It's not every day that an American Hockey League team has an opportunity to develop a talented goaltender. The San Jose Barracuda are not just witnessing the growth and development of one, but two elite goaltenders at the same time. Antoine Bibeau was the first to arrive after being signed by the Sharks as a free agent on July 1 and two weeks later, Josef Korenar joined the Sharks organization who formed a sharp, gifted tandem for the Barracuda this year.
In his 27 appearances this season with the 'Cuda, Korenar has been exceeding expectations. He currently sits seventh in the league in goals-against average (2.43) and is tied for 11th in save percentage (.914). His 19 wins are tied for eighth in the AHL (19-6-1) and he sits tied for third in shutouts (3). To top off his strong rookie season, Korenar was one of three Barracuda players to represent San Jose at the AHL All-Star Classic in January 2019.
Despite being on the Sharks radar for his all-around athleticism during the 2017 NHL Draft, the six-foot-one and 185-pound goalie went undrafted. In July 2017, the Sharks signed Korenar to an entry-level contract.
"It was important for us to have a second goalie, who is probably one of the best prospects, just like Bibeau," said Evgeni Nabokov, Sharks goalie scout and development coach.
Prior to joining the Barracuda, Josef spent the majority of his young hockey career on the Czech Republic's HC Dukla Jihlava, outside of a short stint in the United States Hockey League (USHL) with the Lincoln Stars during the 2016-17 campaign. He appeared in 32 games for the Stars, posting a 14-11-4 record and finished second in the league in save percentage (.925) and third in goals-against average (2.22).
"I think playing the USHL helped me a lot because the rink is smaller than in Europe," said Korenar. "I know everything much better than I would have if I was here for the first time."
For a rookie goalie in the AHL, Korenar has consistently impressed the Sharks organization with his abilities both physically and mentally in the net, specifically his ability to find and track the puck, with his mobility.
"He's adjusted really well, and [the transition] was as smooth as it can get," said Nabokov. "His movement is really exceptional. He's very explosive. He pushes across really well."
This season Korenar and Bibeau have switched off starting from each game and Korenar embraces the shared workload between the goaltenders.
"It has been good for us both, because you get a little rest [between games]." Korenar said. "You are ready to go for 100 percent of each game, and right now I think it's perfect for us."
If his rookie season is any indication, Korenar is sure to have a successful professional career.