The New Jersey Devils have been blessed bu the Hockey Gods with excellent goaltending since the 1993-94 season. With Cory Schneider ready and raring to go, 2016-17 should see more excellent in the crease. Today’s overview will be an individual look at each goalie who stands at least a semblance of a chance to see some time in net for New Jersey this season.
Do I really need to write anything more here? The obvious and pretty much only choice to be our starting goaltender, Schneider is our all-star in net. If we expect the Devils to have a good season, the forwards will need to ramp up the scoring, and Cory will need to be Cory.
Last season, Schneider posted a 27-25-6 record, besting his previous career high in wins by 1 in 11 fewer games (due to injury); I have no doubt in my mind that Cory would have had his first 30 win season last year had he not gone down. His 2.15 GAA was good for 4th in the league and honestly should have been second best, as I don’t believe players who start less than half of their team’s games (such as John Gibson and Brian Elliott) can truly be considered league leaders. Schneider finished in a 3-way tie for 4th (with Corey Crawford and Michael Neuvirth who again should not count due to starting only 29 games) for SV% with a .924, and again finished behind 2 players (Elliott and Thomas Griess) who really should not count, but alas perhaps that argument is for another article.
The long story short is Cory had an amazing season, posting impressive numbers that are right in line with his career averages; should he be able to replicate last season, stay off of IR, and have his forwards pot a few more goals, there’s no reason for Schneider not to carry New Jersey back to the playoffs...and possibly get some long overdue recognition as a Vezina finalist.
Wedgewood is one option the Devils have to be their backup this season, and could be the favorite after how well he played last season. While he missed some time due to injury, he posted a 2-1-1 record with a 1.24 GAA and .957 SV% in 4 NHL games. His stats in Albany are probably more accurate, but his record of 14-3-3 with a 1.57 GAA and .933 SV% in 22 regular season games were still very good; the Calder Cup Playoffs saw some troubling numbers of 2.72 GAA and .897 SV% with a 6-5-0 record. Will the real Scott Wedgewood please stand up?
The injuries leave us with a small sample size of what Wedgewood may truly be capable of; however, he might win the backup job simply for being a more valuable asset. Wedgewood is only 24 and still may have some room for growth; the other realistic option, Keith Kinkaid, is 27 and basically is what he is at this point. With the expansion draft looming after this season, New Jersey might opt to showcase Wedgewood and hope he is the player that Las Vegas selects from their roster, if their intent is to try and keep their forwards and defense intact.
With the way 2015-16 went, Kinkaid may have played himself out of the role of Cory Schneider’s backup; his 9-9-1 average in 23 games (20 starts) with a 2.81 GAA and .904 SV% could be classified as pedestrian at best. His career averages of 2.71 GAA and .909 SV% are not much better either, supporting my above theory of “what you see if what you get” with Keith at this point.
If the Devils opt for the player with more NHL experience, then Kinkaid is the man for the job this season, as training camp PTO Anders Lindback has worse NHL career averages (2.87 GAA, .904 SV%) and in my opinion will be released once the preseason is said and done. Should Kinkaid win the backup spot, he needs to step his game up in a big way; he let in a number of soft goals last season, and if the Devils hope to have a successful campaign this season, whoever the backup is can not be letting in softies.
Okay, call me crazy on this one, but I could see Blackwood getting a cup of coffee in the NHL as soon as this season, but if and only if someone goes down with a long-term injury. I could also see him getting called up as the backup for short-term injuries while not playing a game since he is waiver exempt.
Blackwood played his final season for the Barrie Colts of the OHL last season, posting career highs of a 2.72 GAA and a .921 SV%. Mackenzie will be competing to start for Albany this season, and as the top rated North American goalie of the 2015 NHL Draft, Blackwood could wind up being a viable option down the line for New Jersey in either a starter or backup role. While I mentioned that he could get a brief call-up, the best case scenario for this season would be for Blackwood to get a full season’s experience in the AHL.
If there’s one position on the ice that the Devils should not have to worry about, it’s goalie. As long as Cory Schneider stays healthy, the Devils will have one of the game’s elite netminders playing the majority of their season. The Devils have some solid options to back Cory up, but I’m not sure Keith Kinkaid or Scott Wedgewood could handle an extended stint in his place; Mackenzie Blackwood’s development will be interesting to watch this season.
Now I’d like to hear your thoughts/projections for the Devils goaltenders this season; who do you think will earn the backup spot behind Schneider this season? How will Cory perform this season? Will he finally earn some Vezina recognition? Do we see Blackwood in the NHL (even on the bench) this season and not just in the last game of the season? Leave any and all comments below, thank you as always for reading, and remember we’re just a mere 8 days away from the 2016-17 season. Let’s go Devils!