The injury to Ilya Samsonov left an opportunity for another goalie to step in as the backup to Braden Holtby and prospect Vitek Vanecek has taken that opportunity and run with it. He beat out Pheonix Copley for the job despite the fact that Copley was the backup just last season in 2018-19. When looking at the Capitals' future in net, that conversation has largely begun and ended with Samsonov. But what exactly is the upside of Vanecek? Who better to ask than Olie Kolzig?
Kolzig is one of the best goalies in franchise history so he knows a thing or two about goaltending. As a professional development coach for Washington, he is also very familiar with Vanecek. Kolzig joined the broadcast on NBC Sports Washington on Monday and, when asked about Vanecek, he offered a glowing review.
"I think if you see the small sample size that he showed last week in the exhibition game against Carolina, he can fill in adequately," Kolzig said. "He's got a great demeanor about him, players love playing for him and his progression over the last three or four years has been nothing but phenomenal."
Vanecek now has five years of experience in North America under his belt, but has yet to play in an NHL game. He has nothing left to prove at the AHL level, but his appearance in Wednesday's exhibition against the Carolina Hurricanes was the closest he has come to NHL action.
With the likely departure of Holtby in the offseason, there is going to be an opening on the roster at the goalie position. That makes the biggest question on the mind of Caps fans is just what is Vanecek's ceiling?
"I think he can definitely be a No. 2 in the NHL," Kolzig said. "It wouldn't surprise me if he could battle for a No. 1, but as of now is a No. 2. He's progressed here since [the Capitals] drafted him. His demeanor, his relationship with his teammates, he just needs to be seen. He needs to get some NHL action because he's proved it at the East Coast level and the American League level, but small sample size we saw last week shows he can do it so far at the NHL."
This is going to be a tricky situation for Washington. If the feeling on Vanecek is that he is a No. 2, then you can see why the team was all-in on Samsonov this season as the backup to Holtby to prepare him for the future. Even if Samsonov is the No. 1 going forward, however, it is not a given that Vanecek will be the No. 2. If the Caps still see themselves as contenders, will general manager Brian MacLellan really want to hand the crease over to two goalies with a combined 26 games of NHL experience? Probably not.
Having a No. 2 goalie in the system is a good player to have, but the timing of it makes it difficult to see what the possible future of Vanecek may be in Washington.
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