We Must Protect This House: Jimmy Howard Leads Trend of Detroit-Bred Goalies

Keith SheltonAnalyst ISeptember 17, 2009

MONTREAL- SEPTEMBER 30:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings readies for a shot during the game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on September 30, 2008 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Canadiens defeated the Red Wings 2-1 in a shootout.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

He doesn't wear an old school mask like Chris Osgood, instead opting for the flashy artistry that is commonplace on goaltenders' head wear. He's been bounced around the system for years. His ability has been questioned by Detroit's front office and fans alike. As far as pro experience goes, he's as green around the gills as they come.

Despite all that, I believe in Jimmy Howard.

Why? Because this time, he's ready.

You might remember last year when Jimmy Howard was "ready." At this time last year, Ty Conklin was brought in merely as a contingency plan in case Howard couldn't win the backup job, which he was expected to, by the way.

Conklin was simply a journeyman who had bounced around the league like a pinball, until that ball rolled into the jackpot slot in Detroit. He played outstanding in the preseason, and although Howard put up a decent performance, Detroit couldn't ignore the wide discrepancy and made Conklin the backup.

Of course, Conklin went on to lead Detroit in goal to the playoffs, making up for a struggling Osgood in the regular season.

What if it had been Howard instead of Conklin? Would Detroit have still won the division? It's a valid question.

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The Wings brass believed Howard was ready last year but had too much talent and only one open slot.

That's not to say that Detroit doesn't have talent this year. The Wings are very high on their trio of goalie prospects which include Jimmy Howard, Daniel Larsson, and newest prospect, Thomas McCollum.

The plan is to have Jimmy Howard backup Osgood while Daniel Larsson assumes the starting position in Grand Rapids. Larsson will be backed up by McCollum.

Think about that for a minute. When is the last time Detroit was this stocked with homegrown goalie talent? Maybe never.

Chris Osgood remains the only goaltender in recent history that was drafted and developed by the Detroit Red Wings.

Since drafting Osgood, the Wings have signed a plethora of goalies to fill in the gaps. Mike Vernon, Dominik Hasek, Curtis Joseph, Bill Ranford, Manny Legace, Ty Conklin, Ken Wregget, just to name a few.

They might not have to do that anymore and it starts with Howard. The kid started the Wings first preseason game yesterday and allowed one goal on seven shots.

He was shown up by Daniel Larsson who stopped all 14 shots he faced.

One way or another, Detroit will have a homegrown goalie backing up a homegrown goalie this year. I'm rooting for Howard because this is likely his last chance to prove he can be the guy.

Some doubt he can do it, I'm not one of them. Detroit has had the luxury to develop Howard slowly. The vast majority of goalies don't come into their full ability until around age 25 and Howard has spent most of that time developing in Grand Rapids.

That doesn't mean he's bad, it means that Detroit didn't want to throw him to the wolves, such as what Pittsburgh did with young Marc-Andre Fluery.

Howard is coming off a season in Grand Rapids where he posted career highs in GAA (2.54) and save percentage (.916). In the playoffs last year he posted a GAA of 2.41.

On a Griffins team that's constantly in a state of flux and is mostly stocked with young, developing European talent, that is pretty impressive.

He's ready for his next test.

Chris Osgood swears to us that he won't have another regular season like last year. If we're lucky he won't ever have to play on a back-to-back set of games, but that depends on Jimmy Howard.

Howard doesn't have to be spectacular, but he does have to be steady. If we're really lucky, he'll surpass expectations and push Osgood. We'd love to see that, because that means he's starting material.

Wouldn't it be great if in a few seasons Jimmy Howard was the starting goaltender for the Detroit Red Wings, Daniel Larsson was the backup and McCollum was the hot prospect in Grand Rapids who could be traded for a flashy forward at the deadline?

It could happen, and it probably will. Detroit is sitting pretty in goal for the foreseeable future.