When Pavel Francouz made his way over to North America, a scout I know confessed that they were intrigued to see if the Czech-born goaltender was indeed going to be as good as his numbers advertised.
It can be a difficult task evaluating a player’s ability to seamlessly transition from one league to another. No two players are alike, and their strengths can either help elevate their game from league to league or limit them to success in one place over another. Add in the unpredictability of goaltending statistics even from year to year, and it’s always a bit of a crap-shoot to bring someone over the pond.
Francouz brought excellent numbers over from Europe, to be sure. The 28-year-old netminder, while a bit on the short side and untested on North American ice, Hadn’t put up worse than a .930 save percentage in a single pro season since 2013. And although that was split between the Czech Extraliga and the KHL, there was hope he’d manage to replicate that success in the American League.
Four games in, that’s looking like a high likelihood.
Francouz has yet to record his first pro shutout in North America with the AHL’s Colorado Eagles, but he’s come damned close.
He boasts a perfect 4-0-0 record and a .941 save percentage in all situations, having allowed just seven goals over his first few weeks for the fifth-best save percentage league-wide so far.
He’s had one ‘bad’ start, coming against the Ontario Reign on October 20th. In that game, he allowed three goals on 25 shots, putting the Eagles in a much more precarious position than they should have been given their 44 shots taken.
His other three starts, though, were stellar. He allowed just one goal apiece in each of his first two games, then let two in against Ontario the night before his tough three-goal appearance — which, frankly, eases the sting more than a bit. Allowing just five combined goals in a pair of back-to-back starts is no easy feat.
Part of his success comes from an impressive command of depth management, despite being both a European-trained goaltender and one who falls on the shorter end of the goaltender height scale. He plays a fairly conservative game with his challenges, deploying an inside-out style to approach shots, rather than coming out aggressively and having to quickly retreat when the play advances, and he stays on his feet well even when making decisions regarding his lateral movement.
Want an example? Take a look at this beautiful pad stop and reaction to the rebound:
**Video clipped from AHL.com
Francouz came out initially to challenge a shot approaching up the left wing, but pulled in nearly to his goal line upon allowing the rebound before slowly coming back out to challenge a second attempt.
There’s still a good ways to go in the season, so it’s too early to tell if players will figure out the holes in his game. Like a handful of other smaller goaltenders, he can find himself with an exposed five-hole when trying to cover more of the ice surface with his pads (thank you, regulations, the goals are increasing!). And there can be a tendency for goaltenders who rely heavily on their posts to stay flat on the goal line when there’s a sharp-angle cycle play and they’re worried about a cross-ice pass being introduced, which can burn them on their angles upon a player’s decision to finally shoot.
Overall, though, the Eagles desperately needed these kinds of numbers.
Spencer Martin may still pan out at some point, at some level, but it’s growing apparent that may not be in the Avalanche system. The 23-year-old prospect has already allowed eight goals in just two games, and he’s sitting on an .833 save percentage after solidly losing his net to Francouz to start the season. And while Joe Cannata has played well each time the team has had him up, there’s still a hesitation to move him up to the AHL full-time in favor of Martin.
For now, that means this is the Pavel Francouz show. And frankly, that’s paying off.