Who is Anders Nilsson?

Remember when Cam Talbot was the most coveted goalie of the offseason? We all wondered how much a team would give up to get him on their roster. I was always skeptical, feeling that Talbot was a classic smoke and mirrors case. His small sample size and success behind a stingy Rangers defence made him a risky basket to put your eggs into. I felt there were better options on the free agent market. But, ultimately the Oilers “won” the Talbot sweepstakes. 26 games into the season, however, and it appears Talbot has already lost the starting job in Edmonton. The man who supplanted Talbot for the number one role? That would be 25 year-old Swedish netminder Anders Nilsson.

Drafted by the New York Islanders in 2009, Nilsson had his rights traded to the Oilers this past July and signed a one-year contract. He was given every opportunity to compete for the starters job, but I don’t think anyone believed he’d take the reigns this quickly. It was a perfect storm for Nilsson; he had better numbers while Talbot struggled, and the Oilers were desperate for results. At 6 foot 5, Nilsson moves well for a big man. He’s shown poise, and strong rebound control, and is giving the Oilers lots of reasons to re-sign him. But where did this guy come from?

Up until this year’s resurgence with the Oilers, the biggest thing Nilsson was remembered for was giving up Sidney Crosby’s comeback goal on his first game back since suffering a concussion. It was also Nilsson’s first career NHL start. Talk about being thrown to the wolves.

Nilsson made 31 stops on 36 shots that night, but wouldn’t see much more playing time that season. He appeared in four games that year, winning once. He suited up for 19 games in the 2013-2014 season, but his numbers weren’t great and he ended up in the KHL the following year. The Oilers took a shot on him, which they felt it was worth it because they had Talbot and he was supposed to be the de facto number one. But things don’t always turn out the way you’d expect, and stories in the NHL seem to write themselves, no matter how much you want a certain narrative to be there.

So far this season, Nilsson has six wins in 14 starts, posting a .915 save percentage and 2.63 goals against average. He is the better goalie of the two, and deserves to have the starting role. If you’re the Oilers, do you lock Nilsson up long term? Do you try to give Talbot more playing time to see what you’ve got in him? A quick comparison of their career stats doesn’t make the answer that much clearer:

  • Cam Talbot, age 28:
  • 70 regular season games/ 36 wins/ 8 shutouts/ .924 save percentage/ 2.21 goals against average.
  • Anders Nilsson, age 25:
  • 37 regular season games/ 15 wins/ 1 shutout/ .905 save percentage/ 2.89 goals against average.

Overall, Talbot has the better numbers in more appearances, but he’s also three years older and never left the NHL. Obviously, you have to let the season play out, and see what you have with these guys. The Oilers have struggled to find a decent goalie for so long, it’s really becoming frustrating. A lot of people thought (more like hoped) that Talbot would be their long-awaited goalie savior, and he still could be (if he actually gets into some games).

I like Nilsson, I think he’s got the potential, and should be someone they really consider keeping around beyond this season. But, as is always the case in Edmonton, it’s hard to know what you have in a goalie because of the team in front of him. In the case of Nilsson, he’s been standing tall (no pun intended) during what has been a rough stretch. He has kept his team in games that they probably didn’t deserve to be in. That alone should earn him some consideration.