Over the course of the next month, Konopkaesque will review each player who suited up for the Wild this season, with a few exceptions. 1) They had to play at least ten games during the season and/or playoffs (sorry, Brett Bulmer, Carson McMillan and John Curry) and 2) they had to finish the season as part of the organization, which ironically excludes the man for whom this blog is named, among others.
So, without further blathering, here’s today’s subject:
Darcy Kuemper, G, Age 24
Remaining contract (per capgeek): RFA in 2014
Games: 26 (Regular Season) 6 (Playoffs)
Record: 12-8-4 (Regular Season) 3-1 (Playoffs)
GAA: 2.43 (Regular Season) 2.03 (Playoffs)
Save Pct: .915 (Regular Season) .913 (Playoffs)
Shutouts: 2 (Regular Season) 1 (Playoffs)
What Did He Do?: The Wild season, like fine art or delineations of ancient time, can be broken up into distinct eras. Beginning with the Backstrom era, which was mediocre at best, the Wild moved into the golden age that was the Harding era, before injuries forced the team into a mini-second Backstrom era (which was very much like a second ice age, and nearly cost many lives…or at least the job of Mike Yeo). Around the turn of the new year, the Kuemper era began, and though it did not run through to the end of the season, it is ultimately the most important section of the season that the team’s youngest and least tested goaltender steered the Wild away from disaster.
Kuemper’s first meaningful start was on January 7th against the Kings, when he made 39 saves and beat the Kings in a shootout in their building (You remember that day. You were freezing your nads off in -15 degree weather. Good times.). Five days later, he shutout Nashville, and from that point on he was the Wild goaltender of record in every game save for one through March 8. The team’s record in that span was 12-4-2 and they moved out of the pack of playoff chasers into the pole position for a wild card spot. Kuemper’s play was credited heavily by his teammates and coaches as the steadying force behind the run.
Like every goalie the Wild had, Kuemper suffered the injury bug, first missing time late in the regular season and then famously being knocked out in game 7 of the Colorado series, setting Ilya Bryzgalov up for the greatest one-save victory in NHL history (citation needed). He was instrumental in turning the series around, however, matching Semyon Varlamov save for save as the Wild fought their way back from a 2-0 deficit. In many of the games he had much less to do than his counterpart, making only 50 saves combined in the three victories he backstopped, but he certainly answered the bell when needed most, erasing the demons of a disastrous relief stint against Chicago in last season’s first round.
What to Expect if You’re Expecting: Kuemper will be in the mix next season, and will likely end up with a one-way contract, muddying the waters considerably in terms of who plays where within the organization. If I had a nickle for for every time a Fox Sports North commentator called Kuemper “the future” during the season, I’d be buying a lot of gold-plated cars, but what will that future look like? Kuemper certainly deserves credit for his play this season, but his numbers (small sample size, I know) aren’t anything above James Reimer territory, and he certainly has his inconsistent days, where he looks somewhat slow to react and get sloppy with his overall technique. We should not forget that he was pulled three times in 25 starts this season. Still, his issues are correctable, and if he can find consistency, his size and demeanor are ideal for the position. He certainly didn’t seem fazed by stepping into two unenviable spots (once during the regular season, once during the playoffs) this year.
Trade Prospects?: Certainly the Wild could drum up some interest, but why would they want to? Even though he took his knocks this season, Kuemper is still the most dependable goaltender the Wild have in terms of health, and besides, he’s the future. And I just made five cents.
Season Highlight: This video is more of a highlight reel of his entire Wild career so far, but his indignant puck flip after robbing Mike Richards in the shootout of the aforementioned Kings game just makes me smile. It’s at 54 seconds, but the whole video isn’t bad, so give it a watch:
Of course Kuemper is also unflappable. Bonus video here as his mask breaks against Chicago. Also extra credit to Joel Quenneville for accusing Kuemper of faking this to kill time. Stay classy, Joel. At least he didn’t grab his junk while complaining (as far as we know):