Player: Dan Vladar
Last Season: Providence Bruins
Stats: 14-7-1 | .936 SV% | 1.79 GAA
Acquired: 2015 Draft – 3rd Round, 75th overall
The Bruins, as a franchise, have found themselves in a luxurious position for quite a while: they’ve been set at goaltender for about 12 years now.
Think of the teams in the league who have struggled to find that #1 guy just for the past few years (the Philadelphia Flyers, until recently, come to mind as particularly chaotic).
The Bruins haven’t had those problems. Tim Thomas was excellent as far back as 2008, and Tuukka Rask has been excellent ever since Thomas left. The biggest issue the Bruins have had in the crease has been a reliable back-up, but that issue has been solved in recent years too.
Still, time comes for us all. While retirement isn’t necessarily right around the bend for Rask, he’s certainly on the back 9 of his career, and Jaroslav Halak isn’t a long-term solution.
That leads us to look forward, and to see what the Bruins have in the pipeline. If recent results are any indication, the Bruins might be in good shape for a while longer.
Yesterday, you read about Jeremy Swayman, who excelled in college and is ready to make his North American pro debut. While it’s great to be excited about Swayman, Vladar is a spot ahead of him because he’s already put up the numbers in the pro game.
Vladar is about a year older than Swayman; Vladar will be 23 in August, while Swayman will be 22 in November. However, while Swayman is preparing for his first AHL stint, Vladar has been playing in the AHL since the 2016-2017 season.
Goalies need time to develop, and Vladar certainly has.
He put up strong numbers for the Atlanta Gladiators in full-time duty in the 2017-2018 season, earning him the lead spot in Providence for the next season.
That season was a bit bumpy for Vladar, who had a sub-.900 save percentage in 31 appearances. While it looked like he might be another goalie prospect who’d stall out at the AHL level, Vladar came back this past season and was, to put it simply, fantastic.
Among qualified goaltenders, Vladar led the entire AHL in both GAA (1.79) and save percentage (0.936%). He was tied for 3rd in shutouts (3) and, impressively, didn’t allow a single goal in the shootout (6 attempts).
The caveat here is that Vladar had 24 appearances. Enough, but not quite enough to earn him the Aledge “Baz” Bastien Award as the AHL’s best goalie; that award went to Minnesota’s Kaapo Kahkanen, who appeared in 33 games.
Strong play from fellow goalie Max Lagace limited Vladar’s appearances, as Lagace appeared in 33 games. Should the Bruins have given Vladar a few more of those starts? Maybe, but it’s hard to sit a goalie when he’s playing well.
The positive thing about Vladar is the development: after a subpar season 2018-2019, Vladar responded and was excellent in 2019-2020. With prospects, you want to see growth, and growth after a bit of adversity is even better.
Now, here’s the issue: crease space is becoming an issue. At regular season’s end, it stood to reason that Vladar might have been in line to serve as Rask’s back-up next season, with Halak leaving to seek a payday elsewhere.
Instead, the Bruins re-signed Halak. With Swayman ready to assume AHL duty and Kyle Keyser waiting in the wings as well, it’s all but certain that UFA Lagace will be playing elsewhere next season.
It’s worth noting that Vladar’s contract is also up right now. However, he’s a restricted free agent, and it’s hard to see why the Bruins wouldn’t be bringing him back.
It seems like Vladar will be the #1 in Providence next season, with Swayman and Keyser rotating behind him; one of those guys will have to get more ice time in Atlanta.
The interesting thing will be how the Bruins handle the game load. Swayman is the hot new prospect, but it’s important to remember that Vladar is nearly as young and is further along in his development.
It will be up to Jay Leach and Co. to ensure that each guy gets enough running room to develop, at least until one firmly establishes himself over the other.
Vladar followed up a tough season with a season in which he led the league in the two major goalie stat categories. How he follows up that season will go a long way toward determining where he’s playing in 2021-2022.
Projection for next year: Spot duty in the NHL in the event of an injury, or battling with Swayman for the lion’s share in Providence.