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Kuemper extended and called upon as season gets underway

The Coyotes' opening night starter is now signed through the 2021-22 campaign

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

Darcy Kuemper will be in the Coyotes' net on Thursday night at Honda Center for the regular season opener against the Anaheim Ducks.

He gets the first nod of the year from head coach Rick Tocchet just one day after signing a two-year contract extension that runs through the 2021-22 season.

"It's super exciting to have two more years to continue to grow and build with our group, to keep reaching toward our goal," he said following Wednesday's practice. "To just have that opportunity is something I'm grateful for, and now I'm ready to start the season."

He is the clear-cut go-to while Antti Raanta spends time with the Tucson Roadrunners on a conditioning assignment.

"We just know where the arrow is going on Darcy, and now we've got him locked up," said Tocchet. "He was going to be a free agent, and if he had a really good year he could walk, so we locked him up. It's a fair deal and both parties are really excited about it. With him and Raanta together, we've got some really solid goaltending now. We've always had it, but now we've got them locked up."

The 29-year-old Kuemper is coming off his busiest NHL season yet, playing in a career-high 55 games, all of which were starts. He also set a career-high in wins with 27.

"We're extremely pleased to sign Darcy to this two-year extension," said President of Hockey Operations and GM John Chayka. "He had an incredible season last year and established himself as one of the NHL's best goaltenders."

And the numbers showed.

He finished sixth in GAA (2.33) and SV% (.925) among all goaltenders that played at least 20 games in 2018-19.

Heavily he was leaned on last year, and especially so toward the tail-end of the season as the Coyotes struggled with injuries. Kuemper logged a total of 3,251 minutes in net, shattering his previous high of 1,561 in 2017-18, which he recorded in 19 games with the Los Angeles Kings and 10 games with the Coyotes after being acquired from Arizona's Pacific Division rival for Tobias Rieder and Scott Wedgewood on February 21, 2018.

"It helped me build my game," he said of his uptick in playing time. "I always try to improve and get better every day and playing definitely helps with that. It's allowed me to come into the season with a lot of confidence, and I'm feeling good."

Getting into a tempo benefited Kuemper; he started 22-consecutive games from February 19 - April 6, 2019, tying Nikolai Khabibulin for the second-longest such streak in franchise history. Khabibulin also holds the franchise record for consecutive starts; a string of 42 nods from January 5 - April 11, 1997.

"Being able to play and get into a rhythm, it just showed me what kind of goalie I am and how I have to play to be successful," he said.

With his extension, both he and Raanta are secured for the next two seasons.

"We've got two great goalies here, we're both extremely excited and we want to help the team win," he said of his tandem with Raanta. "We've got a good relationship with each other, one where we support one another regardless of who's in there, so it should be a lot of fun."

Kuemper, called upon for opening night, gets the first crack at tending the Coyotes' net to begin the 2019-20 campaign.

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