Jake Oettinger may be the top North American goaltending prospect for this year's NHL Draft, but his becoming a goaltender in the first place was merely a matter of circumstance.
Oettinger was 10 years old when his youth team's goaltender was called up, leaving a void between the pipes. A defenseman at the time, the young Oettinger volunteered to step in.
"I just filled in and was pretty good at, so I stuck with it," he said at the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo on Saturday.
Perhaps it was fate. The position, after all, requires a certain level-headedness. A goalie's mistakes and triumphs are both seen under a microscope. Oettinger considers himself even-keeled enough to navigate through the peaks and valleys.
Where does that come from? His father was a goalkeeper in soccer growing up, Oettinger offers, so maybe it's a genetic trait. But really, it's just his personality.
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"I love the pressure," he said. "That's something that really attracted me. I wanted to have a huge impact on the game every night, and that's what you can do by being a goalie."
Oettinger hails from Lakeville, Minn., where he played a year of high school hockey before embarking on path that should be familiar to fans in Buffalo, heading to the USA National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. and then to Boston University.
With Terriers goalie Sean Maguire having graduated the season prior, Oettinger knew he had a chance to win the starting job as a freshman.
"At the beginning of the year I just tried to be the hardest working goalie on the ice," he said. "When I got the shot to play, I made sure I made the most of it."
That might be an understatement. Oettinger posted a .927 save percentage and a 2.11 goals-against average in a campaign that earned him spots on both Hockey East's All-Rookie Team and the conference's second All-Star Team.
That performance boosted his pre-draft status, jumping from No. 3 on NHL Central Scouting Services' mid-term rankings of North American goaltenders to No. 1 at the end of the season. He met with several teams at the Combine, the Sabres among them.
He still feels there's room for improvement, too.
"Personally, I thought I had a good season but I know there's still a ton of room to grow and to get better at," he said. "It's exciting to know that I'm still just scratching the surface of my game."
Oettinger still has lofty goals at the collegiate level. BU lost to rival Boston College in the semifinal round of the Hockey East Tournament and then lost an overtime heartbreaker to Minnesota Duluth in the NCAA Tournament last season.
He'll return next season with his sights set on a deeper postseason run, and the pressure that comes with it.