SUNRISE, FL - Sometimes, all you need is an opportunity.
Cam Talbot seized his this past season in New York. Rangers starting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist suffered an injury in early February and didn’t return until late March. Talbot went 16-4-3 in Lundqvist’s absence, posting a 2.16 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.
But, in the end, Lundqvist is the king of New York and it’s hard to dethrone the king.
“Playing behind a guy like ‘Hank’ for a couple of years, you just get to learn a few things and maybe pick up a thing here or there but no matter how well you play when you’re playing behind one of the best in the world it’s hard to advance,” said Talbot.
Luckily for Talbot, here comes another opportunity.
On day two of the 2015 NHL Draft, the Oilers moved picks 57, 79 and 184 to the Rangers for Talbot and the 209th overall selection. It was the final result of a long and thorough process in which Edmonton searched for a goalie to come in and compete for a number one role.
Although the Oilers looked at other goaltenders, including Robin Lehner who went to Buffalo in a trade with Ottawa, Talbot was the guy they elected to close in on.
“What he did when Lundqvist was out really swayed my decision,” said Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli.
Talbot was home flipping through the television channels searching, ironically, for draft coverage when his agent called telling him the deal was on. The trade didn’t take him by surprise. He knew the Oilers were interested, and have been for some time.
“I knew Edmonton was one of the most interested parties in the negotiations so I had a pretty good feeling it would be Edmonton,” said Talbot. “I’m very excited for the opportunity to come in and hopefully play a few more games this year. It’s going to be a lot of fun to battle with that.”
Talbot, 27, played 36 games this past season for the Rangers. He posted a record of 21-9-4 with a 2.21 GAA, .926 SV% and five shutouts. Those strong numbers followed a 2013-14 season, in which Talbot went 12-6-1 with a 1.64 GAA and .941 SV%.
While the 6-foot-3, 195-pound netminder doesn’t have much experience in the NHL, the limited look the Oilers had on Talbot suggests he’s a good option between the pipes.
“I think he’s really come into his own,” said Chiarelli. “With a goalie like that, there’s a smaller sample size with these guys so you never know. It’s such an inexact science for these goalies. He played very well for the last two years and he will played well in crunch time for the Rangers. At the end of the day, we decided that we’d give up these picks.”
Although it is a small sample size, the Oilers feel Talbot has shown enough in it to be considered a legitimate contender for their answer between the pipes.
“First of all, he’s a mature-inexperienced goaltender,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “When I say ‘inexperienced’ it’s due to a lack of games played. But he’s played a lot of big games in the limelight of New York City, he’s had tremendous coaching there in New York, he’s been able to experience playoff hockey at a high level. There are a lot of positives about that. On the other hand, I think his ceiling hasn’t been reached yet. The ultimate end for him is still pushing the limits, it’s further out and that’s a positive thing. The pressures will change now because it is a Canadian market and he’ll be given a lot of starts or earn a lot of starts, pardon me, and that will change a bit. When Lundqvist went down he started to prove he’s extremely capable of covering that.”
There aren’t many better players to be an understudy for than Lundqvist, and Talbot has watched closely.
“I think it’s just work ethic, day in and day out,” said Talbot. “When you watch him in practice, he’s just as mad when you score on him in practice as he is in the games. I think that’s the mentality you have to have to really excel. If you’re not at the top of your game in practice then it will carry over to your game. If you give that little bit extra in practice maybe you’ll get that extra boost in a game when you need it.”
With an inexperienced goaltender trying to make the jump to being “the guy,” it’s important that the player knows how to be a professional. That includes practice habits and a drive to get better every day.
“Cam has worked hard throughout his whole career and has pushed it,” said McLellan. “Being around that organization and Lundqvist, I think he’s learned to push it even harder and further and with that, gain success and you’re not going to turn your back on that. We believe that we’ve got a goaltender that will continue to improve and it’s our job to make sure we help him do that.”
All that hard work has paid off for Talbot and Edmonton is ready to see just the type of goaltender he can become.
“I feel like I’ve put myself in a pretty good position,” said Talbot. “I feel good physically and mentally where I can come in and play well. It’s going to be a battle between Ben (Scrivens) and I and I’m ready for the opportunity to compete.”