Ranking the Best Breakout Goaltending Performances in 2013-14 NHL Season So Far

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistDecember 17, 2013

Ranking the Best Breakout Goaltending Performances in 2013-14 NHL Season So Far

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    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    One of the biggest stories of the 2013-14 NHL season so far has been the emergence of a number of unlikely goaltending heroes all around the league.

    Conventional wisdom has dictated that elite goaltenders emerge rarely, and teams need to lock them up when they do. This year, great goalies seem to be coming out of the woodwork, preserving the fortunes of many a franchise as unexpected circumstances have arisen.

    Here's a look at eight goaltenders who have dramatically exceeded expectations this season—unheralded rookies and standout journeymen alike. Rankings are based on the goalie's positive impact on his team to date and the likelihood that he can keep his strong play going for the rest of the year.

    Which of these eight do you think can keep it going long enough to sign a big-money, long-term Lundqvist-like deal? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    All stats through Sunday, December 15, courtesy of NHL.com.

8. Jonas Gustavsson: Detroit Red Wings

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    Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

    Where He Came From

    Jonas Gustavsson started his pro career in Sweden before signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent in July 2009. After three bumpy seasons in Toronto, he moved on to the Detroit Red Wings, signing a two-year free-agent deal in the summer of 2012.

    Gustavsson saw limited action in the lockout season, as Jimmy Howard carried the load. He has been the better of Detroit's two goaltenders this year, as Howard has struggled with injuries.

    2013-14 Outlook

    Gustavsson has been the one constant in an up-and-down season for the Red Wings so far. He has posted a 2.09 goals-against average and .926 save percentage—by far the best numbers of his career—and gave his team an early lift when he was named the NHL's First Star of the Week back in October.

    With Jimmy Howard now back on the sidelines with an MCL injury, Gustavsson is 0-2-1 in his last three games, as his Red Wings struggle to score goals. He'll need to keep providing elite netminding to keep the Wings in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.

7. Cam Talbot: New York Rangers

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    Where He Came From

    Cam Talbot has taken an unconventional route to the NHL, playing junior hockey with the Junior A Hamilton Red Wings before heading to college at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He backstopped his team to the NCAA tournament in 2009-10, leading the New York Rangers to sign him to a free-agent contract.

    After three successful seasons with the AHL's Connecticut Whale, Talbot became the Rangers' full-time backup this season after Martin Biron's retirement.

    2013-14 Outlook

    New York just signed incumbent Henrik Lundqvist to a massive new contract extension, but Talbot has the better numbers on the struggling team so far this season. Talbot is 6-2-0 with a goals-against of 1.74 and a save percentage of .934, while King Henrik is 10-14-1 with a 2.71 goals-against and .909 save percentage.

    The 26-year-old Talbot is a pleasant surprise and looks like a capable backup for now. He'll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2014-15 season.

6. Ben Scrivens: Los Angeles Kings

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    Where He Came From

    Ben Scrivens spent four years at Cornell University, graduating with a degree in Hotel Management and playing four years of NCAA hockey with the Big Red. After graduation, he signed a free-agent contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs and worked his way up through the East Coast League and the AHL before joining the big club as a backup in 2011-12.

    Scrivens spent two years in Toronto before being dealt to the Los Angeles Kings in the Jonathan Bernier trade last summer.

    2013-14 Outlook

    Jonathan Quick is a workhorse with the Kings, so it was expected that Scrivens would see minimal action in Los Angeles. He recorded a shutout in his first game with his new team on October 1 and has dazzled since taking the reins after Quick suffered a groin injury on November 12. Scrivens has now appeared in 16 games. He leads the NHL with a .941 save percentage and is second with a 1.66 goals-against.

    During the Kings' red-hot winning streak, Scrivens sat out five games in favor of red-hot rookie Martin Jones, then allowed three goals on Sunday in a loss to Chicago. It's only a small dip in performance but could be a sign that Scrivens is nursing an injury or feeling the weight of the heavier-than-usual workload.

