DALLAS — Former Washington Capitals backup goalie Phillip Grubauer wanted to be a starter. He got his wish Friday night when the Capitals dealt him and Brooks Orpik to the Colorado Avalanche for a second-round pick (47th overall) in the 2018 NHL draft here.
Grubauer has proven himself capable of handling a starting role over the past couple of years with the Caps. For much of the spring, he was the number one netminder over former Vezina Trophy-winner Braden Holtby.
“We really feel you need two really good goaltenders, and we like where Grubauer is, he’s just coming into his prime,” Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic said. Grubauer will play alongside former Capitals starting goalie Semyon Varlamov, who has struggled with injuries throughout his career.
Switching back to the Caps, unless they make a trade, their backup spot will be filled by less experienced hands in 2018-19. According to Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan, Pheonix Copley, a North Pole, Alaska native who has played just two NHL games will start the season as Holtby’s understudy.
Copley has played a total of 83 minutes in the NHL, all with the St. Louis Blues, and allowed six goals. The Capitals acquired Copely in 2017 along with Kevin Shattenkirk.
“It’s going to be a challenge for him,” MacLellan said of Copely’s new role. “We’re going to give him a shot and see what he can do.”
Washington’s longer-term plan for the spot appears to Russian netminder Ilya Samsonov, the team’s first-round pick in 2015. He will start the season in Hershey.
“I think we’re pretty good in depth,” MacLellan said.
Copley put up solid numbers with the Hershey Bears once he joined the Capitals organization, posting 2.15 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage in 16 games with the Bears in 2017. Copley was hampered by injuries last year, leading to unimpressive numbers (a 2.91 GAA and .896 save percentage over 41 games). The 26-year-old netminder served as the Capitals’ third goaltender during their Stanley Cup run and participated in the on-ice celebration and the victory parade.
But Copely may not last long in the NHL.
“I met with Brian MacLellan, and we agreed that from the outset I’ll be getting used to new circumstances, so I’ll start in the AHL,” Samsonov said in May after he signed a three-year entry-level contract that lured him away from the KHL. “They should then bring me up pretty quickly to the NHL.”
Samsonov, 21, is regarded as one of the best netminders not currently playing in North America. But he will have to adjust to a smaller ice surface and the different style of hockey that goes along with it.
“It’s tough to tell,” MacLellan said when I asked when Samsonov would be ready for the NHL. “We’ll see how he adjusts.”
“I think he’ll pick it up pretty quick,” MacLellan concluded.
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