Jake Oettinger is impressive. His .959 save percentage and 1.25 goals-against average (GAA) through his first four games rank only second in the NHL this season to Craig Anderson. Anderson, of course, has only started two games and has faced about half the amount of shots as Oettinger.
This hot streak by Oettinger is a continuation from last season, where he had the 10th-best goals-against average and 17th-best save percentage among goalies with over 20 starts. Even crazier, he began the 2021-22 season in the AHL.
Oettinger’s stock with the team has risen since his heroics 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 goal to Johnny Gaudreau with a little under five minutes left in the first overtime period.
“You go into overtime with Jake, you know it’s going to take a perfect shot to beat him, and it was a perfect shot,” then Stars coach Rick Bowness said via ESPN. “Johnny made a great shot right under the bar. You can’t do anything about that.”
After signing a three-year, $12 million contract in September, Oettinger is ready to become the long-term answer in net for Dallas.
Dallas Stars Goalie Shining In Starting Role
What Makes Him Elite?
Oettinger’s stats are great, but he also has the skills to stand out beyond the box score.
He uses all of his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame to guard the net and has quickness and agility that sets him apart from the typical goalie. He seemingly is always calm and confident in his ability, matched by his drive to be unstoppable in the net.
To be considered elite, a player must have intangibles that show off his play. NHL.com writer Mike Heika believes that Oettinger has the talent to be an elite goaltender, gushing about the netminder when talking about his contract signing.
“The best thing about Jake Oettinger is he’s uber-talented,” Heika writes, ” But the next best thing about Jake Oettinger is that he mixes all of that with mental strength, calm, and a relentless drive to compete.”
The 23-year-old has the momentum to reach the next level but needs three other factors to stay consistent. He needs to keep the puck out of the net and handle his current workload. Oettinger will ascend into elite status if these two factors hold throughout the season.
A 1.25 GAA is not a sustainable number in today’s NHL. Oettinger would be a favourite for the Vezina Trophy if these numbers held. He matches players from the 1920s and 30s, who only played 48 games a season back then.
Oettinger also rarely shuts out opposing teams, which is a benchmark for a low GAA. Looking at Brian Elliot’s stats from the 2011-12 season, he had nine shutouts through 38 games. Elliot won the Jennings Trophy and placed fifth in Vezina voting with a 1.56 GAA, and a .940 save percentage. Oettinger would, without a doubt, be the Vezina winner if he allowed less than two goals a game and plays more than 40 games.
Over three seasons, Oettinger has a career GAA of 2.40 and a .916 save percentage. He has only appeared in 81 games in that span but outplayed numerous goaltenders to win the starting job. General manager Jim Nill was adamant in previous seasons about Oettinger’s development. He played in 29 games during the 2020-21 season, backing up Anton Khudobin as Ben Bishop was still injured. Despite outplaying the veteran starter, Oettinger started the 2021-22 season in the AHL. With Bishop still unavailable, the Stars signed Braden Holtby as a tandem partner with Khudobin.
Holtby and Khudobin struggled with consistency and injury, causing Oettinger to rejoin the team in November of that season. Oettinger outplayed both goalies, winning nine of the first ten games he started. Dallas put complete trust into Oettinger for the rest of the year, and it nearly paid off come playoff time.
“If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t even have been close to overtime or having a chance to win,” captain Jamie Benn said after the Game 7 loss. “He’s a phenomenal young goalie. He’s going to be great for this organization for a long time.”
Oettinger will set a career-high in starts this year if he stays healthy. Oettinger has 72 games through his first two seasons, and the 2022-23 campaign could see him play 60-70 alone. Backup Scott Wedgewood is not a threat to overtake the starting job, but consistency is critical, and Oettinger needs to continue his high level of play over a broader range of time.
While it’s easy to doubt a younger player, Oettinger has earned the absolute trust of Stars’ management.
“He’s our No. 1 goalie,” Nill said. “He’s grabbed that opportunity. It’s not like you come into a season and say, ‘we’re just going to give it to you.’ No, he’s earned it.”
Oettinger’s stats last season were good but not elite. He started 23 of 26 games between January 30th and March 22nd, meaning fatigue could have hampered his stats slightly. He didn’t reach the next level until the playoffs, posting a 1.81 GAA and a .954 save percentage.
And so far through this season, he looks like the same hero from the playoffs. Even if Oettinger struggles, he is a better bet than Wedgewood and Khudobin, who was placed on waivers during the preseason. Still young, Oettinger is still growing towards his prime and has beaten out his counterparts in each of the last two seasons.
If Oettinger posts similar stats to his career average this season, he will be elite. His potential workload is that big. Letting up two and a half goals a game and saving over 91 percent of shots would easily put him into the top five amongst goalies.
For context, the last two Vezina winners from full 82-game seasons each played 53 games in their winning year. The higher the amount of games Oettinger plays, the harder it will be to maintain a good stat line, but the more important he will be for Dallas’ success.
Jake Oettinger is on the borderline of becoming elite. With his play this season and incoming workload, he will more than pay off his recently signed three-year contract.
He needs to focus on consistency, which will be hard to do, as he tops the Stars’ goalie depth chart. While he has shown up for the first four games of the season, he has to work to prove he is a top goalie 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 an essential piece for the Stars. He slowly earned his role, and patience with his growth has paid off in a significant way. Oettinger is creeping his way toward individual achievement in the sport. Over the past two seasons, his play has created a buzz around Dallas and can return them to a legit contender for the Stanley Cup.
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