It says something when the NHL announces their Three Stars of the Week and your goaltender is the third star. It says, even more, when your goaltender has numbers of 2-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and .968 save percentage. It says the most when that goalie is 23 years old, and that type of performance surprises absolutely no one.
Welcome to the Jake Oettinger era.
It’s an era that probably came earlier than expected, but no one is complaining. Oettinger was supposed to take a slow, steady climb to the NHL. Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin were one of the best duos in the league and no need to rush the youngster from Lakeville, Minnesota. Necessity is the mother of invention and the amount of decimating injuries to hit Stars netminders was, well, a…mother. First, it was Ben Bishop, then Braden Holtby, and finally, Anton Khudobin. With each injury, Oettinger received an opportunity to move into a bigger role with Dallas, and each time Otter worked hard and learned how to be elite. Stars Goalie Coach Jeff Reese has often said the best thing about Oettinger is his willingness to listen to critiques in an effort for self-improvement. Oettinger’s work ethic paved the way for physical advancement, but the greatest leap forward happened on the mental side of the game.
The biggest difference in the maturation of Oettinger as a goalie is patience. Where the young netminder once lunged, over-committed, and reacted to the first fake, he now plays with a calm, confident style. The shots come to Oettinger, who uses his six-foot-five frame and athleticism to handle the challenge, rather than have the puck play him. There aren’t net-front scrambles that cause the defense to lose structure, leading to more chances. Glove saves are made with minimal effort rather than windmill craziness. Calmness permeates from the crease to all five players in front on the ice.
Last night against Winnipeg, Mark Scheifele wired home a one-timer to give the Jets an early lead. No problem-no panic, Oettinger played perfect in the net for the remaining 56:32 as the Stars rallied their way to a 4-1 win. The Stars were 5-5 on the penalty kill. In order to have a good penalty killing, your best penalty killer has to be the goalie. Once again, this was the case, especially during the third period. One week elapsed into the young season and the numbers are remarkable. Oettinger has played in three games this season and allowed a total of three goals. That’s 84 saves on 87 shots. It may be a bit early to start the campaign for the Vezina Trophy but that day is coming and coming soon.
From the chants of “Eddie’s better,” to amazement at Marty Turco’s bravado, to “Ben’s Bishops,” Stars fans have long love affairs with the men who play between the pipes. Now the new star is an Otter. The cute furry creature can be found on T-shirts, vision board graphics, Jake’s mask, and even numerous fans wearing full-sized Otter masks. Get used to seeing the adoration, as the Otter between the pipes has a chance to be the best goalie in the history of the franchise. Belfour had the work ethic, Turco the athleticism, and Bishop the size. Oettinger has all three.
Only once in the history of the Dallas Stars has the team traded up in the first round of the NHL draft. The year was 2017, the player the Stars coveted was Jake Oettinger. The scouts felt he was special and worth parting with extra assets. Nothing that has transpired since has done anything but enhance that decision. At 23, Jake is on the verge of league-wide recognition. By the time his next contract is due in 2025, he may be the best goalie on the planet. Enjoy the ride, it’s not often a homegrown talent proves to be as good as advertised and maybe a whole lot better.