Pretty amazing how goalie Scott Wedgewood
was able to become the talk of a nation following Wednesday's debut in the World Junior Championship for the Canadian National Junior Team.
After being told he'd get the nod against the Czech Republic on Tuesday night, the usually cool and collected "Wedgy" went to bed with visions of having an immediate impact for his country.
The 19-year-old native of Etobicoke, Ont., made 26 saves to help lead the Canadians to a 5-0 victory. Not only that, he assisted on Ryan Strome
's second-period goal that extended Canada's lead to two.
As if that game wasn't a big enough feather in his hockey helmet, Canada coach Don Hay announced on Saturday morning that Wedgewood would get the nod against Team USA at 8 p.m. ET. in the final Group B preliminary-round match of the year at Rexall Place.
In addition to the 16,000-plus fans in attendance, New Jersey Devils
Director of Scouting David Conte told NHL.com that he took a special interest in Wedgewood's performance against the Czech. And for good reason -- Wedgewood happens to be property of the New Jersey Devils
"I watched the game on television," Conte told NHL.com. "He did what we expected. He was focused and athletic. That's a tough game to play because he was getting sporadic pressure but he did very well with it. Now, I don't know if he'll get a shutout every night or notch an assist but his demeanor was what you expect of a guy that's had as much experience as he's had."
And how impressed was Conte with the assist?
"I guess you could say it was Marty Brodeur-esque, but he's got a long way to go before we start making those comparisons," Conte said with a laugh.
Truth is, long before Wedgewood was selected to represent his country at the WJC this year, he was working his way up the hockey ladder, playing some of the best hockey he can remember.
During his draft year, Wedgewood finished No. 12 among all goalies in the Ontario Hockey League in save percentage (.909) for the Plymouth Whalers. Really though, his big break came April 7, 2010, following two seasons of backup duty behind Minnesota Wild
prospect Matthew Hackett in Plymouth. That's when Wedgewood put himself on the NHL radar with a team-record 70 saves in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Windsor Spitfires.
It was the game that caught Conte's eye.
The biggest question now is can Wedgewood impress enough to earn a roster spot with the Devils down the road -- perhaps sooner rather than later?
Brodeur, the NHL's all-time leader in regular-season wins, shutouts, games played and numerous other marks, is actually in the final season of the six-year deal he signed prior to the start of the 2006-07 season. Whenever the inevitable occurs, can Wedgewood be considered the next one?
"Each time you talk about these young guys, none of them are actually (NHL ready) … they're in transit," Conte said. "To be (NHL ready), you need to have accomplishments to set a foundation of confidence to move forward and they need to meet the challenges. Last season, Maxime [Clermont] and Scott met the challenges and led their teams to playoff wins that, maybe, they shouldn't have won.
"But that's just one kudo. They have to continue to build, just as Marty did, just as Mike Dunham
did, just as Corey Schwab
did, Chris Terreri
and Sean Burke
. The beauty of hockey is you're only as good as yesterday, and every player that understands that is well ahead. If he's looking for the destination, he better worry more about the journey."
In 55 games last season with the Whalers, Wedgewood went 28-18-2 with a 2.99 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. The No. 84 pick of the 2010 draft, he was the first goalie drafted by the Devils since their selection of Jeff Frazee
five years earlier.
Prior to joining the Canadian National Junior Team, Wedgewood was 13-8-0 with a 3.08 GAA and .904 save percentage for Plymouth.
"Goalies take a lot longer (to develop) than players … I've come to realize that," Wedgewood said. "I'm not going to be in there in a year or two; it's just a waiting game for goalies. It takes longer for us to evolve. But with Brodeur and [Johan] Hedberg there, there is time. Brodeur has set the records for everything. People have said their contracts are coming to an end next year, but what does that mean? What will happen? It's up to Lou [Lamoriello] and the coaching staff. All I can do is show them my game, show them what I can do. If they want to give me the opportunity, I won't hesitate to take it."
While Conte enjoys all the excitement and attention associated with the WJC, he said it certainly isn't the making or breaking point for any young player hoping one day get their shot in the NHL. It is and always will be viewed as just another step in the maturation process.
Three rounds after targeting Wedgewood in 2010, the Devils added Clermont of the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, marking the first draft since 1997 in which the franchise chose two goalies. That year the Devils chose Jean-Francois Damphousse
in the first round and Scott Clemmensen
in the eighth.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale