The general manager for Owen Sound of the Ontario Hockey League, DeGray first saw Binnington as a 16-year-old who was anxious to prove himself right away in 2009-10. Nine seasons later, Binnington has been a savior for the St. Louis Blues, helping lift a team that was in last place at the start of 2019 to the thick of the Western Conference playoff race with his stellar play in goal.
In 22 games (20 starts) for the Blues, Binnington is 16-3-1 with a 1.80 goals-against average, .929 save percentage and five shutouts.
Video: STL@ANA: Binnington makes glove save through traffic
"When he left Owen Sound (following the 2012-13 season), I expected him at some point to be a steady, full-time No. 1 goalie in the NHL," DeGray said of Binnington. "I'm not going to sit here and say it would be at 23 or 29 [years old]. But I often felt -- and I think anyone who's been here would say -- he's going to put enough time in and he's going to check the boxes. And someone's going to have to give him the opportunity to show what he can do."
What the 25-year-old goalie has done is save the Blues season. When Binnington was recalled him from San Antonio of the American Hockey League on Jan. 5, St. Louis was 16-19-4 and last in the Western Conference. Now, the Blues are 36-25-7 and third in the Central Division, four points behind the second-place Nashville Predators.
The Blues host the Arizona Coyotes at Enterprise Center Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; FS-MW, FS-A, NHL.TV).
Binnington, a third-round pick (No. 87) by St. Louis in the 2011 NHL Draft, began making his mark right from his first start, when he stopped 25 shots in a 3-0 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 7.
"He went into that Philly game and we were playing better, but we weren't getting the results, and you get that win, and all of a sudden he hasn't looked back and we haven't looked back," Blues GM Doug Armstrong said. "I think the way he's playing, too, there's a confidence about him. It's a great story. It's a fun one to be a part of, to watch day by day."
Binnington was named NHL rookie of the month for February, during which he was 10-1-0 with a 1.44 goals-against average and .945 save percentage. Four of those wins were shutouts. Binnington is the ninth rookie goalie in League history to get 10 wins in a calendar month, and the first to do it since Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings in March of 2010 (12-2-1)
When the Blues won 10 straight games from Jan. 23-Feb. 19, Binnington was in goal for nine of the victories.
"I'm definitely calm and just tried to focus on my job and just stop the puck. Go save by save, minute by minute and just enjoy the experience," Binnington said. "I'm hoping to get some more action and be a part of the solution on the rise of the Blues."
Binnington was 6-10-2 with a 4.44 GAA and .888 save percentage in his first season with Owen Sound. In his final season there four years later, he went 32-12-6 with a 2.17 GAA and .932 save percentage, and was named the Ontario Hockey League's goaltender of the year.
Photo courtesy John Carrick
Greg Redquest, Owen Sound's goaltending coach, still sees the qualities Binnington developed in the OHL.
"Watch his eyes when you get the chance: he almost knows what's going to happen before it happens," Redquest said. "He reads, reacts and battles. His technique is so good, and he plays between the posts. He never overplays the puck and his tracking is unbelievable."
Binnington began his professional career with Kalamazoo of the ECHL in 2013-14 and was 23-13-3 with a 2.35 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in 40 games. He was 1-1-1 with a 1.89 GAA and .946 save percentage in the 2014 ECHL playoffs.
"We were playing together in Kalamazoo, what, five years ago? And now he's arguably the hottest goalie in the League," said Tampa Bay Lighting forward Yanni Gourde, a teammate of Binnington with Kalamazoo. "He's a great guy, good goalie and a good teammate. He was always fun to be around. He's really seized the moment [in the NHL], and it's something you appreciate because it's such a grind and it takes so much to get here."
Binnington spent the next three seasons with Chicago in the American Hockey League, where he went 58-40-17 with a 2.62 GAA and .911 save percentage. When Chicago went to the Calder Cup Playoffs in 2015 and 2017, Binnington was 2-3-0 with a 2.11 GAA and .940 save percentage. He made a strong impression on Chicago goaltending coach Stan Dubicki.
"The way he reads the game he knows where everyone's at on the ice. To me, that's one of his strengths. And flexibility-wise, I've seen very few who are as flexible as this guy. Some of the moves he makes are incredible," Dubicki said. "He's worked for it, and he's been patient guy where others would have folded."
Patience is a critical asset, especially for a minor-league goalie who's working and waiting for his chance to get to the NHL. Binnington and Washington Capitals backup goalie Pheonix Copley were teammates with Chicago of the AHL for two seasons, and Copley said they would often talk about their NHL aspirations.
"Throughout the course of the journey, there's times when you get frustrated because you're trying to do everything you can, and the opportunities just aren't coming," Copley said. "I think at times were pushing each other, working our hardest, trying to do everything we can and we kind of vented with each other when we were frustrated.
"It's great to have that kind of relationship with a goalie and someone who is going through the same kind of things, because not only do you get it off your chest, but also, we were pushing each other. So, I think it really helped both of us become better goalies learning from each other and working hard and pushing each other."
Binnington, who had a 2.05 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 28 games last season with Providence of the American Hockey League when the Blues did not have an AHL affiliate, has been working toward this opportunity since DeGray first set eyes on him.
Now that he has his chance with the Blues, Binnington is taking full advantage.
"He's been through the rigors of being sent to the minors and having to figure it out," DeGray said. "There was a need for him [in St. Louis], he's come in and played well and continues to do so. And that confirms the fact that he's checked enough boxes along the way and he prepared himself to be ready for the opportunity."
NHL.com staff writer Tom Gulitti and NHL.com correspondents Corey Long and Louie Korac contributed to this report