Sergei Bobrovsky has earned the right to be atop the league's rankings as the best goaltender this season.
A year ago the then 27-year-old Blue Jacket posted the lowest save percentage of his NHL career (.908) and played just 37 games. But after the 2015-16 season concluded, Bobrovsky not only rediscovered his game, he propelled himself to achieve some of the best performances not just in Blue Jackets history, but in the entire league this year.
And he did it through hard work.
"I'm so proud of (his performance this year after last season)." Jackets captain Nick Foligno said. "He's meant everything to our team. It's very important that your goaltending is very solid. It's been that. He's a rock back there for us and has allowed us to win games. We've played better because of him."
In 63 games this year, Bobrovsky posted a record of 41-17-5 and had seven shutouts. That set franchise records for wins by a goaltender, and tied the team's best for losses by a goaltender in a full season (2014-15). He set a new career high for shutouts, and did all this all while facing the fourth-most shots against of any NHL goaltender (1854) and making the second highest number of saves in his Jackets career (1498).
All those saves translate into Bobrovsky earning the best save percentage (.931) and the best goals against average (2.06) in the league. He also made the saves that mattered most, ranking second in the league according to Corsica.hockey in 5-on-5 high danger save percentage (.8643) and number one in goals saved above average (32.17).
"I think he's taken control over both his body physically as far as how he's handled himself to get ready for the season and I think he's taken over himself mentally too," head coach John Tortorella said. "His mental approach is 'I'm going to be that guy, watch.'"
The work Bobrovsky put into this season began as soon as last season ended. He didn't turn away from the game, he turned to it, playing immediately in the World Championships and then, after a brief respite, beginning his training regime that included preparatory steps such as losing 17 pounds off his slight frame. He also put in more playing time in the World Cup of Hockey prior to the beginning of the 2016-17 Jackets' campaign.
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"We put programs together for his development in the offseason," goaltending coach Ian Clark said. "He puts an enormous amount of work in. Some of that is on the ice, some of that's off the ice. There's an enormous amount of respect for how he conducts himself as a professional and the passion he brings to the position, to the game, and to the franchise."
The work Bobrovsky put into his preparation for the season impressed his coaches and teammates alike and he has kept impressing them all season long. Whether it's his pre-game routine that begins by mentally preparing in a seat in the arena hours before the puck drops, or the fact that he is frequently one of the first skaters on the ice for any practice, the effort doesn't go unnoticed.
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"The first time I saw him I was like 'oh man, this guy, he works hard,'" Joonas Korpisalo said. "It's fun to practice with him, just looking at what he does. It gives me a lot to learn from him every day by watching him and asking him whatever it is. Everything he does is really professional.
"The biggest thing I look up to? All the things he does before a game, all the habits he has, it's something I've never seen before. He's the most pro guy I've ever seen by far."
This season, Bobrovsky has already been named an NHL All-Star, December's First Star of the Month and the Second Star of the Month in March. He received the Columbus media's nomination for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy that goes to the player who best personifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey in recognition of the results he earned through continued hard work.
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Is the Vezina trophy the next accolade for the Novokuznetsk, Russia native? You may be hard pressed to find many dissenters to that opinion.
"He's a good guy," Korpisalo said. "He's a top goalie in the league and probably the best right now."