure in 2010, the Stars have shuffled through the likes of Kari Lehtonen, Tim Thomas, Dan Ellis, Anti Niemi, Ben Bishop, Anton Khudobin, and Braden Holtby. While some of these names worked out for short periods of time, none of them were able to succeed or stay healthy long enough to become the franchise’s answer.
After a tough start to this season from Khudobin, an early retirement from Bishop, and some injury trouble from Holtby, 23-year-old Jake Oettinger made his season debut, coming up from the American Hockey League after spending the 2019-20 season dipping his toes into the NHL. Since then, he has been the answer to this franchise’s present and is certainly the answer to their future.
Oettinger Proves His Worth
The regular season was a roller coaster for Oettinger. He went through spells of excellence followed by periods of tough nights that ended with him on the bench in a baseball cap. When Holtby’s injury worsened late in the season, Oettinger stepped up to fill the void, playing in seemingly every game including 11 of 12 in February.
“For me, lately, I’m just going with the flow,” Oettinger said at the time. “Nothing is in my head, really, I’m just playing. That’s when goalies are at their best. It’s just getting in the right frame of mind and going out and playing and having fun.”
During that time, he put on his best performance, stopping 46 shots in a game in Denver against the top dog Colorado Avalanche, one that had points in 19 straight games and the best home record in the league. Oettinger’s .979 save percentage boosted his team to a 4-1 victory and welcomed him into the NHL for good.
“I actually said to him after the game in Colorado, `Welcome to the NHL,’” said forward Tyler Seguin. “It was a true coming-out party moment. We’ve seen him progress, but after that kind of night, I think he’s going to have a lot more confidence. He seems more settled in now and that could be huge for us.”
Heading into the All-Star break, Oettinger began to struggle a bit, and understandably so. However, when the Stars went out and added Scott Wedgewood to back him up, he took off and never looked back. Down the stretch, the Minnesota native took on a heavy workload and backstopped the Stars to their third playoff appearance in the last four seasons.
“Jake wants the ball. He wants to run with it,” former Stars coach Rick Bowness said following a shootout loss to Nashville in which the Stars were forced to travel the day of the game. “You’ve got to love that about him. If you asked him to go to practice tomorrow for an hour, he’d be the first guy on the ice.”
Playoff Jake Found a New Gear
The biggest question facing this Stars team as they headed to the postseason was if their young superstars would be able to handle the increased intensity and pressure of the NHL playoffs. How did Jake respond? He allowed only one goal to the high-flying Calgary Flames in Game 1, recorded his first playoff shutout in Game 2, kept his team in games when they were overmatched, and eventually put on one of the greatest Game 7 performances of any goaltender in league history.
“He played a hell of a game,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said. “Haven’t seen too many like that. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have been close to overtime and having a chance to win.”
In a game that eventually ended in overtime, Calgary was clearly the better team and held a 67-28 advantage in shots on goal (as well as a 134-59 edge in shot attempts). However, Oettinger had an answer for nearly every one of them, finishing with 64 saves, including some highlight-reel sequences that had the entire hockey community taking notice.
In his first shot at the Stanley Cup Playoffs, “Otter” held a 1.81 goals-against average and .954 save percentage in seven games. His save percentage was the best in the NHL during the first round and the kid set multiple franchise records along the way.
- Stars franchise-record 64 saves
- Second-most saves in a Game 7 in NHL history
- 3.75 goals saved above expected
- Franchise record 272 saves in the series, third-most in NHL history
Oettinger Off the Ice
As discussed in a previous article, Jake Oettinger is an impressive human both on and off the ice. The youngster maintains one of the best work ethics, a humble attitude, and a calm maturity extremely rare in a young goaltender. To put it simply, he has everything needed to be one of the best to ever play the game, and he is only scratching the surface.
“Jake Oettinger’s a franchise goalie, and he’s going to get better,” Bowness said. “He’s a young guy, this is his first run through the playoffs and he’s going to gain from his experience. The Dallas Stars are in good shape for a long time with Jake.”
Oettinger is loved by his teammates and adored by Stars fans and fans around the league. No matter the circumstances, he continues to learn from some of the best goaltenders and goalie coaches in the league, work to set a good example for younger players and kids in his community, and be an excellent teammate, making him the perfect package. Because of that, the Stars most likely have their answer in between the pipes and a huge voice and example in their dressing room for a long time to come.
“He’s so worth it,” said teammate and friend Jacob Peterson, who was drafted alongside Oettinger in 2017. “He’s a good guy. He’s one of my best friends on the team. He’s one of those guys that helped me a lot when I came up here, with the language and stuff like that. I’m so glad for him and I’m not surprised at all that he’s doing that good.”
Sam Nestler is a credentialed Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the Stars, the NHL, and college hockey. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!