Today, as part of my ongoing look at opposing players whom I would recruit to come and play for the Buffalo Sabres, I turn my sights on the Metropolitan Division Washington Capitals in yet another attempt to answer, “Who will mind the nets for the Buffalo Sabres in the future?”
Holtby just edged out Mikhail Grabovski for this list, mostly because I don’t want two Mikhails on the same team! Just kidding . . . sort of.
At the age of 23, Holtby already is better equipped to handle the responsibilities of being the Sabres #1 netminder than Jhonas Enroth is, having inherited the job during the 2011-2012 playoffs and playing in 36 out of the Capitals’ 48 regular season games last season. Holtby really caught my attention when he helped the Capitals send the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins home early in an epic, seven-game series in the first round of the 2012 playoffs. He followed that series win up by battling through another seven-game series with the New York Rangers, which the Rangers ultimately won. His numbers during those 14 games? 459 shots faced, 30 goals allowed, save percentage of .935, goals allowed average of 1.95. Yikes – and he was only 22!
Last season, he proved his playoff run was not a fluke, going 23-12-1 with 4 shutouts, a .922 save percentage, and a GAA of 2.58 as he and the Capitals made a late-season charge into the playoffs. His playoff numbers were not as impressive as they had been the season prior, but then again, his team melted like butter on a hot knife, giving up 2-0 and 3-2 series leads against the New York Rangers before getting embarrassed 5-0 at home in game 7. Holtby still had four games in that series in which he held the Rangers to one goal or less, including a 1-0 loss – Capitals fans, you can’t ask any more from your goalie than that.
The Buffalo Sabres are experiencing a youth movement right about now, and will be bringing in a lot of raw talent that still needs to be molded and shaped into a final product. That’s all fine and good – but I’m not certain any of us want to see the Sabres take that approach with their goaltenders. With Braden Holtby, the Sabres would get the best of both worlds: a young player who has already proven he can handle being a starter, and who still has tons of upside, to boot. Not a bad addition to my wish list, if you ask me.