Of the players involved in the blockbuster trade that sent Evander Kane to the Buffalo Sabres on February 11, the troubled 23-year-old has always taken the spotlight. However, goaltender Jason Kasdorf should receive more attention.
The 6’4” goaltender from Winnipeg, Manitoba, currently plays NCAA hockey for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and is thus somewhat of an afterthought in the Kane deal.
Buffalo’s NCAA scout Jerry Forton had tremendous things to say about Kasdorf, explaining the reason for acquiring him. "Winnipeg did a good job identifying and drafting him out of junior hockey," he told Bleacher Report.
"Jason was one of the best goalies in all of college hockey his freshman year and won ECAC Rookie of the Year. His footwork and butterfly were both very good, and he had good size and presence in the net. I knew from several of his coaches over the years that his work ethic and character were both elite.
"Although he missed essentially all of last year with an injury that required surgery, we were impressed in several viewings early this season at how he came back from the injury. ... We're confident Jason will continue to progress his game next year at RPI and at that time be in a position to compete with several of our other young goalie prospects within our system/organization."
The key takeaway from Forton’s comments is Kasdorf's health. After posting a 14-5-2 record, .935 save percentage and 1.62 goals-against average in his freshman season, the future looked bright. However, shoulder surgery sidelined him for his entire sophomore season, and it has taken time for him to fully recover.
Kasdorf’s statistics were not reflective of his rookie season when he returned to the lineup, but he understands that it takes time.
“I think taking a full year off from being able to play definitely doesn’t help and makes things a little tougher to get back into your groove. I also had a minor knee injury right before Christmas which I think set me back a little bit as well. Injuries make it hard to find your groove and get into a rhythm,” said Kasdorf.
Winnipeg's coordinator of player development, Jimmy Roy, echoed Kasdorf’s thoughts in Mitchell Clinton's prospect profile on the Jets' official site:
I think obviously anytime you have an injury that ends your season, it will be a setback in your development. He’s a goalie, and they tend to take a little bit longer to develop. You see goalies in the NHL getting older and older and older. It is a bit of a setback. But for his development, it just gives him more time to develop physically and mentally.
Fortunately for Kasdorf, he still has two years of college eligibility remaining. This could really benefit him when it comes to where he fits in the Sabres’ system after graduation. Nevertheless, neither Kasdorf nor the Sabres organization is looking that far in advance.
“As far as where I fit in, I haven’t really talked a whole lot with them about that yet. They wanted to just let me play and not be a distraction, which I like. I’m sure we will talk this summer about what their plan is for me and where exactly I stand within the organization,” said Kasdorf.
With little to no talk around Kasdorf, he could fly under the radar and be a diamond in the rough for the Sabres.
The Buffalo News' John Vogl briefly explained Kasdorf, writing, “Kasdorf fits the mold of big goaltenders that Sabres general manager Tim Murray covets.”
In terms of where Kasdorf positions himself in the organization, he’s in a much better situation than he was with the Jets. The Sabres have been a revolving door for goaltenders this season, whereas Winnipeg’s future is steady in net with Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson.
To showcase Kasdorf’s chance in Buffalo, here’s a current look at the Sabres goaltending system:
|Buffalo Sabres Goaltending System|
|Name (Team)||Age||Record||SV %||GAA|
|Anders Lindback (Buffalo Sabres)||26||4-8-2||.924||2.77|
|Matt Hackett (Buffalo Sabres)||25||0-4-1||.884||4.32|
|Nathan Lieuwen (Rochester Americans)||23||4-9-0||.883||3.29|
|Andrey Markov (Rochester Americans)||21||16-18-3||.905||2.91|
|Cal Petersen (Notre Dame)||20||13-16-3||.919||2.51|
|Linus Ullmark (Modo)||21||12-20-0||.904||3.12|
|Jason Kasdorf (RPI)||22||11-19-2||.902||2.97|
The Sabres’ goaltenders are incredibly young right now, and according to Hockey’s Future, Kasdorf is the Sabres’ second-ranked goaltending prospect. Compared to his future teammates, Kasdorf's has been competitive statistically, even during an injury-plagued season.
Also, if one factors in the young RPI team, as well as the fact that it's the most penalized team in the ECAC, his statistics last season may even be underrated.
During his freshman season when he was healthy and was playing behind one of the best teams in college hockey, he flourished. He’s a big goaltender that covers a lot of the net and he's very effective with a solid team in front of him.
The veteran squad from the 2012-13 season really helped him transition into the collegiate level, but he’s shown flashes of brilliance ever since.
In a do-or-die game against Clarkson University this season, Kasdorf made 33 saves, while allowing only one goal. With Clarkson attacking throughout the entire third period, Kasdorf was incredibly poised stopping 15 of 16 shots on the road to secure a RPI playoff series victory.
The situation in Buffalo couldn’t be better for Kasdorf, even considering that he was traded by his hometown Jets.
“Obviously, I’m a big Winnipeg fan as I am from there, but I know it's all part of the business and I want to be wherever I have the best opportunity of making the NHL,” said Kasdorf.
Buffalo may have to wait a few years until Kasdorf plays in its system, but fans should get very familiar with him during the team's rebuild.
If he can remain healthy and find his collegiate freshman form, the starting job may be realistic sooner rather than later.
Stephen Nixon is a Contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand via interview.