Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Joseph Woll could be a Calder Trophy dark horse
Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
By James Reeve1 month ago
It has been more than a decade since the last time a goaltender has won the Calder Trophy, but Joseph Woll of the Toronto Maple Leafs could be a dark horse candidate for the award this season.
Then-Columbus Blue Jackets rookie Steve Mason became the 16th and most recent winner of the NHL’s Rookie of the Year award during the 2008-09 season, a year in which he played 61 games, finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting and also came second in Vezina Trophy voting.
Prior to Mason, significant names such as Martin Brodeur (New Jersey Devils, 1993-94), Tony Esposito (Chicago Black Hawks, 1969-70) and Terry Sawchuk (Detroit Red Wings, 1950-51) have all won the coveted individual award, breaking the monotony of the regular skater-dominated string of winners. While it is still early in the season, Joseph Woll could have some arguments for being in contention for this year’s award after putting up some truly impressive numbers.
Through five games, sporting a 3-2-0 record, Woll has outshone fellow teammate Ilya Samsonov with a 1.89 goals against average and a save percentage of .942, with the latter being the second-highest of goaltenders to have played in at least four games so far. Sure, perhaps bad timing for this piece considering his last game, but the good has still significantly outweighed the bad so far.
Via NHL EDGE, along with his impressive base numbers, Woll has faced 47 high-danger shots, making 43 saves. This is far above the league average of 32 and 26 respectively, showing that the 25-year-old is making crucial saves above expectations and is really carrying the load when he is between the pipes. He’s even currently second in the the NHL in Goals Saved Above Expected, which shows that he is putting in saves that are keeping the team afloat when the defence is just not holding their own, although this did not help him in the team’s most recent 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
This year’s numbers may not be so surprising to followers of Woll’s career dating back to his years in the NCAA with Boston College, as at every level of the sport since then he has posted improved numbers in each of the following years. This covers the NCAA, AHL and the NHL, where he has improved every year since his debut in each respective league.
His debut college season (2016-17) saw Woll play 34 games, with an already impressive 2.64 goals against average and a .913 save percentage, numbers that saw him named to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team. He followed that up with 30 games, a 2.48 goals against average and a .915 save percentage – ultimately helping Boston College to a regular season title, and seeing himself named to the Third All-Star Team. In his final year, his goals against average dropped to 2.41 and his save percentage rose to .919 in 37 regular season games, proving that he was ready to make the jump to the professional level after three successful years in college, all the while improving every single year.
The jump to the AHL, which coincided with the Covid-shortened 2019-20 season, saw Woll naturally show some rookie struggles on the professional stage, with his numbers jumping to 3.75 and .880 respectively across 32 games before the season was ultimately curtailed. The following year, again impacted by the ongoing Covid pandemic, Woll improved to 3.54 goals against and a save percentage of .892. Not stellar, but showing improvements is always a positive to take for goaltenders early in their careers.
2021-22 was the first season to be played free of Covid restrictions hanging over everything, and Woll once again improved to 3.36 GAA and a .907 save percentage in 15 games. This also saw Woll make his NHL debut, but we’ll get to that later. The following year, in what looks likely to be his last in the AHL, Woll’s numbers rocketed to something truly worth taking note of: 2.37 goals against average and a .927 save percentage.
Clear that he could hold his own in the minors, and while making a few appearances in the NHL that year, it was clear that Woll would be the team’s backup to start this season when Matt Murray was ruled out indefinitely. Leading up to that decision, Woll posted back-to-back seasons with solid numbers, improving from Year 1 to Year 2, going from a 2.76 GAA to a 2.16 and a .911 save percentage to a .932. This year, Woll has stepped up in relief of Ilya Samsonov, who has struggled after an impressive year of his own in 2022-23. If Woll continues to outperform his teammate, he will solidify his standing as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first-choice goaltender and play the majority of games throughout the rest of the season. In doing so, he will have a firm argument for being in Calder Trophy consideration.
Especially when considering a recent comparable in Logan Thompson, who finished eighth in Calder voting just last season. Thompson, who plays for the Vegas Golden Knights, entered last season having played 20 games in the NHL and went on to feature in 37 games, posting a 2.68 GAA and a .915 save percentage. Solid numbers for any starting goaltender, but so far not as impressive as Woll has been. Also, take into consideration that Woll entered this year with only 11 combined NHL appearances and is in fact slightly younger than what Thompson was last year. If he continues to put up numbers close to what he has so far, considering how high Thompson finished, then there’s no reason why Woll can’t be in the conversation.
Of course, he will have to overcome the likes of Connor Bedard, Logan Cooley and other skaters who will be hoping to land the trophy, but if he has genuine top-tier numbers throughout the year, it will be very difficult to ignore him at least as a finalist.
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