One season removed from signing a four-year free agent deal with the Blackhawks, goaltender Cristobal Huet is finally getting his chance to be the team’s clear-cut number one netminder in 2009-10. Even so, the 33-year-old French goalie knows he still has much to prove to his critics.
|With Nikolai Khabibulin in Edmonton, Cristobal Huet is now Chicago's clear starting goalie. |
"I think I can play better and I want to be more consistent for sure," says Huet, who spent most of the 2008-09 season platooned with the now-departed Nikolai Khabibulin. "Obviously, you want to play and it’s a good chance for me to show that I can play here in Chicago. I look forward to that.”
Huet’s 2008-09 numbers weren’t always stellar (20-15-4, 2.53 GAA) and his play was sometimes inconsistent, but he stayed competitive enough throughout the '08-09 season to remain in the much-publicized goalie rotation with Khabibulin, who signed a four-year contract with Edmonton this off-season.
While Khabibulin was named the starter before the playoffs, Huet’s play – especially his impressive performance in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals – gave Chicago's management, coaches and fans a glimpse of what might be for the goalie this year.
“I think [Huet] had some really good performances and won some games for us outright,” says head coach Joel Quenneville, “[but] consistency is something we're looking for him to achieve. Certainly it's a great opportunity for him to grab the ball. Hopefully he gets some confidence in his game now that he's the guy and goes with it."
“Last year was kind of a weird situation for me and Nik but I think this season there will be a lot of things that are different,” says Huet. “Last year, I didn't like the way I played sometimes, and I want to rebound.”
Though he will be the Hawks’ top goaltender when training camp opens in September, Huet can still expect some stiff competition for playing time. Prospects Corey Crawford
and Antti Niemi, both of whom spent most of last year with Chicago’s AHL affiliate in Rockford, will battle each other in camp to earn Chicago’s backup job and either has the skills to challenge Huet.
“I still think there will be a push [from either Crawford or Niemi],” Quenneville says. "That will be healthy for everybody."
“I don’t prepare any differently now – I’m motivated enough to look forward to next season and hopefully I can contribute to something bigger than we did last year,” said Huet. “We have a good team and I have to prepare myself.”
Huet knows that if the Blackhawks are going to be successful this year, he is going to be called on to play a major role.
"It's a good chance for me to show, especially here in Chicago, that I can play and respond,” he says. “I look forward to playing more games and competing every night. I can't wait for the season to start.”