When Corey Crawford missed the second half of last season with a concussion, the Blackhawks found themselves scrambling trying to salvage a playoff push. They used five goaltenders down the stretch, one of which was 36-year-old accountant Scott Foster in an emergency situation.
They're in a much better position this time around, with Cam Ward signing a one-year deal this past summer as a backup but also insurance for this very reason. The Blackhawks also called up Collin Delia to help divide the load as Crawford recovers.
But as the Blackhawks hover near the basement of the Western Conference, it wouldn't be the worst idea to give Delia the majority of the starts going forward because they need to start preparing for life without Crawford — whenever that comes. Crawford turns 34 on Dec. 31 and has one more year on his contract after this season.
Delia, 24, was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Blackhawks in July of 2017, and has quickly worked his way up the ladder. He made a name for himself during last year's Conference Final run in the Calder Cup Playoffs for the IceHogs, which proved that he can perform in big-time moments.
“The adversity that I went through last season, starting in the ECHL and working my way up, it’s a huge character-building moment for me,” Delia said. “I had to see where my game was at, see if this was something that I could take to the next level. I think I kind of proved to myself and my teammates, coaches, staff, that I have the capabilities.”
Delia leads the American Hockey League with a .933 save percentage and ranks third with a 2.34 goals against average in 17 appearances this season, picking up right where he left off last year.
While he’s been splitting time with Anton Forsberg, Delia is doing his part when he’s in net and is building a larger body of work that he can build upon. But it's also giving the Blackhawks something to think about.
“He had a great season,” Colliton said. “He came a long way in a short time. Very important, high-pressure games in the spring and he did a great job. He's kind of picked up where he's left off down in Rockford. Excited to get him here of course. The circumstances are less than ideal, but a lot of times that's when guys break through. They get opportunity through circumstances that are sometimes negative. It's an opportunity for him."
One of the most important goaltending stats, as Delia notes, is games played. The more pucks you see and the more situations you're in, the better for your development.
Considering he has been one of the top AHL performers for a full calendar year now, it's a perfect time for the Blackhawks to give Delia a strong look in the NHL and start building his body of work in the big leagues.