The road to the NHL was a bumpy one for Alex Stalock. He suffered a serious nerve injury behind his left knee on Feb. 4, 2011, and it was uncertain if he’d ever be able to play hockey at a professional level again. The injury occurred while Stalock was playing for the Worcester Sharks of the AHL, just days after he made his NHL debut with the San Jose Sharks.
Three years have passed since the incident and Stalock has bounced back in a big way. The 26-year-old goaltender has earned a full-time spot with San Jose as Antti Niemi‘s backup between the pipes. Stalock began this season with just three games of NHL experience under his belt, but has looked like a poised veteran in each of his starts thus far.
In 16 appearances, Stalock boasts a save percentage of .938, a 1.67 goals against average and two shutouts. He has eight wins and has compiled 353 total saves on the season. It’s clear that the coaching staff has more confidence in Stalock than they did in Thomas Greiss, who played in just six games as San Jose’s backup in net last year. Stalock’s strong play has allowed Niemi to take a few extra nights off, which could pay dividends when the playoffs begin.
In fact, there are some who argue that the rookie has outperformed Niemi on many occasions this season. I’d consider myself among them. Niemi has a considerably higher goals against average at 2.39, and his save percentage is markedly lower at .912. He and Stalock both have two shutouts, but Niemi has played in 48 games. You’d think a No. 1 goaltender would be able to rack up more shutouts in that many starts, especially considering how good the Sharks are defensively.
It’s certainly a topic to keep an eye on moving forward. Niemi has just one year left on his contract and is four years older than Stalock. It’s safe to assume that Stalock is the goalie of the future in San Jose and will likely take over for Niemi within the next two seasons. For now, the Minnesota native is an ideal backup option and is earning his keep at the NHL level. He hasn’t taken the league by storm, but his play thus far is worthy of a solid “B”.