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For AHL teams, No. 3 often means No. 1 when it comes to goaltending

Nell, Campbell, Copley among those with versatile skill set to succeed in role

by Patrick Williams / NHL.com Correspondent

Change and challenge are constants for the No. 3 goalie in any NHL organization.

Often, he is the No. 1 goaltender for the affiliate in the American Hockey League, sometimes also serving as a mentor to the other goalies on The AHL roster.

As the go-to option for an NHL recall when an injury or illness strikes one of the goaltenders at the NHL level, the No. 3 goalie always must be prepared. Once recalled, he is one injury, a busy run of games, or an equipment problem from NHL duty.

His time in the NHL may last a day, a week or a month, maybe longer. When he does head back to the AHL, he must transition immediately back into the workload that comes with being a No. 1 goaltender at any level.
The job description demands an ability to juggle roles. In many ways, a versatile No. 3 can be a security blanket for the organization at both the NHL and AHL levels.

Examples have started to pop up in the first three weeks of the 2016-17 season.

The Vegas Golden Knights are using an Oskar Dansk-Maxime Lagace tandem that had started the season in the AHL with Chicago.

Struggles for Antti Niemi with the Pittsburgh Penguins led to his being waived and, subsequently, claimed by Florida on Wednesday. Casey DeSmith from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is Niemi's replacement for now as Pittsburgh considers its options.

An Oct. 12 lower-body injury sustained by Arizona Coyotes goaltender Antti Raanta pushed Adin Hill from AHL work with Tucson to the NHL.

There are countless others walking the border between AHL and the NHL. Here are five AHL goaltenders who will be counted on heavily by their respective NHL organizations, no matter which level they are playing:

 

Zane McIntyre, Providence (Boston Bruins)

Boston general manager Don Sweeney's plan to use a McIntyre-Malcolm Subban pairing in Providence was foiled before the season started. Vegas claimed Subban on waivers Oct. 3. When Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask sustained a concussion in practice Oct. 18, McIntyre, 25, was recalled. He backed up Anton Khudobin in the Bruins' 5-4 overtime loss at home against the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 21. Some 20 hours later, he was back with Providence and frustrated Laval, the second-best offense in the AHL, in a 4-1 home win. After Subban's departure, Providence added Jordan Binnington on loan from St. Louis. It also has prospect Daniel Vladar, 20. McIntyre (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) could see a lot of I-95 between Boston and Providence while also contributing for a team that could contend for a Calder Cup.

 

Thatcher Demko, Utica (Vancouver Canucks)

An AHL goaltender in his second pro season is infrequently tasked with being a go-to recall option as it is a critical season for goaltending development. Usually, the goal is for that player to have as much playing time as possible. However, Demko (6-4, 204) has started the AHL season 3-1-0 with a 1.26 goals-against average and a .960 save percentage, perhaps forcing Vancouver's hand. A second-round choice (No. 36) in the 2014 NHL Draft, Demko, 21, is projected to be an NHL No. 1 goaltender someday, but he may be accelerating that timeline. If not, he will be a workhorse for Utica. He was called up Monday as injury cover, but this stay with Canucks may be shortlived.

 

Pheonix Copley, Hershey (Washington Capitals)

Despite not yet playing a game this season, Copley (6-4, 200) has the classic job description for a No. 3 goaltender: be ready at any time for a recall, mentor a younger goaltender, and win games in the AHL. Copley, 25, will have a group of inexperienced defensemen in front of him, including prospects Connor Hobbs, Lucas Johansen, and Colby Williams. A lower-body injury has sidelined Copley to start the season, and fellow goaltender Vitek Vanecek is also injured. Hershey has started the season 1-4-0-1, but Copley is expected back soon. The Washington-Hershey affiliation has a long history of success, and winning is expected at the AHL level.

 

Jack Campbell, Ontario (Los Angeles Kings)

Last season Campbell (6-3, 195) revived his career with Ontario. A first-round selection (No. 11) in the 2010 NHL Draft by the Dallas Stars, he struggled for much of his five AHL seasons with Texas before the Kings acquired him for defenseman Nick Ebert on June 25, 2016. The lower-body injury for Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick last season set off an organizational chain reaction that pushed Campbell, 25, into a No. 1 AHL job. He was 31-15-6 with a 2.52 GAA and a .914 save percentage last season. Top prospect Cal Petersen will need to play as much as possible, which means that Campbell is a first-option recall for Los Angeles.

 

Chris Nell, Hartford (New York Rangers)

The 23-year-old Nell (6-1, 190) is part of a somewhat unorthodox goaltending arrangement in Hartford. Alexandar Georgiyev is the other goalie and each is a rookie in the AHL. Led by Rangers assistant general manager Chris Drury, the organization undertook an extensive roster overhaul for its AHL affiliate after Hartford finished last in the AHL last season. The team has nine rookie skaters in its regular lineup. Georgiyev has struggled in the adjustment to North American hockey, meaning further pressure is falling on Nell.

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