There may be a position battle surrounding the Washington Capitals that will extend beyond training camp. After extending Ilya Samsonov for one more season, the Caps also traded back for Vitek Vanecek from the Seattle Kraken.
Vanecek made his NHL debut last season on Jan. 15 against the Buffalo Sabres. The 25 year old finished his rookie season with 21-10-4 record, two shutouts, a 2.69 goals against average and a .908 save percentage. He led all rookie goaltenders in wins.
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The six foot two, 187 pound goalie became the second goaltender in franchise history to record 21 wins in his rookie season. The previous best was Michal Neuvirth who had 27 wins in 2010-11. The Havlickuv, Czech Republic, native was named rookie of the month in January. He became the fourth goalie in franchise history to receive this honor. The other three were Neuvirth, Jim Carey, and Bob Mason.
Vanecek started his NHL career going 5-0-2 in his first seven game with a 2.78 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. He was the second goaltender in franchise history to remain unbeaten in regulation in their first seven career games, joining Jim Carey (6-0-0-1 in 1994-95). He is one of nine goaltenders to accomplish this feat since 1967-68 and one of seven to accomplish this feat within one season.
Through those seven games, Vanecek had a .941 save percentage at even strength. That ranked second among goaltenders with at least six games played, only trailing the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy (.944 save percentage). In addition, Vanecek became the fifth rookie goaltender in franchise history to record two shutouts in one season and the first since both Neuvirth and Braden Holtby did so in 2010-11. Vanecek was also the sixth Czech born goaltender to record a shutout.
In the 2019-20 season as a member of the Hershey Bears, Vanecek was named to the AHL All Star Classic for the second consecutive year. He received Most Valuable Player honors after allowing just two goals over four games in the round robin tournament with the Atlantic Division.
Vanecek finished that AHL season with a 19-10-1 record with two shutouts, a 2.26 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. He was selected by the Capitals in the in the second round at 39th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft.
I honestly think Vanecek will have a solid sophomore season and there will be no sophomore slumps unlike Samsonov. Yesterday I mentioned that Samsonov will have a lot to prove this season. Not only will he have a lot to prove but he’ll have some healthy competition in Vanecek.
In the end, both players will enter the summer as restricted free agents and General Manager Brian MacLellan will have a decision to make on who will backstop the Caps in the years to come.