SAN JOSE – In the age of gigantic goalies, the Sharks’ Aaron Dell doesn’t quite measure up – in the literal sense of the word – to guys like Pekka Rinne, Devan Dubnyk or Ben Bishop.
That’s why having someone around like former Sharks goalie and current goalie development coach Evgeni Nabokov proved to be so helpful in Dell’s first full season with the AHL Barracuda last year. Nabokov, generously listed at six feet tall in his playing days, also had to overcome being a goalie on the smaller side to become one of the best netminders of his era.
Dell, also listed at six feet, worked with Nabokov “pretty much every day before practice” last season, and it eventually resulted in him becoming the number one starter for the Sharks’ top affiliate.
“He was one of those guys that I liked to watch when I was younger, too, so it was kind of a cool experience for me to work with him, and I think we were able to connect on the style of play,” Dell said on the latest Sharks Insider Podcast. “I think I play a fairly similar style to the way he played.”
“He’s a smaller guy, he had to be more aggressive. You have hold your feet a little bit more, stay up when you’re smaller. He worked with me a lot on that last year. That actually made a huge difference in my game.”
It also helps that this season, his latest coach, Johan Hedberg, is on the same page with Nabokov in terms of what Dell needed to do to sharp while Martin Jones got the bulk of the playing time. That’s the benefit of having the NHL and AHL teams in the same practice facility.
“[Nabokov and Hedberg] work really well together. They’re on the same page, and I think that really helped out a lot coming from there to here because I did a lot of work with Nabby last year,” Dell said. "I know he did kind of the same thing Heddy is doing with me this year, keeping me in good habits and making sure I don’t slip on anything and keeping me sharp.”
Dell has certainly remained sharp, with a 9-3-1 record, 1.88 goals-against average and .935 save percentage in his first NHL season. His playing time is about to pick up, too, as the Sharks have made no secret they’d like to give Jones more time off before the playoffs.
For more from Dell, including details on his unlikely and lengthy journey to becoming an NHL goaltender, check out our latest Sharks Insider Podcast.