Reaction to the Columbus Blue Jackets trading three draft picks to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Russian sophomore stopper Sergei Bobrovsky Friday morning was swift and one-sided.
Given all the talk the lowly Blue Jackets want to avoid taking another Russian forward atop the first round of the NHL draft later that night – after bad experiences with a couple in the past – some of the mocking was understandable. And we’re not going to argue the price – the 45th pick in Saturday’s second round, the 117th pick in the fourth round, and a fourth-round selection next season – seems steep for a goalie who struggled in his second full season in North America, even if his overall experience in the NHL runs deeper than big Swede Anders Lindback, who netted Nashville two second-round picks this season, and another third-round selection in next year’s draft.
It’s also debatable whether a tandem of the still-struggling Steve Mason and a 23-year-old Bobrovsky is nearly enough in Columbus. General Manager Scott Howson’s insisted he is open to starting next season that way, though he also told media gathered in Pittsburgh for the draft he hadn’t ruled out more additions between the pipes, where the Blue Jackets are thin from top to bottom.
What should be less of an argument, despite his struggles in a reduced role after the Flyers acquired Ilya Bryzgalov last season, is the potential of Bobrovsky as a No.1. It’s far too soon to say for certain he is ready to assume those duties, and a big risk for the Blue Jackets to thrust them upon him, but there’s no question Bobrovsky has a lot of desirable athleticism and foot speed.
“(Bobrovsky) has won in the league,” Howson told the Columbus Post-Dispatch. “He had a great first season (2010-11), he’s won over 40 games in the league. I think he has the potential to be a very good NHL goalie. He’s still a young goalie. We now have two NHL goalies who have a chance to be No. 1 goaltenders, and we’re going to see how it plays out.”
Again, feel free to debate Mason’s potential as a No.1. He made strides after adding properly fitting equipment this season, but there remain questions about his mental makeup.
For Bobrovsky the questions are more about his ability to reign and channel the explosive movements and skating that allowed him to go 28-13-8 with a .915 save percentage as a rookie before the addition of Bryzgalov eroded his playing time, confidence and statistics last season. With an .899 save percentage as a sophomore that included a league-worst .860 mark after the All-Star break, it’s easy to forget how much promise Bobrovsky showed when he first came to the NHL in 2010-11.
Despite playing hunched over and making himself smaller than his 6-foot-2 frame should be, Bobrovsky has a lot of the tools people were praising Jonathan Quick for this season. He is explosive laterally, especially on his skates, and reacts to shots rather than dropping and blocking, though at times he activates his elbows rather than his hands for shots up high. In short, he has a lot of the athletic, reactionary elements many have said the game is evolving towards after Cup and Conn Smythe wins by Tim Thomas and Quick the last two seasons. It just needs to be harnessed better.
InGoal documented Bobrovsky’s considerable natural talents during an interview with Flyers goaltending coach Jeff Reese last season, one in which he also talked about the young Russian’s great work ethic. It’s an interview worth reading before ridiculing Columbus for acquiring Bobrovsky – at least for too long.