5. Justin Peters: Carolina Hurricanes

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    Where He Came From

    Justin Peters of Blyth, Ontario, was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round back in 2004. The 27-year-old has bided his time in the organization and is poised to set a new career high for games played. He capably filled in for Cam Ward while the starter was sidelined with a groin injury, and he has been the better of Carolina's two goalies, as the pair have split the duties since Ward returned to action.

    2013-14 Outlook

    In Peters' first full-time season in the big leagues, he's putting up impressive numbers with a .929 save percentage and 2.16 goals-against for a Carolina team that's defensively suspect. He's outplaying Cam Ward, who's just two years older than him, but Ward has a big contract that will likely keep him in the starter's role for at least another two seasons.

    Peters is earning the league minimum but will become an unrestricted free agent at season's end. He could be in for a big payday if he can continue his strong play.

4. Martin Jones: Los Angeles Kings

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Where He Came From

    A 23-year-old from North Vancouver, Martin Jones went undrafted through his junior hockey years with the WHL's Calgary Hitmen, then was signed as a free agent by the Los Angeles Kings in 2008. He spent three years posting solid numbers with the AHL Manchester Monarchs before being called up by the Kings in November to back up Ben Scrivens after starter Jonathan Quick suffered a groin injury.

    2013-14 Outlook

    Jones made headlines and set a record in his NHL debut, stopping nine shootout attempts by the Anaheim Ducks to earn a win for his team. He went on to record back-to-back shutouts and post five wins in his first five games—the first goalie in NHL history to do so while giving up an average of less than one goal per game.

    It's early days, but with a GAA of 0.99 and a save percentage of .967, Los Angeles may have just uncovered the league's next netminding superstar.

3. Frederik Andersen: Anaheim Ducks

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    Where He Came From

    Yet another product of the Anaheim Ducks' seemingly limitless goaltending factory, the 24-year-old Dane was originally drafted in the seventh round by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2010, but couldn't come to terms with the team. He re-entered the draft in 2012 after his first season in the Swedish Elite League and was chosen by the Ducks in the third round.

    This time, he did sign a contract, spending his first North American season with the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL. Andersen made a splash in his debut with the Ducks and was the rookie sensation of the season—until Martin Jones came along.

    2013-14 Outlook

    Called up after an injury to the Ducks' Viktor Fasth, Andersen has gone 8-1-0 in his first nine NHL starts, leading the team with a 1.74 goals-against and a .938 save percentage. If Fasth gets healthy, expect the Ducks to look to trade pending unrestricted free agent Jonas Hiller to help Andersen further establish himself as a bona fide NHLer.

2. Ben Bishop: Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    Where He Came From

    Ben Bishop was born in Denver but grew up in St. Louis, where he was a member of the St. Louis Junior Blues before joining the Junior A Texas Tornado of the North American Hockey League, then heading to college at Maine.

    Bishop was drafted in the third round in 2005 by his hometown Blues and spent two seasons with the organization before being traded to the Ottawa Senators in February 2012. Just over a year later, the Senators dealt Bishop to the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he has lived up to Steve Yzerman's expectations by blossoming into a solid No. 1 goalie.

    2013-14 Outlook

    Big Ben has been the backbone of the Lightning's return to respectability this season, especially since Steven Stamkos' injury. He's in the NHL top five in goals-against, save percentage, wins and shutout as Tampa Bay looks poised to return to the playoff picture this spring. The Lightning don't get a lot of national coverage, but 27-year-old Bishop could be a breakout star in the postseason if he continues his strong play.

1. Josh Harding: Minnesota Wild

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    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    Where He Came From

    Drafted in the second round by the Minnesota Wild in 2002, Josh Harding was a serviceable backup for the them until a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in the summer of 2012 threatened to derail his hockey career.

    After a bumpy regular season in 2012-13, the native of Regina, Saskatchewan, impressed during a valiant playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks, then won the NHL's 2013 Masterton Trophy for his brave battle against his disease.

    2013-14 Outlook

    Through 35 games this season, Harding has played the best hockey of his career, parking himself at or near the top of every statistical goaltending category. He's currently leading the league with a 1.49 goals-against average, second with a .939 save percentage and tied for top spot with three shutouts.

    It seems that Harding's determination to overcome the challenges of his disease have made him a better goaltender than anyone expected. So far, there's no reason to think Harding's great play won't continue.