[Wild About Numbers]: Darcy Kuemper's Career Comparables & Future Projections

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Spor

How many goalies have had similar game time in their first or second season in the NHL at a similar age to Darcy Kuemper and what kind of trajectory did their careers follow after that?

The Wild's goalie situation has been a mess for the last couple of seasons. Josh Harding missed almost all of 2012/13 due to complications arising from his MS, came back this season and played himself into Vezina consideration before MS once again robbed him of playing time and potentially ended his season and maybe his career. Niklas Backstrom underperformed but was healthy last season and earned himself a new 3 year contract in the Summer. This season he has been mostly injured but has played badly when he has been available.

Darcy Kuemper went from being the #2 in the goalie prospect pipeline behind Matt Hackett to playing 6 games in the NHL last season after Hackett was traded to the Buffalo Sabres. He started this season terribly with a couple of very shaky performances and needed an extended spell in the AHL to re-find his game. With Backstrom and Harding being unavailable, Kuemper was thrust into the starting role and has played brilliantly in 2014. He started 16 consecutive games before the Wild traded for Ilya Bryzgalov to lighten the load somewhat. His play in January and February very likely saved Mike Yeo's job after a terrible run of results in December and he covered up the poor play of the team during that period where they suffered injuries to key players like Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Jared Spurgeon.

The danger is that his amazing performances in 2014 might not be indicative of future performance

It seems like the Wild are ready to commit to Kuemper as the #1 goalie for the foreseeable future. While he is very inexperienced, he's nearly 24 and has a solid career behind him already. The danger is that his amazing performances in 2014 might not be indicative of future performance. The sample size is very small and it's worrying that he could rebound later in the season or next year. This concern prompted me to investigate some career comparables to see if there are any overriding trends for goalies who have a great season early in their career.


-Firstly, here are Kuemper's basic stats for his two seasons in the NHL:

Season

Age

GP

Even: SA

Even: Sv%

2012/13

22

6

106

91.5%

2013/14

23

23

547

93.6%


-I used Hockey-Reference.com to produce a list of goalie seasons with the following criteria:

  • It was the goalie's first or second season in the league.
  • They were aged between 22 and 24.
  • They played at least 20 games in the season.
  • The season had to be between 1996/97 and 2011/12. I discounted goalies who had emerged in the last two seasons because they are essentially in the same situation as Kuemper.

This criteria produced 33 individual seasons by 26 different goalies. I listed each goalie's ES Sv% season-by-season for their careers. In the rare instance where a goalie only saw limited action, I discounted seasons with fewer than 4 games played. A couple of goalies on the list had such brief careers that I omitted them for the study and just worked with the 24 goalies plus Kuemper.


-Here are the goalies season-by-season even strength Sv% for their first 5 years in the NHL (right click + select 'Open Link In New Tab' to see full size):
5_year_medium

  • Okay, this is pretty much just a mess. There's no real pattern at all.
  • Kuemper's line (the large glowing one) does stand out as being the best 2nd year performance of any of these goalies after a below average 1st season.


-Here are the goalies who have a comparable average ES Sv% to Kuemper over their first two seasons:

Goalie

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

Year 4

Year 5

Year 6

1st 2 Years Average

Henrik Lundqvist

92.90%

93.10%

92.20%

92.00%

92.90%

93.00%

93.00%

David Aebischer

92.50%

92.80%

92.80%

93.70%

x

90.50%

92.65%

Darcy Kuemper

91.50%

93.60%

x

x

x

x

92.55%

James Reimer

93.30%

91.80%

92.40%

92.70%

x

x

92.55%

Anders Lindback

93.00%

91.90%

90.30%

89.80%

x

x

92.45%

Jonathan Quick

92.60%

91.90%

92.10%

93.30%

91.00%

92.80%

92.25%

Jean-Sebastian Aubin

92.00%

91.90%

90.00%

88.90%

90.20%

91.50%

91.95%

  • Kuemper and Reimer actually had the same average over their first two seasons. If Kuemper continues to develop the same way Reimer did, then the Wild should be very excited.


-Now, here are those numbers in chart form:

4_year_medium

  • Kuemper had the worst debut season of any of this group, but the secnd best sophomore performance.
  • Lindback and Aubin tell a cautionary tale here. Their numbers for the first two seasons are steady, but they fall off a cliff afterwards.
  • On a positive note, the others seem to follow a pretty steady trajectory after their first two seasons. Lundqvist, Aebischer, Reimer and Quick all managed to be above 92% by their 4th season in the NHL. Can Kuemper do the same?


-Here's a more detailed comparison between each of Kuemper's first two seasons and 3 of the closest comparables in terms of ES Sv% over their first two seasons in the NHL:

Darcy Kuemper

Rookie Season

James Reimer

David Aebischer

Anders Lindback

22/23

Age

22/23

22/23

22/23

6/3

GP/GS

37/35

26/22

22/18

106

Even: SA

936

424

489

91.5%

Even Sv%

93.3%

92.5%

93.0%

  • Kuemper's workload in his first season was pretty tiny compared to the others. Not surprising seeing as he wasn't even supposed to be in the NHL.


Darcy Kuemper

Sophomore Season

James Reimer

David Aebischer

Anders Lindback

23/24

Age

23/24

23/24

23/24

23/22

GP/GS

34/34

21/19

16/10

547

Even: SA

792

405

284

93.6%

Even Sv%

91.8%

92.8%

91.9%

  • The lesson to be learned here is that no matter how well you play over your first two seasons, there's no guarantee of how your career will turn out.
  • Reimer has gone on to more success and looks like he will be a starter in this league for a long time.
  • Aebischer eventually became starting goalie for the Colorado Avalanche after 3 years as Patrick Roy's back-up but his form never recovered after the lockout and his career petered out.
  • Lindback had an amazing rookie season, quite similar to the one Kuemper's having now but then his career went way off track. He's still young, but his numbers are in the toilet right now and it's hard to say if he'll ever be an effective goalie in the NHL.
  • Theoretically, Kuemper could turn into any of these guys. It's impossible to know right now.

*


So, there really isn't much to be learned from all of this. Goaltending results are erratic and, without large sample sizes, it's hard to make a true assessment of a goalie's talent. Kuemper has made a nice start to his career, and there's no reason why he can't follow a similar career trajectory to Henrik Lundqvist or James Reimer, but there's still a danger he'll regress next year and fail to establish himself as a long-term starter.


It's fun to look at these graphs just to see where Kuemper stacks up against recent history. Hopefully I'll be revisiting this in a couple of years to see that he has maintained a steadily excellent Sv%.


What are your thoughts on this, Wilderness? Leave a comment and then go tell all your friends.


Follow me on Twitter for more hockey talk and analysis.

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