Over the last few weeks, Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger has made great progress. Although he was a clear franchise goalie and talented prospect from day one, his career in the NHL had been somewhat up and down over the first two seasons. Now, he has earned the full trust of his teammates and coaches, cementing himself as a true number one goaltender in the NHL.
Where It Started For Oettinger
After backing up Anton Khudobin throughout the 2020 Stanley Cup bubble, Oettinger played his first season in the NHL in 2020-21. In 24 starts, he held an 11-8-7 record with a .911 save percentage and 2.36 goals-against average. Throughout the season, he seemingly overtook Khudobin for the starting job and displayed some elite-caliber skill. However, there were also struggles.
Past regulation, Oettinger struggled to compete. He lost seven times and looked out of place, especially in the shootout. Still, he finished the year on a whole new level with many new tools in his repertoire.
To begin the 2021-22 season, Oettinger was in the American Hockey League with veterans Khudobin and Braden Holtby holding down the crease in Dallas. However, the youngster did what he does best, put his head down and worked hard until eventually earning his shot, and never returned to the AHL.
Where Oettinger Stands Now
It has not been a flawless run for the 23-year-old in the NHL this season. He began hot, struggled for a couple of weeks, but has now seemingly found another level that we have not seen before.
“For me, lately, I’m just going with the flow,” Oettinger said. “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.”
After an impressive performance in a victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 18, Oettinger took off. During that time, he went 6-2-1 with a 1.85 goals-against average and .937 save percentage, earning himself Third Star of the Week honors from the NHL. With his dominant play, he earned the full respect and trust of his coaches, starting nine of the last 10 games overall for Dallas.
“Jake wants the ball. He wants to run with it,” Bowness said following the recent shootout loss to Nashville. “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.”
During that stretch, Oettinger put on one performance that stood above the rest. Following a 4-0 home loss to the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas traveled to Denver two days later to rematch the best team in the NHL, one that had points in 19 straight games and the best home record in the league. How did the young goaltender respond? With a 46-save 4-1 victory, recording a .979 save percentage.
“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.”
Oettinger Is A Complete Player On And Off The Ice
When talking about Jake Oettinger around the rink, the conversation has one major theme. Not only is he an incredibly talented young goaltender but the Lakeville, Minnesota native is one of the best people off the ice as well.
“He’s so worth it,” said 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.”
Oettinger is the first player on and last player off the ice for every practice or morning skate, he is constantly studying film, talking to other players, or analyzing his game and the Stars game overall, and he is always the first one to admit when he is at fault on the ice. This, along with his calm demeanor, something that is rare in such a young goalie, has excelled his growth and established a mutual trust inside the locker room.
“We all love working with young players, Bowness said.” Especially when he has such a good work ethic and character like Jake. He wants to get better, he’s a great worker and a great teammate. You know they want to get better and you know down the road, they are going to be a lot better.”
Oettinger is preparing for his sixth straight start and 11th in the last 12 games as the Stars host the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday afternoon. With Dallas hovering on the playoff bubble and every point being at a premium, the youngster may be tasked with quite a workload down the stretch.
“I want to be the backbone for this team like he [Saros] is for them,” Oettinger said.
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!