In the beginning, James Reimer wasn't even in the conversation.
61 games into the 2010-11 season, and he's all anyone can talk about when it comes to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Just a day after the club's 5-4 win over the Montreal Canadiens, head coach Ron Wilson appointed Reimer as the team's starting goaltender.
It's hard to say there is a more beloved Leaf player on the roster right now.
There's probably no one more deserving, though.
After the Leafs veteran goalie J.S. Giguere struggled with injury, and potential goalie-of-the-future Jonas Gustavsson struggled with everything, Reimer came out of the shadows to become the team's saviour of sorts this season.
And undoubtedly their best between the pipes.
Through 16 games, he's an impressive 10-4-2 with a mind-boggling .931 SV%, 2.24 GAA, and two shutouts.
Giguere has a pedestrian 11-10-3 record (.899 SV%, 2.84 GAA) through 24 games, while Gustavsson's 6-13-2 record (.890 SV%, 3.29 GAA), combined with his reoccurring heart problems, has many wondering if he has a future with the Leafs at all.
Sure, Reimer has played just 16 games in his brief NHL career, but he's looked impressively steady for a rookie. In that time, the Leafs have rocketed within four points of eighth spot, with 21 games remaining.
Quite simply, the team just seems to play better in front of him.
Which is why the city just can't get enough of the goalie they call Optimus Reim.
But it's more than just the numbers. His loving-every-minute attitude makes it near impossible not to root for him. Seriously, just try and wipe that smile off his face.
No one has come close yet.
He grew up in Morweena, Manitoba—population 130—and worked his way up through the ECHL, WHL, and AHL, before finally getting a shot on the biggest stage in the NHL.
He wasn't even really supposed to be here. Coming into the season, he probably wasn't in the top three on the Leafs depth chart, and certainly wasn't expected to be leading the playoff charge heading into March.
And yet, for a young man who has every reason in the world to puff his chest and bathe in the endless praise, he hasn't once strayed from who he is—a kid from a small town in the middle of nowhere.
Just last week he admitted he didn't think he was worth an NHL salary. "It's weird. It feels like you don't deserve it sometimes," said Reimer. "There are many people that work a lot harder than I do who don't get paid half as much."
As we watch Albert Pujols pine for a $300 million contract, it's nice to hear a down-to-earth goaltender admit he's not worth such a lavish pay check. He only makes $555,000 with the Leafs.
It's common for fans in this city to quickly dub players as future stars for the team, before seeing all that much from them.
Ask Nazem Kadri.
It's also common for this city to all but throw those "future stars" out the window the second they don't produce.
Ask Nazem Kadri.
This isn't to say that Reimer is or isn't the goaltender of the future for the Leafs.
He may have a fantastic career that ends with his number 34 hanging in the ACC rafters.
He may sputter late into the season, flame out next year, and be forgotten as quickly as he arrived on the scene.
He could nestle somewhere right in the middle.
What we do know is that, since the All-Star break, the Leafs are 8-2-2. Reimer is 6-1-2 in that time, and he hasn't lost a game in regulation since February 5 in Buffalo.
He is the goalie for right now—the goalie that Ron Wilson has said the team will put their confidence in as they make their improbable run to the postseason.
The goalie that fans of the Maple Leafs cannot get enough of.
And right now, that should be enough.