Could Jake Oettinger be the Dallas Stars’ future in goal?

Jake Oettinger felt unconvincing.

The Dallas Stars were in overtime of Game 7 against the Calgary Flames in the first round of the playoffs last season. They were there because of Oettinger, the sophomore goalie who stopped 208 of the 218 shots he faced in the previous six games.

The end against the Flames was the sensational guard in a remarkable series: stopping 64 of 66 shots on goal in the first overtime to become only the second goaltender to score 60 or more in a Game 7 since 1995, when the stats were first tracked.

“You’re immersed in what you’re doing,” Oettinger recalled. “You feel like you’ll never score.”

Johnny Goudreau hit the 67th shot Oettinger faced, firing the puck into the net from an odd angle to the right of the goalkeeper. It flew over and behind Oettinger’s shoulder at 15:09 into overtime. Trumpets sounded. The red lights flash. Calgary’s seat has been emptied. The stars have been eliminated.

Oettinger couldn’t bring himself to watch his historic effort again during the season, given the result. “I’ve seen the highlights but I haven’t seen everything yet,” he said. “If we were going to win this match? Yeah, I would have watched it.”

Looking back on the playoffs, Dallas general manager Jim Neal still laughs at the irony: What some considered the Stars’ greatest playoff liability turned out to be their greatest asset.

“When we started the series, probably one of the biggest question marks we had was that we had a young goalie getting his first Stanley Cup game,” Neal said. “This resume isn’t very long. How will he handle it? Now we look back, and I’ve never seen a young man enjoy the moment like he did. He cherished being in the net.”

Oettinger was still in the net after Goudreau’s goal in extra time. Stars captain Jimmy Penn skated to his goalkeeper, still on one knee, to console him.

“Without that, we wouldn’t have come close to overtime or have a chance to win,” Bean said. “He’s an amazing young goalkeeper. He will be great for this organization for a long time.”

The future is now for Oettinger and Dallas. With a new three-year contract, the 23-year-old goalkeeper entered the 2022-23 season at the top of the Stars’ depth chart for the first time.

“He’s our No. 1 goalkeeper,” Neil said. “He jumped at that opportunity. It’s not like you go into a season and say, ‘We’ll just give it to you.'” No, he won it.

Neil is the first to see Oettinger is with the US National Development Team in Detroit.

“We’ve known him since he was sixteen,” said Neil. “When you play for the United States in these tournaments, you’re a very good player. So we got to know him and that’s why we went a little higher to pick him.”

Dallas was the third overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, selecting Miro Heiskanen. But when Neal saw Oettinger was still on the board late in the first round—no goalies had been drafted yet—he sent the 29th overall pick (from Anaheim) and third to Chicago for the 26th overall and chose Oettinger. .

They respected his personality. They liked its size. Oettinger is listed at 6-foot-5, and nothing about that is generous.

“It’s strange,” said Neil. “Some of the guys look tall and skinny. You approach him, and he’s tall and sized.”

After Oettinger and Ben Bishop, who is clocked at 6-foot-7, do the Stars officially have a “type” when it comes to goaltending?

Neil laughed. “We were lucky that way,” he said. “But that is also why Bishop was such a great mentor to him.”

Oettinger joined the Stars in 2019 after three seasons with Boston University. The path of its development had its twists and turns.

He played 38 games with the AHL Texas Stars in 2019-20 before the COVID pandemic shut down the sport. His NHL debut was in the Western Conference “bubble” playoffs. Oettinger was the Insurance Stars’ third-string goaltender. Then Bishop was wounded and Oettinger found himself supporting Anton Khudobin. His NHL debut came on 17 minutes of relief against the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Finals. He also witnessed 19 minutes of action in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In total, Oettinger faced eight shots and made eight saves.

Bishop’s situation for the 2020-21 season affected Oettinger. The Stars are hopeful that the former Vezina Cup winner can make a comeback, but Bishop missed the entire season. Oettinger ended up playing 29 games in the back of Khodobin, going 11-8-7 with a . 911 applause percentage. Analytically, he was superior to Khudubin, who played below replacement level. Oettinger made 2.97 saves above average.

But at the start of the 2021-22 season, Oettinger was shocked to find himself back in the AHL, as the Stars went with free agent signing Braden Holtby and Khudobin as net pointers. (Bishop, who has not seen ice since August 2020, officially retired in December 2021.)

Neil said it was a call they made based on their attempt to get more representatives for Oettinger. “We knew we had to drop him off at the mansion. He wasn’t happy about it. But looking back, it might have been the best thing for him,” the GM said.

Oettinger returned to the NHL on November 16, 2021. He gradually took over the curl, starting 46 games, winning 30 of them and posting a . 914 save percentage. He finished the season winning five of seven starts before his impressive series against the Flames.

The Calgary series changed things for Oettinger, who could feel his stock skyrocketing with his peers around the NHL after this performance.

“I felt it a little bit,” he said. “Everyone watches the playoffs.”

Hockey names are not Quite complex, so it should come as no surprise that Oettinger is an “otter.” what he is Surprise: that goalkeeper has his own mascot.

“My guy is doing a little cartoon otter,” Oettinger said. “Last year I threw a little cowboy hat on him.”

Goalie mask designer David Gunnarsson created an animatronic otter that adorns many of Oettinger’s masks.

“I was like, ‘This could be like my thing,'” Oettinger said.

Last season, he was a cowboy otter. This season, he’s a golfing otter, with gloves and a club.

The otter meme goes beyond the Oettinger mask. Cartoon otters featured on the T-shirts. Otters have become a way for fans to celebrate him on social media. “When I have a good game, people tweet a GIF with the otters,” he said.

How many Otters Oettinger receives this season will depend on how he handles being the first man. Stopping 60 pucks in one game takes a different mental fortitude than backing up a postseason team in 60+ games. Someone made him feel invincible. The other makes him feel indispensable.

“I think for me there will be a lot of mental side this season,” he said. “I’ve never come in first place. And I’ll just have to deal with…not ‘pressure’, but more responsibility, obviously.”

The stars are a team with a veteran core – Benn, Tyler Seguin and Joe Pavelski – bolstered by a host of young stars under the age of 24, such as Heiskanen, Jason Robertson and Oettinger. The goalkeeper believes he has to create the foundation for this squad to thrive.

“It’s up to me to get this team back into the playoffs,” he said. “It’s a big responsibility. But that’s what I signed up for.”

Oettinger signed something else during the offseason: a three-year contract worth $4 million for the annual salary cap.

Neil said the Calgary series doesn’t necessarily complicate those negotiations. For all his faith in Oettinger, he was still a 23-year-old goalkeeper with two seasons and 77 games to his credit.

“He did a good job for us during the year, but the amount of work was on a short time frame,” said Neil.

Their contract talks extended into late summer. Could Dallas get any higher than the $3.979 million the Flyers gave Carter Hart in August 2021 after 101 NHL games?

On Sept. 1, the Stars landed a $4 million AAV deal with Oettinger, which is a restricted free agent when it expires in 2025.

“We’ve accomplished something. Maybe a lot for a guy who’s played that many games. But he deserved it,” Neill said. “He’s already earned it based on who he is and knowing how his teammates want to play him – and that tells you something.

“He’s a player with classy character. He’s our future, moving forward.”

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