Since the emergence of Henrik Lundqvist during the 2005-2006 season, many Ranger fans haven’t put much thought into the future between the pipes. Fast forward eight years later, Hank is still only 31 years-old and likely to sign a 7-8 year extension within the next 12 months. The stability The King provides has masked (no pun intended?) a rather glaring organization weakness: depth in goal.
Although its only been two preseason games, Cam Talbot has been impressive the first long-look of his career. Although the numbers are nothing to write home about (3.21 GAA, .875 Sv%), he has looked closer to NHL-ready than anything we’ve seen from the Rangers’ goaltending prospects in some time. This has prompted a discussion about Marty Biron’s future and contemplating a world where we can off-set some of Hank’s raise with a cheap backup. In this spirit of this curiosity, I thought I’d take a closer look at Mr. Talbot’s background and overall game.
Talbot is a 26-year old goaltender from Caledonia, Ontario. He plied his junior trade in the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League before moving on to the University of Alabama-Huntsville (at the time, an independent Div. I program). After three seasons at UAH, Talbot signed with the Rangers as undrafted free agent in 2010. He pro career has been a slow and consistent progression throughout his time in the AHL. Because goaltenders have a completely different developmental path than most other positions, Talbot can still be considered a prospect at twenty six.
I’ve kept casual track of Talbot’s career arc, as he always had the physical tools; height (6’3”) and the athleticism to be a successful NHL’er, but never had the pedigree. His ceiling was considerably lower a few years ago, but has consistently improved his game over the past couple seasons and his stats are all trending in the right direction. Ceilings on goaltenders are never really set in stone anyway, because there are so many facets of the position as a whole that a few strong tools can mask many flaws.
From a scouting standpoint, the biggest knock on Talbot is that most of his skill-set is very ordinary. He has an athletic drop-and-block style with pretty good positioning and agility. His reads look pretty decent and he seems competent playing the puck. Nothing really stands out and nothing is a true weakness. The one area of Talbot’s game that I see as make-or-break is his body control. He has quite a bit of noise in his movement, especially laterally. When there is too much movement, your balance suffers. When you’re not balanced properly, you don’t get the power behind your push-offs, whether standing or in the butterfly. Additionally, if there is too much excess movement when you are tracking the puck, more holes tend to open up for off-angle shots and quick releases/deflections. By minimizing this noise, you give yourself a solid foundation wherever you are during the puck tracking process and assists with rebound control.
If Talbot can clean up that excess movement in his lateral game, I could see his ceiling going up to that of an above-average backup or fringe starter. As of now, he could still very well be a competent backup as soon as next season, once he gets used to the speed of The Show. Plus, he has some personal style and Slimer from Ghostbusters on his mask, which can only help his cause.
There was some talk on the Twitters the other day (weird, right?) about Talbot’s waiver status and contract situation. Word on the street was that Talbot would have to pass through waivers to be reassigned to Hartford, and the conversation turned to whether it would make more sense to waive Biron in that context and hold on to the younger, cheaper asset. Turns out (due to some quality sleuthing by Dave) that Talbot does not have to pass through waivers to go back to the Wolfpack. Although replacing Biron with Talbot would alleviate some of the cap strain this season, I don’t think sacrificing depth and forcing Talbot into a situation he’s not ready for is the answer to our cap woes. Next season it should be less of an issue due to the presumed cap ceiling increase.
Depending on what the Rangers choose to do with Biron once his contract expires, Talbot could prove to be a cheap and relatively effective option. Until he cleans up some of the excess movement in his game, he will likely represent a downgrade from Biron. However, he has steadily improved his game each season of his entire pro career, so no reason to bet against him now.