The Florida Panthers have a $10MM goalie. They also have one picked 13th overall in 2019, arguably the best goaltending prospect in the world. Neither of those players will be in the net when the team takes the ice for game two against the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight. Instead, Chris Driedger, the 27-year-old journeyman on a two-way contract is expected to start the most important game of the season so far after working in the starter’s net at morning skate.
Driedger has played just 38 games in his NHL career, but has been outstanding since climbing up to the Florida roster in 2019-20. Originally selected by the Ottawa Senators back in 2012, he bounced around the minor leagues for years, spending much more time in the ECHL with teams like the Elmira Jackals, Evansville Icemen, Wichita Thunder, Brampton Beast, and Manchester Monarchs than he did in he NHL. By the time he signed a two-year, two-way deal with the Panthers in 2019, he had just three NHL appearances, none of them lasting a full 60 minutes.
But in his 35 starts for the Panthers, 23 of which came this season as he stole the crease from Sergei Bobrovsky, Driedger has a .931 save percentage. He has gone 21-8-4 and played himself into the starting goalie market for the upcoming offseason. The Panthers, who have Bobrovsky making $10MM per season and Spencer Knight ready to make an impact at age-20, likely don’t have room to bring the pending unrestricted free agent back this summer. For now though, he is their best option in net as Florida tries to take down their cross-state rivals.
As team reporter Jameson Olive tweets, the team will also have Juho Lammikko entering the lineup to fill in for the suspended Sam Bennett. Alexander Wennberg will be moving up to center the second line, with Noel Acciari also getting a bump. The big news is Driedger though and his potential to be one of the most compelling storylines this postseason.