Japers' Rink Player Card (click for a hi-res version, and a glossary of terms used in this post can be found here; data via NHL.com, Extra Skater, Behind the Net, Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com and CapGeek):
Grubauer's Past Two Seasons (via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com):
Key Stat: Started 12 games (and played 53 minutes in relief in another) over a 17-game span from December 8 through January 14, a stretch over which he went 6-2-5/2.11/.934.
Interesting Stat: No NHL goalie who appeared in ten or more games this past season got less five-on-five goal support than Grubauer, for whom the Caps only scored 1.57 goals per sixty minutes at five-a-side.
The Good: Over the past several seasons, the Caps franchise has performed well drafting goalies, starting with Semyon Varlamov (2006), Michal Neuvirth (2006) and Braden Holtby (2008), all three of whom are bonafide NHL goaltenders. So forgive Caps fans if they allowed a fourth-round draft choice to fly under the radar a bit for a few years while they awaited the heralded trio to fully blossom. The whispers of this netminder's skill were always there, though, and starting in late 2011, the rumors coming out of the farm system began gathering steam, rumors that claimed that there was yet another goalie - this one from a non-traditional hockey country - who had the skill set to play in the NHL.
Enter Philipp Grubauer, the German-born goalie who got his first taste of NHL action in the lockout-shortened season of 2013, and his first significant stretch of action this past season. Called up in December to replace an injured Neuvirth, he proceeded to post a 5-3-2 record that month, notching an unearthly .938 save percentage. It sparked the Caps to second place in the Metropolitan Division, and seemed to put them in the driver's seat for their seventh-consecutive playoff berth. For a while it looked like Grubauer was going to pull a Jim Carey (the good connotation of that term), namely, turning a chance mid-season call-up to DC into a starting job while competing for the Calder Trophy. Grubauer played poised and confident, and bailed the Caps out of several games when the offense wasn't pitching in. In his 15 starts, the Caps failed to score more than two goals in six of them (all regulation or shootout losses), yet the rookie was able to salvage four points from those contests.
If anything, Grubauer's performance as part of an ultimately untenable three-headed monster in net likely showed management that his potential upside was higher than Neuvirth's, who more and more appeared to be saddled with a "backup goaltender" tag. No doubt due in part to what Grubauer showed in his 16-game NHL call-up, the team chose to part with Neuvy on deadline day.
The Bad: While we can brag about Grubauer's December, we also have to bring up his January. He went 1-2-3, seemingly struggling with the increased workload and the pressure of routinely having to bail out an underperforming team. Grubauer's 16-game call-up ended with four losses (albeit two in the shootout), with the last two games against division rivals Columbus and New York being especially poor. He allowed six goals on 22 shots across 39 minutes of work, getting pulled early in both games. This prompted George McPhee to declare that Grubauer was wilting under the pressure and that he would be demoted immediately. Back to Hershey it was. (But he did finish his NHL season with a 6-5-5 record, a 2.38 GAA and 0.925 SV%....certainly not bad for a rookie!)
His performance in Hershey also left a bit to be desired, though, and showed that, despite the abundance of talent, Grubauer still wasn't fully cooked as a goaltender. He went 13-13-2 and only posted a 0.916 save percentage... okay numbers for an AHL goalie, but certainly not numbers of a guy who is tearing up the "A" and trying to show that he's above this level of hockey.
Ultimately, Grubauer showed folks that he is an up-and-comer and in the Caps' future plans for the goaltender position. At the ripe age of 22 - which is well before the age where goalies fully mature - he still has plenty of time to figure it out.
Philipp Grubauer is flexible.
The Vote: Rate Grubauer below on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations for the season - if he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a 10; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a 5 or a 6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.
The Discussion: Is Grubauer ready to be an NHL goaltender? Which would be better for Grubauer's development - a full year as the number one goalie in Hershey, or a chance to challenge Holtby for that role and/or split time in D.C.? Which would be better for the Caps? And what would it take for him to earn a 10 next year?