All About Oettinger
BU's Hopes Rest on Sophomore Goaltender
BOSTON There's talent everywhere you look at Agganis Arena. Again.
That's how it works now. In Year 5 of the Dave Quinn era, Boston University, once again, is the most talented team in the country.
There are current and future NHL draft picks on every line and defensive pairing. Most importantly, though, is the first-round pick standing at the back, calmly and patiently stirring shots aside and keeping BU in every game. Just like he did last year as a freshman. Like he'll need to if BU is going to get where it wants to go.
Now a sophomore, Jake Oettinger showed just a bit of what makes him so important for the Terriers and in the grander national title picture in BU's season-opening win last Saturday night against Union.
BU won, 4-1, picking up a pair of empty-net goals to make a tight affair seem like a walk. The game had all the trappings of a season-opener, especially one played in September before the teams are even, technically, allowed to have a week's worth of practice. Passes went astray. Third men weren't high. It happens.
In midseason form, though, was Oettinger. His 31 saves came precisely as most came to expect a year ago — the product more of perfect positioning and the kind of anticipation that made Oettinger the Dallas Stars' first pick (26th overall) in June's NHL Draft than raw athleticism or desperation. He kept a tie game knotted despite some lapses by the young Terriers and gave his teammates the chance they needed to win a hockey game.
"He knows where the net is. He doesn't get panicky," Quinn said. "The hardest thing to do in this game is nothing, whether you're a goalie, a defenseman or a forward. He understands that if he just stands there, there's a pretty good chance he's going to stop it because the net isn't moving. He's 6-foot-5, 200-plus pounds. He has a great awareness of where the net is. I know that sounds crazy, but he doesn't panic. He does a great job reading the play and anticipating plays. He makes tough saves look easy."
It's been just one actual game for BU — the Terriers played an exhibition Sunday afternoon — so drawing any conclusions about a team's fate this season is foolhardy. BU is going to score its share of the goals. The question is whether or not they come all season or it takes a few weeks or months for the offense to come together.
Last season, the Terriers boasted all the talent in the world and just seemed lackluster all year. The power play never quite clicked. As a result, BU closed out a disappointing season with only a share of the Hockey East regular-season title. No Beanpot. No Hockey East championship. No Frozen Four. If not for Oettinger's brilliance, it may've been even worse.
Oettinger finished his first year at BU with a .927 save percentage. A few notably bad outings stand out. For the most part, though, Oettinger ranked as one of the nation's best goalies from start to finish last year.
He seemed to tire a bit in the season's final few months. In February and March, his save percentage was just .916. The struggles seemed to sibside once the stakes grew, however. In the season's final weekend and once playoffs began — and after a bye week during the Hockey East opening round — Oettinger found his game again. He had a .931 save percentage in his final seven starts of the season, including a 56-save performance in a double-overtime win against North Dakota in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The odd bad stretch or tough goal is going to happen to every goalie at every level. It's one of just a few areas in which Quinn believes Oettinger can improve.
"Consistency. I thought he had some lapses last year. Not a lot of them. Thank God. But some lapses, getting a little lazy, a little complacent. It's human nature because those are two words I would never use to describe him," Quinn said. "When you're a 17-year-old goalie for half of the year and an 18-year-old goalie for the next half, that stuff happens. He's in great shape. His approach is a little different. We can tell he's grown up. I just can't wait for him to become 19 years old."
As his second year on Commonwealth Avenue begins, Oettinger is, once again, surrounded by all the talent in the world. The Terriers were picked by some as the clear class of Hockey East and have a realistic chance at playing for a national championship. Oettinger came to BU because of those expectations and the potential they provide for growth.
If BU is going to win its sixth national title or even play for a Hockey East championship, it needs Oettinger at his best. In fact, no one player means quite as much to his team's national championship hopes as Oettinger does for BU. The other contenders around the country — Denver, Penn State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Providence — all have key pieces, of course. But many also have contingencies in the forms of capable backups or depth at every position.
Behind Oettinger, BU doesn't have much in the way of another option.
Junior backup Max Prawdzik has never played in an actual game for the Terriers. On Sunday, Prawdzik played all three periods for BU in its exhibition against Prince Edward Island. He allowed five goals on 27 shots. Now, the Terriers weren't exactly at full strength, but it wasn't a great showing for the backup. Behind him is requisite third-stringer Nico Lynch who is around almost entirely to make practicing easier for the Terriers.
The ceiling is as high as it can get for BU in goal. Even if he doesn't take a step forward, Oettinger can be one of the top two or three goaltenders in the country. With some minor improvements, though, Oettinger could find himself in a Hobey Baker discussion.
BU is realistic contender for every trophy for which its eligible this season. All of them. Both Hockey East titles. The Beanpot. And, of course, a national championship. BU can win every last one of them. They need goals. They need their defensemen to play well. They need a lot to go their way — like any other team. But, more than anything, they need Jake Oettinger. And they need him to be great.