Darcy Kuemper knows the expectations for the Colorado Avalanche ahead of the 2021-22 season. It's finishing the year with the Stanley Cup in tow, and he fully embraces the team's high standard it has set for itself.
"I'm just so excited to get the opportunity to be a part of something like that," said Kuemper of the Avs' journey to their ultimate goal. "Obviously the roster and the expectations are great. Those are the opportunities you dream of. To get the chance to step in and join that is unbelievable."
The Avalanche shored up its goaltending on Wednesday night, as the club acquired Kuemper in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for defenseman Conor Timmins, Colorado's 2022 first-round pick and a conditional third-round selection in the 2024 NHL Draft.
Kuemper has been one of the top netminders in the NHL over the last three seasons, ranking tied for third in the league in goals-against average (2.35) and save percentage (.922) while posting nine shutouts (tied for 11th best) in that time. He will serve in tandem with Pavel Francouz in Colorado's net after Philipp Grubauer signed with the Seattle Kraken as a free agent.
During the 2019-20 season, Kuemper earned a spot in the All-Star Game and finished tied for fifth in voting for the Vezina Trophy, given to the league's top goalie. In the 2020 postseason, he helped Arizona get past the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers by stopping 49 shots in the decisive overtime win in Game 4 to take the best-of-five set. In the next round against the Avalanche, he gave Colorado all it could handle, including making 37 saves in Game 1 and stopping 49 shots in a Game 3 victory.
Video: Darcy Kuemper talks about Joining the Avalanche
"In Darcy we are acquiring a proven, reliable netminder who brings a ton of NHL experience at just 31 years of age," said Avalanche executive vice president and general manager Joe Sakic in a statement following the trade. "Obviously we had to solidify the goaltending position and we feel like Darcy is someone who can step in and do that. We feel very confident in our goaltending tandem as we head into the 2021-22 season."
The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, native was limited to 27 games for Arizona last season due to injury, compiling a 10-11-3 record, 2.56 goals-against average and .907 save percentage. He did rebound following the NHL campaign by appearing in eight contests for Team Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Championship. He led his country to a surprising gold medal by posting a combined 5-2-1 mark, 2.17 goals-against average and .916 save percentage.
In the championship final, Kuemper stopped 29-of-31 shots as Canada won 3-2 in overtime.
"It was a ton of fun. Anytime you get the chance to represent your country, it's an honor and to win while you're doing that is something really special," he said of the tournament, which was held in Riga, Latvia, from May 21 to June 6. "I just cherished it, and you kind of learn what it takes to win. Although it's a different format, any chance you can get to be a part of something like that is a great learning experience and something you can keep with you forever."
Now fully healthy, the 31-year-old is looking to bring that same high-level of play to Colorado.
"I feel great right now. Unfortunately, last year I tweaked my MCL and when that happens there is not really much you can do," Kuemper said. "So I just put in the work and did what I had to do to get healthy and now I am ready to go. Fortunately, I was able to come back and finish the season and then go to world championships so I am confident in it. I am having a great summer of training, so I'm just excited to get the season started."
Towering at 6-foot-5 and weighing in at 215 pounds, Kuemper is well aware of the type of team he is joining in the Avalanche, and he has had some previous success against his new club as an opponent.
In addition to leading the Minnesota Wild to a victory in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he's posted a 4-1-2 record, 1.90 goals-against average, .928 save percentage and three shutouts in eight career regular-season starts against Colorado.
However, Kuemper is glad he's now on the Avs' side of the ice given the squad's offensive production and skilled talent throughout the lineup.
"Playing against them over the years, especially the last few, from the other end they're a really hard team to play against," he said. "The expectations are high, and it's a great roster. To be joining something like that is super exciting. I can't wait to get started."
His new teammates have quickly returned the favor in terms of the excitement. Many of them texted and called him as soon as the trade was finalized, showing the goalie the love and the type of squad he will be joining.
"A lot of the guys have reached out to me, which you know, has made me feel welcome right away," Kuemper said. "I can't wait to get to know the guys better and get into the locker room and just kind of fit into the mix."