Stajcer a huge difference-maker in OHL
Hard-working goaltender kept his team in game after game last season
• VIDEO: Stajcer 2009 Pre-Draft Interview
By Dan David, newyorkrangers.com
Rangers Goaltending Coach Benoit Allaire has seen a lot of netminders in his time, and when he thinks about the season Blueshirts prospect Scott Stajcer had in 2009-10, another young major-junior goaltender immediately comes to mind.
Stajcer, the Blueshirts' second of two fifth-round picks, No. 140 overall, at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, is one of the more talented goaltenders you will find in the Ontario Hockey League. This past season, however, he had the misfortune of playing on an Owen Sound Attack team that didn't give him much support.
Missing top scorer Joey Hishon for much of the season, the Attack missed the playoffs despite a heroic effort by the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Stajcer, who was under heavy fire every night. Stajcer was the only reason Owen Sound had any chance to make the playoffs, keeping his team in virtually every game.
That's why Allaire, who has done so much to help Henrik Lundqvist's NHL development, can't help but think of another All-Star goalie when reflecting on Stajcer's season.
"I remember seeing Patrick Roy play for a very, very bad team with Granby back when he played junior," said Allaire. "He had to face 50 or 60 shots every time, and he became a pretty good goalie in the end."
|Goaltender Scott Stajcer was a very happy young man on June 27, 2009, when the Rangers made him a fifth-round pick in the annual NHL Entry Draft.|
"I don't think it's a bad thing when that happens," Allaire said. "It just forces you to challenge yourself to be ready every night because you know you're going to face a lot of shots."
It would be an understatement to say Stajcer faced "a lot of shots" in 2009-10. Stajcer had to make at least 35 saves in one out of every three of his 54 starts. He had to make 40-plus saves in one of every five starts, but won seven of those 11 games, losing once in regulation, once in a shootout, and twice in overtime. On almost any other OHL team, a 40-save night would have guaranteed a win.
"Near the end of the season, I caught one of his games, and by then he looked tired," said Gordie Clark, the Rangers' Director, Player Personnel. “That's what happens when you average so many shots. His team clearly would have been much better with Hishon healthy. Hishon would have been scoring, and Scott would have been stopping the puck to get them into the playoffs."
Owen Sound's rough season didn't bother Stajcer as much some might think.
"It was a good experience, to say the least, and I learned a ton," said Stajcer, who turned 19 on Monday. "When you get bombarded with shots every so often in games, you sometimes have to fight through a lot. When there are good scoring chances after good scoring chances, you realize you have to be the best player on your team every day."
Given his situation, it's no surprise that Stajcer's final record was under .500 at 21-23-6. While his goals-against average (3.67) and save percentage (.897) statistics suffered due to Owen Sound's team struggles, there is no doubt that he was the difference just about every night. To earn his only shutout of the season, he had to make 36 saves in a 2-0 win at Kingston on Dec. 6.
"Early on, the more action I get, the better I feel like I play, the more I'm into the game, and the more I'm focused, because the puck is always there" said Stajcer. "This year, in games when we actually played really well -- and I didn't get as many shots -- I had to stay focused and learn to stay in the game and battle through all those moments."
Complicating matters was the OHL's tendency to schedule three games in three nights. In some cases, games were played at 7 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday night with the third game taking place at 2 p.m. on a Sunday. It was enough to wear any goalie out, regardless of the amount of shots faced.
|Rangers prospect Scott Stajcer made this big save on Toronto prospect Nazem Kadri during the 2009 CHL Top Prospects Game with Team Orr. Stajcer stopped all 26 shots he faced in Team Orr's victory.|
Stajcer was a Three Star selection in 12 of 54 starts, including eight No. 1 Stars. His record in those 12 games was 9-1-2, and he had to make at least 40 saves in half of them. He considers one of his OT losses, a 3-2 defeat on Sept. 25 at Kitchener, his best night of the season, as he made 45 saves in that game.
His highest save total came in a New Year's Eve masterpiece at Barrie, when Stajcer stopped 49 of 53 shots to earn a 6-4 win. That performance, featuring 19 saves in the third period, was pretty much the way he had to play for his team to win. It was also part of his hottest stretch -- a four-game winning streak from Dec. 20 to Jan. 2 that saw him make 131 of a potential 139 stops for a remarkable .942 save percentage.
Regardless of his team’s record, Stajcer continued to impress the Rangers scouts, who were equally pleased with his effort at last September's Traverse City (Mich.) Prospects Tournament, where he played a key role in the Blueshirts' third-place finish. Stajcer started two games at Traverse City, the opening loss to eventual champion Carolina and the dramatic third-place victory over St. Louis.
Against Carolina, he made 35 saves and kept the Rangers in the game long enough to come back for a 3-3 tie in the third period before they fell 5-3. That 35 saves, which drew high praise from Clark, were followed by 27 saves in a comeback, 5-4 win over the Blues. Stajcer was particularly effective in the third period, stopping 11 straight St. Louis shots as the Blueshirts mounted their rally and took control of the game.
Getting Stajcer in Round 5 at the 2009 draft was a big “get” for the Rangers. He had been ranked by NHL Central Scouting as the No. 5 North American goalie and a potential second-rounder . He has lived up to initial reports that describe him as hard-working, mentally tough and particularly good at playing angles.
Allaire, who worked with Stajcer at last year's Rangers training camp, said he is already impressed with what the teen-ager brings to the organization.
"His best quality is his willingness to compete all the time," said Allaire. "He never gives up. He will battle all the time and he challenges the puck-carrier. That is a big quality that is needed to become an NHL player."
"When I was in camp last year I learned a ton from him, and I think it helped me a lot during the camp," Stajcer said. "When I came back to junior, I kind of had to change my style of play because it's more scrambling and sloppy, and there are a lot of high-scoring chances. But when I was in camp, and he told me what to do, I did it and it worked out great for me. He's a great goalie coach."
Being in the same NHL organization as Lundqvist is also a plus.
"I actually was on the ice for one of his practice teams one day, and we did drills together. He shared a lot of incredible knowledge that he's learned throughout his years in the NHL," said Stajcer. "It really opened my mind up to everything that goes on. He's a great goalie, so I have to listen to everything he says."
Stajcer will be back at training camp with Allaire, Lundqvist, and the rest of the Rangers. As a 19-year-old, he has to either make the NHL roster out of training camp or return to his junior team at Owen Sound. No matter what happens in September, Stajcer is excited about the upcoming season.
"I'm just going to go into camp showing my best stuff. I want to get into preseason games and show what I can do," he said. "When I do get into those games, I need to prove that I can play there. I want to surprise a lot of scouts in showing them that I can play there this year. If I go back to junior, I'm just looking to carry my team to the playoffs and a long playoff run."