Heading into the 2021 NHL season, the Boston Bruins were stacked in the goaltending department, and one did not have to look deep into the numbers to recognize it. After all, the duo of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak combined to win 44 games, compile eight shutouts and amass a 2.26 Goals Against Average (GAA) with a .924 Save Percentage (Sv%) during the shortened 2019-20 campaign.
A new season, however, did not necessarily mean identical production could be expected. Well, sort of, anyway – heading into Apr. 15 action, the duo compiled a 2.42 GAA, .909 Sv%, 17 total wins and two shutouts. The problem for the pair was not in their inconsistencies on the ice, but in the health issues off of it – the 35-year-old Halak is sidelined under COVID-19 protocol, while the 34-year-old Rask has been forced to the pine due to upper-body injuries.
The injuries, coupled with the age and everyday grind of an NHL campaign, transformed a significant strength into a potential long-term weakness. For a Boston squad attempting to stay above the postseason picture in what is a crowded MassMutual East Division, leaning on their top-of-the-line offense definitely would have been a consideration. A trade for a depth goalie at the trade deadline even could have made sense.
Instead, the Bruins kept it homegrown, and boy, could they be in good hands if their past few games are any indication.
Enter, Jeremy Swayman.
While casual fans might not recognize the name right off the bat (or stick), those within Boston’s front office certainly do. After being selected in the fourth round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, Swayman put it all together with Providence this season. In nine games played with the AHL club, Swayman compiled an 8-1-0 record with a 1.89 GAA, .933 Sv% and one shutout.
The elite production, coupled with the injury woes on the parent team, made it only natural for the 22-year-old to be called up as an injury replacement for the ailing goalie pair on Apr. 5. In his debut against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on Apr. 6, Swayman made 40 saves out of 42 attempts to scoop up his first career NHL victory. Less than two days later, Swayman held a potent Washington Capitals’ offense to a pair and picked up his second win. Although Swayman lost in a rematch against Philadelphia on Apr. 10, the Anchorage, Alaska native bounced back and prevailed over the Buffalo Sabres in the shootout on Apr. 13.
Collectively, Swayman has amassed a 2.22 GAA with a .926 Sv% in four games played (four GS). Dating back to Apr. 6, Swayman’s GAA ranks 10th out of 26 goaltenders to play at least three games. His Sv%, meanwhile, is tied for 10th (Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck). While these rankings are definitely impressive, Swayman has been even better when looking at his save and ice time totals over the stretch. How so? His 112 saves rank third. His total time on the ice (TOI) of 243:34, meanwhile, ranks fourth.
At this point, the proof is in the pudding. Swayman, through only a handful of starts, has not only been productive, but durable and reliable, too.
However, let’s take it a step further.
Dating back to the 1979-80 season, Swayman is one of only 21 goaltenders to possess a GAA less than 2.25, compile a Sv% greater than .925 and win three of their first four contests to start off their career before they turned 23 years old. Other notables on the list include Hellebuyck, John Gibson, Henrik Lundqvist, Semyon Varlamov and Andrei Vasilevskiy.
What about among all goaltenders to ever don the Bruins’ sweater to start off their career? When specifically looking at Boston goaltenders, Swayman is one of only two to achieve the feat (Scott Bailey did it during the 1995-96 season).
This is not to say that anyone and everyone should pencil in Swayman as a surefire top goaltender like the others mentioned. However, Boston, with their age and injury concerns atop the goaltending tandem, are definitely not complaining.