Minnesota Wild

Wild playing dangerous game with weak depth behind Dubnyk

ST. PAUL, MN - APRIL 12: Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (40) in action in the 2nd period during Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals between the St. Louis Blues and the Minnesota Wild on April 12, 2017 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Icon Sportswire)
David Berding/Icon Sportswire

Devan Dubnyk has proven to be the starter that the Edmonton Oilers always hoped he would be. Sure, he’s doing it four teams and a few years too late for the Oil, but he’s still thriving with the Minnesota Wild.

Over the past two and a half seasons, Dubnyk has stood in net for 171 games, already matching his workload over five seasons with the Oilers. He has played at least 65 games twice, and put up 39 games over the final half of the season with Minnesota the year he was traded.

And Dubnyk boasts an incredible .601 quality start percentage and a .924 save percentage with the Wild, a significant jump from his numbers in Edmonton, where he put up quality starts less than half the time and finished off with a forgettable .910 save percentage.

For Minnesota, that’s excellent news. Given that the average goaltender puts up numbers well below Dubnyk’s — and over fewer starts per season — the franchise is in good hands on an affordable deal. But the organization risks doing more harm than good if it continues to rely on just him moving forward.

Darcy Kuemper was, for the Wild, somewhat forgettable in his own right. Since hitting the NHL for the first time in 2013, the 27-year-old has appeared in 102 games. Like with Dubnyk, that’s an adequate sample size, though behind a much more secure defensive structure than Dubnyk suffered through during his tenure in Edmonton.

Despite a more structured environment, Kuemper will walk away from his own five-year stint with a .910 save percentage. Nothing to write home about, and nothing that could save the day if Minnesota needed it. But while Kuemper was never a star, he was inexpensive and capable of playing 20-30 games a season. Now, he’s with the Los Angeles Kings, backing up Jonathan Quick.

In his place, the Wild have … seemed to go backwards, really.

ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 19: Minnesota Wild goalie Alex Stalock (32) congratulates goalie Devan Dubnyk, right, on the win at the end of the third period in Game 4 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series. The Wild defeated theBlues 2-0 on April 19, 2017, at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, MO. (Photo by Tim Spyers/Icon Sportswire)

ST. LOUIS, MO – APRIL 19: Minnesota Wild goalie Alex Stalock (32) congratulates goalie Devan Dubnyk, right, on the win at the end of the third period in Game 4 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series. The Wild defeated theBlues 2-0 on April 19, 2017, at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, MO. (Photo by Tim Spyers/Icon Sportswire)

On the NHL roster for next year, the Wild have three goaltenders under contract. One, obviously, is the ever-reliable Dubnyk. He is the face among the team’s goalies and should start most nights. If he’s injured, though, Wild supporters will see either Alex Stalock or Niklas Svedberg in net — and that’s a bit concerning, to say the least.

Stalock had a nice year in very limited action (two games) at the NHL level last season, putting up a .944 save percentage and allowing just three goals on 54 shots.

He spent most of the year at AHL Iowa and was most effective at that level over the years. Last season, in 50 AHL games, Stalock had an excellent .926 save percentage. He put up four shutouts and took home 23 of the club’s 36 wins on the year.

He turns 30 on July 28, though, and struggled immensely in his final seasons as a regularly-used backup for the San Jose Sharks from 2014 to late 2016. He found himself in the minors at the end of the 2015-16 campaign, dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs and then sent home from the AHL’s Marlies before the postseason.

At best, if something were to happen to Dubnyk next year, Stalock will have a renaissance year, similar to the one that Peter Budaj had in Los Angeles this season.

That’s a gamble, though, and Minnesota’s postseason performance in the past few years has shown an exhausted Dubnyk worked to the bone down the stretch. Either the Wild will have to ride him again next year — potentially risking more postseason fatigue — or roll the dice on Stalock buoying the team through spring.

Neither option is especially appealing.

Svedberg is even less of an option. He’s an NHL roster member at the moment in name only.

There’s little reason to believe that the former Boston Bruins prospect, who fell below a .900 save percentage starting for the KHL’s Ufa Salavat Yulayev last season, will be close to NHL-caliber. He’ll likely take Stalock’s spot in Iowa, serving as a minor league pickup.

The Wild have a promising prospect in Steve Michalek at the AHL level; he has put up reliable numbers at every level. He might still be a project needing minor league attention, though; he’s certainly not one of the AHL’s brightest stars, and Minnesota has done little to supplement its pool outside of him.

Hungarian free agent Adam Vay still needs significant work in the minors, and might remain an AHL-caliber goaltender at best throughout his career.

Outside of Michalek and Vay, the team has no prospects signed at the NHL level. Ales Stezka, a 2015 fourth-round pick returned to the Czech Republic this summer rather than inking an ELC with the Wild out of the USHL’s Chicago Steel. And Kaapo Kahkonen — while incredibly promising — has remained in Finland to continue playing for Luuko HC. As a 2014 draft pick, the window to bring him to North America is likely in the next year or two.

Maybe Kahkonen is the goalie of the future. He won a World Junior Championships gold medal and had excellent numbers as a 20-year-old starter in Finland last year; if he’s in the NHL by 22 or 23, he’d be the perfect heir apparent for Dubnyk.

Since 2010, though, the Wild have only drafted three goaltenders, and they haven’t picked up any in the past two draft classes. They have just one free agent signing, and he’s from Hungary; he would be an incredible story but he’s a long shot.

Maybe the Wild want to project that they have the utmost confidence in Dubnyk, and feel that adding a strong backup would dilute that message. But for a team that sorely needs to make a deeper postseason run, they need to start giving him a break — and pulling together a half-strung effort to assemble a depth chart behind him is a poor way to do that.

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