TORONTO - The Toronto Maple Leafs are ready to run with James Reimer.
The 23-year-old goaltender capped off a dream season by signing a US$5.4-million, three-year contract extension Thursday. Reimer led the team on a surprising second half turnaround after getting called up from the American Hockey League.
"He earned the opportunity to play at the NHL level this past season and he made the most of it with his outstanding play," Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke said in a statement. "He really grabbed the net and never looked back. We are confident that his talent and strong work habits will be contributing factors to our team's success next season."
Reimer scored a big raise after finishing a rookie contract that paid him about $600,000 at the NHL level. He's expected to be the team's No. 1 goaltender next season.
Burke still has a decision to make on veteran goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who had off-season sports hernia surgery and is due to become an unrestricted free agent July 1. Jonas Gustavsson is also under contract for next season.
Reimer wasn't touted as a top prospect by the organization until bursting on the scene in January. With Giguere and Gustavsson each out with injuries, he took over and went on to post a 20-10-5 record in 37 games with a 2.60 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.
That helped earn him a trip to the IIHF World Hockey Championship in Slovakia, where he went unbeaten in four starts for Canada.
It was an improbable run for the man from tiny Morweena, Man., who didn't start playing organized hockey until he was 12 and got drafted by the Leafs 99th overall in 2006. Reimer quickly became a fan favourite in Toronto and had to get used to all the attention.
"It's weird to be walking around the mall and have people recognize you and say, 'Hey, you're James Reimer.' I'm like, 'Yeah, I am. What's the big deal?"' Reimer told The Canadian Press in February. "I try not to get caught up in it, it could be a bad road to go down."
As humble as they come, he also admitted that there was some adjustment when he started receiving NHL paycheques.
"I'm getting the minimum here and it's 10 times more than I got down (in the AHL)," said Reimer. "It's a lot bigger. It's weird. It feels like you don't deserve it sometimes — what am I doing to deserve this?
"There are many people that work a lot harder than I do who don't get paid half as much."