Goaltender Hunter Miska surprised some college hockey fans when he decided to go pro after just one season with the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
He didn’t make the decision lightly, though, with his father Todd explaining in an interview to InGoal Magazine in the summer of 2017 that the elder Miska had been diagnosed with cancer the year prior and his son had hoped to ensure he saw a pro game no matter the outcome.
As of that summer, Todd Miska — who paints Hunter’s masks each year and plays a pivotal role in his son’s life — confirmed that he was in remission and would be around to see plenty of future years of his son’s professional career. But after just two AHL seasons, the depth chart in Arizona — where Miska had signed his entry-level deal — left things a little too crowded to keep him around with the hope of some upward mobility. The team failed to tender him a qualifying offer, and he entered July 1st as an unrestricted free agent.
It’s less than a month into free agency, and a handful of goaltenders are still floating around on the market. But rather than waiting out for a two-way NHL deal, Miska decided to come on board in the Avalanche system on an AHL contract — giving him less of a clear-cut opportunity to move up to the NHL level at some point, but giving the Avalanche themselves some quietly effective depth at their minor league level without putting pressure on the prospects they already have.
It’s a good bet that Miska will replace Joe Cannata in Colorado’s depth chart. The quietly effective Kelly Cup-winning goaltender signed with IF Björklöven of the Allsvenskan for the upcoming season, leaving that ‘veteran’ minor league goaltender spot wide open. Spencer Martin is also gone, having signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse, while Pavel Francouz is moving up to the NHL to serve as Philipp Grubauer’s number two.
That just leaves first-year Adam Werner trying to make the adjustment after playing his entire career in Sweden, with no one but Miska around to help him adjust to the North American pro game.
While he’ll be the next AHL starter, what exactly are the Avalanche getting in Miska?
During his two years in the Arizona system, the word that Miska most frequently used to describe himself was ‘calm’. He’s a confident goaltender who commits to his positioning and doesn’t second-guess himself much, which can be a huge advantage when navigating the chaos of the minor leagues.
That personality doesn’t just reflect on his own performance, either.
After a game in Tucson last season, Coyotes prospect goaltender Merrick Madsen said that the confidence that Miska resonates is contagious.
“He sort of never looks rattled, you know?” he said in a one-on-one interview last season. “He’s so confident in how he makes every save that you sort of want to emulate that... you want to be that confident in your own positioning, too.”
There’s a bit of a downside to that confidence when Miska misplays depth, leaving his back door open without having a true higher gear to his desperation play. But when the game has the level of noise that it does at the AHL level, it’s good not to second-guess yourself all that much — and Miska should be able to help keep Werner’s head level as the pair navigate the Eagles’ upcoming season as an all-new tandem together.
The good news is that Miska has never significantly struggled in the pros, so he should be an immediate improvement over what Martin brought to the table for Colorado. He struggled a bit last season when the Tucson Roadrunners lost nearly their entire top-six roster to injuries up in Glendale, but ultimately finished a tough year with an .895 save percentage and handled a tandem workload both this past year and his rookie season with grace.
The Roadrunners had some shot regularity inconsistencies that left him with some games where he’d face just seven shots in half an hour of play, then 44 shots in a full game another night — so a more even-keeled performance in front of him with Colorado could end up seeing his numbers skyrocket.