Sherwood Park, AB - Posting a 39-17-5 record, 2.57 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in 61 games last season, 20-year-old Tyler Bunz was named the WHL's Goaltender of the Year.
In doing so and earning his spot as one of the Oilers' top goaltending prospects, the 2010 fifth round pick is now set to turn pro; whether it's with the ECHL's Stockton Thunder or AHL's Oklahoma City Barons, the process -- not the destination -- is most critical in Bunz's eyes.
"As a goalie, it takes a lot longer to develop," he said post-practice at Millennium Place Thursday. "Not every goalie understands that at this level. You've seen the way the Oilers handle their goalies in the past couple years with (Jeff) Deslauriers, (Devan) Dubnyk, Olivier (Roy) -- all were sent to the East Coast (Hockey League) to start and then they made their way to the AHL and, for some, to the NHL full-time."
The 6'1", 198-pound netminder spent his entire junior career with the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers, bettering his numbers in each season en route to a brief taste in OKC to end the 2011-12 campaign. His sights are set on becoming the Barons' No. 1 goaltender at camp in September, but he knows it may be a longer journey.
And he's perfectly comfortable with that.
"That's probably what they're going to do with me and get a year of pro experience," he said, noting Deslauriers and Dubnyk's path to the bigs. "I obviously want to play in the NHL, but at the same time I want to develop at the right rate. I don't want to go into a level where I could be in over my head and not develop. If that's the case and I do start the season in the East Coast, then I'm going to take full advantage of that, work hard and make sure my pro debut is done at my best and that I'm developing the right way."
Two days in, Bunz looks right at home at Oilers Development Camp. His positioning looks better than ever, and his skating and puck handling continue to be strong points -- all a credit to the team's relentless effort in helping master each skill with dedicated systems and drills before practice even starts.
"Working with (Oilers Goaltending Coach) Freddy (Chabot) and my goalie coach in Medicine Hat, JF Martel, I've worked lot on my patience and staying on my feet," he explained. "I'm a good skater, I feel strong on my feet, and when I stay on my feet a little longer, the better chance I have of stopping the puck.
"Every goalie needs to work on his skating, no matter what level they're at. Every day I'm trying to get better at skating and that's been a huge focus so far at camp."
Establishing a mental edge is equally as important. Last season, Bunz had a chance to become Team Canada's No. 1 goaltender for the 2012 World Junior Championship. A disappointing pre-tournament camp halted that dream, however, keeping him off the squad altogether as Scott Wedgewood and Mark Visentin took the reigns.
Bunz knew it wasn't the camp he needed. But rather than sulking and hanging his head, the St. Albert native put it behind him and worked even harder the rest of the way -- a renaissance, perhaps; one that helped him discover new heights in confidence.
"That's been the biggest change to my development in recent years," he said. "Talent doesn't mean a whole lot if you don't have the right attitude. I'm hoping I can build on it here at this camp and throughout the summer heading into main camp. These opportunities are all baby steps that I'm trying to take full advantage of.
"The feedback from the coaches is huge, too. We look at video in the morning before we come here (to Millennium Place); they give us feedback on our performance, both on and off the ice. Little things like that definitely help, no matter what level you're at. It gives you a starting point to think about where you're at and to help you get better."
As 2011-12 drew to a close and his season was over in Medicine Hat, Bunz got the opportunity to go down and spend some time with the Barons in OKC. While he didn't get to play as Yann Danis and JP LeNeveu continued what they'd started, getting the chance to practice alongside pros in such a pivotal point in the season was quite a learning experience.
"It was really fun," he said, smiling. "The guys welcomed me with open arms down there. They really took it upon themselves to make me feel comfortable. I watched games up top with the other injured and healthy scratched guys. Just to be around that atmosphere and get a chance to see the southern United States -- it was a lot of fun and the weather was great. It was a blast down there. It was also nice to get back on the ice and skate on their practice surface with all the pros in the post-season."
His attitude and supremely talented skill-set wasn't lost on Barons Head Coach Todd Nelson, either. Nelson, one of the leading candidates to acquire the Oilers' previously open head coaching position, is impressed with Bunz' attitude and pro-like swagger at Development Camp.
"He's very passionate and he's very excited, and that's a carry-over from what he brought to us (the Barons) a couple months ago," he said. "He has this quiet confidence about himself. For a goaltender, that's an exceptional attitude to have because it's such a tough position. Bunzy had a great year last year and I'm excited to see what he'll bring to the organization this season."
Bunz is too, but he'll let his work on the ice do the talking as he prepares to make his mark in the pros.