The news that Philipp Grubauer is a bit banged up is, for the Colorado Avalanche, some fairly shocking territory to enter we move into the second week of November.
It was announced on Thursday that prospect goaltender Adam Werner, drafted by Colorado with the 131st overall pick in 2016, has been recalled to the NHL to fill in for an injured Grubauer. Which, frankly, leaves the team with a little less NHL experience than they probably want:
With Philipp Grubauer injured, the Avalanche are going to be running with a tandem of Pavel Francouz and Adam Werner for the next few games. The duo has a combined 6 NHL appearances.— Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie) November 7, 2019
For all intents and purposes, both Pavel Francouz and Adam Werner have displayed the absolute best-case-scenario results for Colorado to kick off this season.
During his first taste of North American professional hockey, Werner got off to a brief slow start with the AHL’s Colorado Eagles. He’s quickly turned things around since then. He’s up to a .908 save percentage in all situations through nine games played, serving as the consensus number one in Loveland over both Antoine Bibeau and Hunter Miska. And although he’s had one very poor start — we’re talking four goals on seven shots against the San Jose Barracuda kind of poor start — he’s also had a 30-save shutout, stopping 30 or more shots in five of the nine games he’s played so far.
Behind a very high-event-allowing defensive corps, he’s adjusted to North American action pretty quickly. Here’s a look at just how well he’s playing, using his effective low ice seals to stop the onslaught of shots he’s faced from down low. Using Iceberg Analytics, this is a snapshot of two of his nine games so far:
Pavel Francouz, of course, has been a shining star all on his own. He’s managed a .919 save percentage in all situations through his four games played thus far, allowing just 11 goals on 135 shots — which averages out to a little under 34 pucks faced per game. Given his high volume workload in each game, the NHL rookie goaltender has managed to adapt incredibly quickly to the best league in the world.
Both goaltenders have managed to, at the very least, assuage some of the fears and concerns that fans and pundits alike had coming into the season.
The Avalanche, after all, allowed their two longest-tenured active goaltenders to walk in the offseason, both at the AHL (Spencer Martin) and NHL (Semyon Varlamov) levels. They were confident in starter Philipp Grubauer at the NHL level, but Francouz had just two partial NHL games to his name — and an onslaught of minor league newcomers in Werner, Miska, Bibeau, and former Flames prospect Mason McDonald left the team with a fairly bare-bones body of pre-existing work to build upon in net. Things could have gone south quickly, and Werner and Francouz have both stepped up to the plate in their respective new roles fairly well.
This will be their true test, though.
Iceberg has only tracked one game for Francouz, so there’s less data of his to analyze — but so far, he seems to be holding his own down low, and struggling a bit with his blocker-side on shots that come up off the ice. That kind of small (but potentially significant) weakness can be masked for a bit, but needs to be addressed through small coaching adjustments as Francouz forges on through his first full NHL season — and having to potentially play a heavier workload in these next few games, particularly against teams like the Nashville Predators (whom the Avalanche face tonight), the high-event Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday, and the duo of Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor with the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday. And if Francouz starts to struggle, he’ll have an even less tested netminder backing him up in Werner.
There’s a potential for things to go right here. Werner has shown a slow but steady development trend since getting drafted three years ago, and Francouz has practically been everything Colorado hoped for and more since coming on board last season.
For Colorado, though, this is going to be their first big gamble since starting fresh with their goaltending depth. Now, it’s time to see — just how well can a team handle injuries when they have so little experience in net?