The Dallas Stars goaltender enters the Elite District

Jake Oettinger is impressive. 959 save percentage and a 1.25 goals against average (GAA) through his first four games ranks second only in the NHL this season to Craig Anderson. Of course, Anderson has only started two games and faced half as many shots as Oettinger.

This hot streak from Oettinger is a continuation of last season, as he posted a 10-best goals-against-average and 17-best save percentage among guards with over 20 starts. Even crazier, he has started the 2021-22 season in the AHL.

Oettinger’s stock has skyrocketed with the team since his brilliance in the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs. In the first round, the Lakeville, Minnesota product allowed ten goals on 218 shots in seven games. In Game 7, Oettinger made 64 saves, eventually allowing the game-winning touchdown to Johnny Goudreau with just under five minutes remaining in the first overtime period.

“You go into overtime with Jake, and you know he had a perfect shot to beat him, and it was a perfect shot,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said via ESPN. “Johnny made a great shot right down the bar. You can’t do anything about it.”

After signing a three-year, $12 million contract extension in September, Oettinger is ready to become the long-term fixer in Dallas.

The shining Dallas Stars goalie in the starting role

What makes it elite?

Oettinger’s stats are impressive, but he also possesses the skills to excel outside the box.

He uses all of his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame to guard the net and has the speed and agility that set him apart from the typical goaltender. He always seems calm and confident in his ability, matched by an unstoppable drive to the net.

To be considered an elite player, a player must possess intangible objects that show his play. NHL.com writer Mike Heca believes Oettinger has the talent to be an elite goaltender, and gushes about the goaltender when he talks about signing his contract.

“The best thing about Jake Oettinger is that he’s so talented,” Heika writes, “but the next best thing about Jake Oettinger is that he blends it all with mental strength, composure, and a fierce competitive drive.”

The 23-year-old has the momentum to reach the next level but needs three more factors to stay consistent. It needs to keep the disk off the network and handle the current workload. Oettinger will rise to the ranks of the elite if those two factors continue throughout the season.

Numbers

1.25 GAA is not a sustainable number in the NHL today. Oettinger would be the favorite for the Vezina Cup if those numbers are held. It matches players from the 1920s and 1930s, who had only played 48 games in that time.

And Oettinger rarely shuts down opposing teams, which is standard for a low GAA. Looking at Brian Elliott’s stats from the 2011-12 season, he had nine starts in 38 starts. Elliott won the Jennings Cup and finished fifth in the Vezina voting with a 1.56 GAA and 0.940 save percentage. Oettinger, without a doubt, would be the winner at Vezina if he allowed less than two goals in a match and played more than 40 matches.

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Over three seasons, Oettinger has a career GAA of 2.40 and a 0.916 save percentage. He appeared in just 81 games in that span but outlasted several goalkeepers to win the starting job. In previous seasons, General Manager Jim Neal had been adamant about developing Oettinger. He played in 29 matches during the 2020-21 season, backing up Anton Khudubin as Ben Bishop is still injured. Despite being outplayed by the veteran, Oettinger started the 2021-22 season in the AHL. With Bishop unavailable, the Stars signed Braden Holtby as a tandem partner with Khudobin.

Holtby and Khudobin struggled with stability and injury, causing Oettinger to return to the team in November of that season. Oettinger outplayed both goaltenders, winning nine of the first ten games he started. Dallas put full faith in Oettinger for the rest of the year, and it almost paid off at the time of the game.

“Otherwise we wouldn’t have been close to overtime or had a chance to win,” said captain Jimmy Bean after losing Game 7. “He is an amazing young goalkeeper. He will be great for this organization for a long time.”

Workload

Oettinger will hit his best early this year if he stays healthy. Oettinger made 72 appearances over his first two seasons, and the 2022-23 season could see him play 60-70 on his own. Backup Scott Wedgewood isn’t a threat to get past the starting job, but consistency is critical, and Oettinger needs to continue his high level of play over a broader period of time.

While it could be easy to suspect a younger player, Oettinger has earned the Stars management’s absolute confidence.

“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.”

Oettinger’s stats last season were good but not elite. He started 23 of 26 games between January 30 and March 22, which means fatigue may be hampering his stats slightly. He didn’t reach the next level until the playoffs, as he posted a 1.81 GAA and a 0.954 save percentage.

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And so far this season, it looks like the same champ from the playoffs. Even if Oettinger struggles, he’s a better bet than Wedgwood and Khudobin, who were placed on waivers during the preseason. Still young, Oettinger is still growing towards his prime and has outperformed his peers each of the past two seasons.

If Oettinger posts similar stats to his career average this season, he’ll be elite. His potential workload is that large. Leaving two and a half goals in the game and saving over 91 percent of shots would easily put him in the top five among goalkeepers.

For example, the last two Vezina winners from their 82-game seasons played a full 53 games in their winning year. The more games Oettinger plays, the harder it will be to maintain a good stat streak, but the more important it will be to Dallas’ success.

verdict

Jake Oettinger is about to become elite. With his play this season and workload to come, he will more than pay off his recently signed three-year contract.

He needs to focus on consistency, which is going to be tough, as he tops the Stars’ goalie depth chart. While he has appeared in the first four matches of the season, he has to work to prove he is a top goalkeeper in the league. He has the skills and natural ability to be better than average, but his workload will be daunting to overcome.

Oettinger has become a staple for the stars. He got his turn slowly, and patience with his growth paid off in a big way. Oettinger is sneaking his way into individual accomplishments in the sport. Over the past two seasons, his play has created a buzz around Dallas and could turn it back into a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup.

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