ST. ALBERT, AB - Where would Cam Talbot be today if he had chosen to play a position other than goalie as a 10-year-old kid? Probably not in Edmonton.
Talbot got a late start in hockey, picking up the sport when he was about seven. He didn’t strap on the goalie gear full time until he was two or three years into his playing career.
“I was kind of a late bloomer,” said Talbot, who was at Oilers Hockey School presented by Rogers on Tuesday. “All my friends were already playing and I kind of wanted to jump in with them. I was never that good of a skater playing out… so when we were rotating playing in net, some of the other players didn’t want to take their turn in net so I volunteered for them. It got to the point where no one wanted to play in net and I just got stuck in there. I guess you could say it kind of worked out for me now.”
It’s funny to hear an NHL goaltender say he was “stuck” in his position. Considering where he is today, Talbot should be grateful his friends avoided the crease.
“I always liked playing net. It was fun,” said Talbot. “Everyone else wanted to go out there and score goals and I just wanted to sit back there and stop them. It was fun for me growing up and playing in net with all my buddies and now I get to do it on a big stage. It’s been a fun ride.”
The Oilers acquired Talbot in a trade a month ago at the 2015 NHL Draft, sending the 57th, 79th and 184th overall picks to the New York Rangers, in exchange for Henrik Lundqvist’s promising protégé and the 209th selection. He is fully embedded in the competition to be Edmonton’s number one goalie. He’ll compete with Ben Scrivens and Anders Nilsson in training camp.
Talbot's path to this opportunity wasn't streamlined. The Caledonia, ON native was shut out from a top junior league career and never got the chance to play for a big NCAA program, instead playing his collegiate days at the University of Alabama-Huntsville. Talbot was also undrafted, and had to fight his way up the professional ranks in the American Hockey League before getting a sniff of NHL action.
Talbot doesn’t resent his path, he respects it. Goaltenders take time to develop and he did it on his own time.
“I think a lot of people are starting to realize that goaltending is more of late bloomers and stuff like that. They need a little more time to develop and get used to the NHL level,” said Talbot. “There are very few guys who walk in here at 18, 19 and 20 years old and are able to take over the starting job. I think that I’ve taken a pretty good route to get here. I spent my time in the AHL, developed and then got to learn two years from a guy like Lundqvist.”
Cam Talbot participates in the Oilers Hockey School presented by Rogers. Photo Provided.
Talbot has now played 57 career NHL games, posting a record of 33-15-5 and eight shutouts with a .931 save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average. The 28-year-old finally got his chance to prove himself with consistent starts at the NHL level this past season when Lundqvist went down due to a vascular injury.
Talbot went 16-4-3 during that stretch, posting a 2.16 GAA and .929 save percentage. The late bloomer bloomed.
“I think you can always improve more and develop more,” said Talbot. “That was a great stepping stone for me to have that opportunity to play 23 of 25 games in an eight-week span so you get the feel of what it’s like to carry a starting goaltender’s role. When I got the opportunity I think I did pretty well with it and proved to myself and maybe a few other teams around the league that I was ready to at least compete for a number one job.”
The challenge for Talbot in Edmonton is to not only win the job, because there will be competition, but to also transition from a backup to a starter. That brings a change in mindset, he says.
“I think as a backup you kind of get a couple weeks between starts to get yourself prepared and get ready. Now there are a lot of back-to-backs and a lot of stuff like that,” he said. “If you’re playing night in and night out your mindset has to be that much more sharp and ready for the challenges that lie ahead night in and night out. I think that’s going to be the biggest hurdle moving forward and I think I’m pretty prepared for it.”
When Lundqvist went down last season, Talbot didn’t tweak his approach much at all. The consistency of starts helped him gain more traction.
“I tried not to change my mindset at all. You’re able to get in more of a groove when you play every night,” said Talbot. “If you have a good game, you get to build off it the next night and if you have a bad game you don’t have to sit on it for two weeks. It was a great opportunity for me and a great situation and I tried to make the best of the situation until ‘Hank’ was ready to come back.”
The Oilers hope that adding Talbot to the fold can help boost their GAA from a season ago, which was 30th in the league at 3.37 per game. Of course, adding to the defence via trades and free agency this off-season is also expected to help that number drop.
Should Talbot reach his potential and become a steady presence in net for the club, Oilers fans will be happy he chose to be a goaltender all those years ago. Although Talbot may consider himself a late bloomer, it won’t matter how long it took for him to get to this point.