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Kuemper Shined in 'Lights-Out' Season

"He's definitely one of the best goalies, if not the best goalie I've ever had in my career"

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

Rick Tocchet says that he didn't know much about Darcy Kuemper when the Coyotes acquired the goalie in a February 2018 trade.

"I knew he was a good back-up goalie," Tocchet said recently in retrospect.

"(We) hit paydirt," he said. "(We) hit gold with the trade."

In fact, Tocchet argues Kuemper has been the best goalie in the NHL the past two years.

"If he doesn't get hurt (in December), maybe he wins the Vezina," Tocchet said.

Indeed, Kuemper was the star of the playoff run with more than 300 saves against the Predators and Avalanche.

Video: NSH@ARI, Gm3: Kuemper confounds Preds in Gm3 win

Kuemper quickly assumed the starting role with the Coyotes after he arrived from Los Angeles for forward Tobias Rieder and goalie Scott Wedgewood a week prior to the 2018 trade deadline. 

He flashed promise while with the Kings. Although in a No. 2 role, he posted a 10-1-3 record with a .932 save percentage and a 2.10 goals-against average.

"Obviously, it's really worked out for the organization," Tocchet said. "Kuemps was always a good person and a good character guy. He just needed a chance to get that opportunity and find it for himself. Usually good people come out of these things on the right side."

The Coyotes granted Kuemper a two-year contract extension at the time of the trade, and signed him to an additional extension in October that runs through the 2021-22 season.

"He got the attitude of 'I can be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL. These are the things I'm going to do, and I'm going to do them.'

"Since that day, he's been a No. 1 goalie."

And not just for the Coyotes. Kuemper owns the No. 1 save percentage (.924) in the NHL since 2017-18.

With his playoff performances, came the accolades.

Tocchet deemed him "unflappable."

Jason Demers described him as "incredible." 

Phil Kessel went one step further: "Unbelievable."

Taylor Hall: "Our best player."

Derek Stepan used a metaphor: "Lights-out."

Kuemper twice set record highs for saves. He registered 49 saves in the Game 4-clinching win over Nashville and posted 49 saves in the Game 3 win against Colorado.

Video: COL@ARI, Gm3: Kuemper dominates with 49 saves

He finished two saves shy both times of matching Nikolai Khabibulin's franchise record for saves in a playoff game. Khabibulin made 51 saves in the 1996 Western Conference Quarter-Finals against Detroit.

"(Kuemper) may be the best goalie I've played with," Alex Goligoski said.

That's high praise coming from the 13-year veteran and Stanley Cup-winning defenseman. Niklas Hjalmarsson, also a 13-year veteran and Stanley Cup-winning defenseman, echoed Goligoski's sentiment.

"He's definitely one of the best goalies, if not the best goalie I've ever had in my career," Hjalmarsson said.

Kuemper earned the No. 1 starting role last season, his first full year with the club. His star shone bright then, but even brighter during the postseason.

"You want to be the best version of yourself come playoff time," Kuemper said. "I trained hard during the layoff. I just kind of wanted to go out there and do my part. I thought the guys in front of me did an unbelievable job from Game 1. They defended hard and really committed to the defensive zone. I think that's why we had so much success in the play-in round."

Kuemper set a career-high with nine starts and four wins in the playoffs, surpassing the benchmarks he set in six postseason games in 2014 with Minnesota. 

"Obviously we weren't happy with the result against Colorado," Kuemper said. "But I think overall, it was a great experience for the team. It shows us the level we need to get to, and the work we've got to put in this summer."

Kuemper is in Saskatoon visiting family for a couple weeks. He will return to Arizona for the remainder of the off-season to train for the 2020-21 campaign.

Rick Tocchet gets the final two words regarding Keumper.

"Our rock."

Period.

End of story.

Lead Photo Credit: Dave Sandford - NHLI via Getty Images // Second Photo Credit: Dave Sandford - NHLI via Getty Images // Third Photo Credit: Andy Devlin - NHLI via Getty Images // Fourth Photo Credit: Dave Sandford - NHLI via Getty Images // Footer Photo Credit: Andy Devlin - NHLI via Getty Images

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