In case you missed it, the Wild wasted no time in getting into the college free agent pool by signing University of Minnesota goaltender Mat Robson to a two-year entry level contract Monday. They also wasted no time adding Robson to the team; his contract began this season and he immediately joined the Wild’s roster. So what do the Wild have in Robson and how does his arrival change (if at all) the Wild’s long-term outlook at the goaltender position? Let’s talk about it.
As far as what they have in Robson, the Wild certainly have an intriguing prospect. A week before Robson signed with the team, Corey Pronman over at The Athletic came out with his rankings of the top CHL, college, and European free agents. Robson came in at 7th on the list, 3rd among college players, and 2nd among goalies. Pronman noted that Robson has “very good hockey sense” and “pro attributes that should translate right away.”
Robson was a solid goalie for the Gophers, albeit in limited time. He was only with the Gophers for two seasons, and sat out the first half of his first season after being declared ineligible for having played three games in the CHL. In 45 collegiate games, Robson has a .924 save percentage and a 2.57 goals against average. This past season, those numbers were .921 and 2.78, respectively. If the goals against seems high given the solid save percentage, it is because he was facing 35 shots a game with the Gophers. In comparison, Devan Dubnyk faces about 29 shots per 60 minutes. If Robson faced 29 shots a game and posted the same save percentage, his goals against would drop to about 2.3. He also posted two shutouts during his time with the Gophers.
Despite being added to the roster, it is unlikely that Robson would get in a game this season. In his piece at The Athletic, Michael Russo wrote that the Wild will use Robson’s time with the team to get him acclimated to the organization, not to get him any playing time. The Wild have one remaining back-to-back on the schedule: they are in Washington Friday night and Carolina Saturday. Aside from Alex Stalock presumably playing one of those two games, the team will likely ride Devan Dubnyk the rest of the way as long as their games continue to matter. If prior to game 82 the team has either already clinched a playoff spot or already been eliminated, it is not impossible that we could see Robson appear in a game.
So where does Robson’s addition leave the Wild’s long term goalie depth? Well for starters, let’s look at what the Wild plan to do with Robson in the short term. Per that same piece from The Athletic, Russo writes that the plan is to send Robson to Iowa for the 2019-20 season and play as a tandem with Kaapo Kahkonen. Kahkonen, also 22, has had a strong first season in North America, emerging as the top goalie option for the Iowa Wild and being named an AHL All star. The long term future for the Wild at goaltender appears to now revolve around these two players. Devan Dubnyk has two years remaining under contract, which lines up well with how much time the Wild might want to give Robson and Kahkonen to develop. Robson’s first full pro year playing on the same team as Kahkonen could give a clearer picture as to how the two young goalies compare (and which one of the two looks like the top goalie of the future), but for now, the Wild will likely be patient with both and give them time to develop. The best case scenario for the future is probably one where both Kahkonen and Robson are the goalies on the Wild’s roster, with one emerging as a starter and the other serving as a quality backup.
At backup goalie, the Wild currently have Alex Stalock signed for three more seasons. This was a move to keep Stalock available until the 2021 expansion draft so that the Wild have a goalie to make available. Given his goals against average north of 3 and his save percentage south of .900, the extension was not done to lock up a solid number two goalie, and fans have to be wondering if they will explore upgrading at the backup position (and if they do, what will happen to Stalock). He has been struggling and has sometimes put coach Bruce Boudreau in the difficult spot of choosing between a tired Devan Dubnyk or an unreliable Stalock. The two deals the Wild have given their goalies, however, do not really block either Kahkonen or Robson from seeing time with the Wild over the next two years. With cap hits of $4.333 million and $785,000 (beginning next season) respectively, Dubnyk and Stalock take up just over $5 million of the cap. Adding either Robson or Kahkonen for a stretch of time where the Wild want to give Dubnyk some extra time off but are hesitant of giving Stalock extra playing time can be done without a huge cap issue. Not to suggest that the Wild would carry three goalies for an entire season, but the Wild could have Dubnyk, Stalock, and Kahkonen/Robson on the team for a combined cap hit of around $6 million. Nearly one third of the league spends $6 million on one goalie alone, and with the cap-clearing trades GM Paul Fenton has made this season, the Wild could afford to keep three goalies on the roster for short stretches of time.
As far as what this means for his former team, the departure of Robson means all three current goalies will be departing the Golden Gophers. Robson, a junior, joins senior goalies Eric Shierhorn and Brock Kautz in leaving the program. The Gophers seemed to realize that Robson was likely to depart, and they do have an interesting collection of recruits on the way. It could, however, be a difficult season for Bob Motzko’s team if they experience any growing pains in net.