It may be very early in the new 2021-22 NHL season, but the Arizona Coyotes goalie situation is looking bright. Newcomer Karel Vejmelka made his NHL debut, and it was quite something to see. In the team’s second contest this season, Vejmelka stopped 32 of 33 shots in a tight defensive battle against the Buffalo Sabres won by the Sabres 2-1 in a shootout. Now, it was tight due to the Czech Republic native standing on his head to make saves and keep his team in the game.
Arizona Coyotes Goalie Karel Vejmelka Makes Outstanding NHL Debut
Vejmelka signed a one-year $925,000 AAV contract on May 1, 2021. It is a waivers-exempt deal and from the looks of his playing level, it won’t be his last NHL contract. When the Arizona Coyotes cleaned house to begin a rebuild, they let go not one, not two, but three goalies. Gone were starter Darcy Kuemper, backups Antti Raanta, and Adin Hill. This made the Coyotes goalie situation puzzling, to say the least.
Who would be their starter? Or, backup for that matter. They signed Carter Hutton to a one-year $750,000 AAV deal on July 28, 2021. Hutton’s first game in a Coyotes’ uniform was… well not memorable. He allowed eight goals and lost miserably to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the team’s first contest of the 2021-22 campaign.
That was enough for new head coach Andre Tourigny to see what his backup goalie could do. Vejmelka was the Nashville Predators fifth-round selection of the 2015 NHL Draft. Per Coyotes Insider Craig Morgan, “the Predators wanted Vejmelka to leave the Czech Extraliga, the top league in the Czech Republic, to play in the ECHL. Vejmelka and his agent didn’t think that made much sense. Vejmelka thought his development would be better served in the Extraliga and he wanted to complete his studies, so the Predators lost his rights and he became a free agent.”
Karel Vejmelka Earned His Roster Spot
While most speculated that the team would start the season with Hutton as the starter and Josef Kořenář as his backup, that wasn’t the case. Vejmelka showed in the Rookie Camp and preseason that he deserved a look. In the team’s preseason finale against the Vegas Golden Knights, he made 25 saves in a 3-1 win. That earned him the backup spot, and Kořenář was assigned to Tucson. As it is in baseball, you can never have too many good pitchers. Such is the case in hockey, you can never have too many good goalies. If Vejmelka can continue his excellent play, the Coyotes can try to concentrate on developing more offensive firepower. Vejmelka deserved to win the game, but with only one goal to support him, that wasn’t happening.
Coyotes Home Opener is Next
With the surprising and pleasant play of Vejmelka, it places new head coach Tourigny in a tight spot. Does he go with the veteran Hutton, or put Vejmelka back in there? Tough decision. If he goes with the hot hand as most NHL coaches do, it will be Vejmelka. If he wants to give Hutton some redemption and see if he can rebound, then that is understandable. Yet with saves like this, it seems the obvious choice should be “Veg”, as Tourigny calls him.
In the Shane Wright Sweepstakes, the Coyotes Are Leading
Certainly, it’s way too early to predict how this “rebuild” will turn out. As of just two games in, it doesn’t appear that the Sabres are tanking… at least yet. Give them time, and something will happen. They tend to start out just fine as they have thus far this new season, and then things go to the dumpster. Without Jack Eichel, they seem to be doing just fine. If the Coyotes intention is to tank, then they have a head start. Their play shows a lot of flaws. While some were covered up in the second game due to Vejmelka’s acrobatic play, they have a long road ahead of them filled with potholes.
Namely, poor offence where scoring one or two goals a game will not get it done. Phil Kessel, their leading scorer last season seems to be going through the motions. Perhaps he has another mystery injury or is just biding his time till he gets traded. In any case, just as with Kuemper’s excellent goaltending, there needs to be adequate defence and offence to make a team successful. So, is the Arizona Coyotes goalie situation resolved?
We all know that Karel Vejmelka is doing his part. Now he just needs some help.