While paying a rare visit to Kettler Capitals Iceplex Wednesday, Washington Capitals associate goaltender coach and former Caps goaltender Olaf Kolzig shared his thoughts on recent developments within the organization, including head coach Dale Hunter’s decision to start Braden Holtby over Michal Neuvirth in Monday’s 5-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks. Instead of choosing sides, Kolzig praised the depth that the Caps have at the goaltender position.
“It’s great not only in case of injury or some unforeseen circumstance, but for trade value,” Kolzig said. “Other teams covet our goaltending.”
As Kolzig continued, he mentioned that the Caps have three goaltenders – Tomas Vokoun, Neuvirth and Holtby – that those other teams covet before stopping himself.
“I even consider Philipp Grubauer down in [ECHL] South Carolina one of those guys, so we’ve got four guys that can all play,” Kolzig said, correcting himself. “It’s a nice benefit to have.”
While much of the focus is on the Caps’ present and immediate future at the goaltender position, Grubauer’s rookie season for the Stingrays is setting up the Caps nicely for a bright future further down the prospect pipeline.
Kolzig, who spends the majority of his time working with the Caps’ goalie prospects in AHL Hershey and ECHL South Carolina, has been impressed with Grubauer in each of their first seasons within the Washington organization as coach and player, respectively. Yet, the German-born Grubauer intrigued the Caps even before they selected him with the 112th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
Grubauer’s 2009-10 season with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League may have had something to do with it. Grubauer played an integral role in the Spitfires winning both the OHL and Memorial Cup championships that season, earning a 29-3-2 overall record during the regular season and playoffs. NHL Central Scouting ranked Grubauer as the ninth-best North American goaltender in its 2010 midterm rankings in January 2010 and 15th in its final rankings released in April 2010. Washington goaltending coach Dave Prior, however, had him listed much higher.
“In Dave’s book, he had him ranked No. 1,” Kolzig said. “If you go back and look at all the goalies that got drafted from that draft, he’s ahead of all of them in development.”
Eight goalies were selected before Grubauer during his draft year, but he is the only one currently playing professional hockey in North America. After being drafted by Washington, Windsor traded Grubauer, who played for his hometown Rosenheim Star Bulls of the German professional league Oberliga in 2007-08 before joining the Canadian junior ranks, to the Kingston Frontenacs. Grubauer’s season, however, did not last long when he contracted mononucleosis, effectively ending his season after 38 games.
When Grubauer joined the Caps for their Prospect Development Camp last July, it was the first time that he had skated since mono ended his season in February 2011. Despite shaking off five months of rust and losing 20 pounds, Grubauer did not miss a beat during the weeklong camp.
“He missed half the season with mono,” Kolzig said. “There’s that worry that he’s missed a little bit development, but he was unbelievable. I know when I played, if I missed two days, it would take me a good practice to get back in the groove. To see this kid do what he did after being out for so long, you knew that he had that ability.”
According to Kolzig, the 20-year-old Grubauer’s biggest asset is his maturity, one that is “beyond his years,” a sentiment that Stingrays head coach Spencer Carbery reiterated.
“He’s been tremendous,” Carbery said of Grubauer, who has a 19-11-3 record with a 2.39 GAA and .913 SV% and has won three awards this season, including ECHL Goaltender of the Month for November and Rookie of the Month for January. “His numbers are outstanding and they speak for themselves, but he’s been a great guy, too. He’s come in, he’s wanting to be a part of the team, he’s wanting to learn, be a good pro and work hard. He’s done all the right things since he’s been down here, so we’ve been real impressed with Philipp.”
A recent example of that maturity presented itself Monday during a game between the Stingrays and Florida Everblades. The net behind Grubauer was dislodged from its moorings, but referees allowed the play to continue and counted a goal scored on the misplaced net that gave the Everblades a 3-0 lead.
“Some players and goalies would fly off the handle with a situation like that,” Carbery said. “With Philipp, the play’s ended and he doesn’t give up a goal for 30 more minutes in the game and we win 4-3. It doesn’t shake him. He’s just very, very mentally tough.”
Kolzig said Wednesday that Grubauer should be in the AHL right now, while Carbery agreed, but added that earning more minutes in the ECHL will help Grubauer reach his goals faster. Based on the comments from those close to him, Grubauer’s bright present will lead to an even brighter future. Of course, all of that is up to Grubauer himself.
“I’m trying to prove down here that I’m ready for the next level,” Grubauer said Thursday. “At the moment, I’m just trying to play good down here. Hopefully, I’ll move up next year or even this year.”