The Pittsburgh Penguins have a whirlpool of talented defensive prospects, and sometimes their goaltenders fail to receive any recognition.
Last years’s second-round pick Tristan Jarry is performing at a high-level for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League (WHL), and Matt Murray is making a name for himself for the Sault Ste. Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
But unless you pay close attention to their AHL affiliate team, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, or recall goaltender Eric Hartzell signing on with Pittsburgh last season, you probably aren’t aware he’s currently on a roll.
Hartzell, 24, inked a one-year entry-level contract following his last season with Quinnipiac University, and then re-signed to a two-year deal this past July. Aside from a short stint with the Wheeling Nailers of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) at the beginning of the season, Hartzell has since been with WBS.
Backing up netminder Jeff Deslauriers, Hartzell has recently become a regular starter, and posted fantastic numbers in the process.
Leading the AHL in goals-against-average (1.74), Hartzell hasn’t allowed over two goals in a game through eight-straight starts, dating back to Dec. 28. Amidst this stretch, he’s gone 5-2-1, recorded one shutout, and surrendered just 10 goals while saving 199 shots – which is eye-poppingly good.
It comes as no surprise that Hartzell is excelling, given the fact his final season with Quinnipiac was overwhelmingly terrific. Yet, we may forget how dominant he was. Let me run you through his collegiate achievements.
Guiding the Bobcats to their first NCAA Frozen Four appearance and getting them to the National Championship, Hartzell set Quinnipiac’ records in nearly every category.
Setting single-season records at Quinnipiac for goals-against-average (1.57), save percentage (.933), and shutouts (5), Hartzell led the nation with 2,522 minutes-played. Owning the Quinnipiac all-time record of 58-27-17, he stands alone under career goals-against-average (1.96) and save percentage (.924) as well.
A finalist for the Hobey Baker Award (best player), Hartzell was honored as USCHO Player of the Year, USA Hockey College Player of the Year, ECAC Hockey Player of the Year, and ECAC Hockey Ken Dryden Goaltender of the Year.
You get the idea.
Hartzell came out of college as a highly-touted goaltender, and his potential was never the questioned – it was more of can he execute? He started his AHL-career off on the inconsistent side, but since, he’s shaped into the netminder Pittsburgh’ foresaw him being.
I can’t speak for the Pens’ faithful, but they probably had high hopes for him coming out of college too. It became noticeable the organization was confident Hartzell would be successful when they gave him a two-year deal, despite not seeing a minute of NHL action – or holding any professional experience for that matter.
Standing at 6-foot-4 and weighing in at 204-pounds, Hartzell’s body type is perfect for an NHL netminder. His pedigree, accompanied with knowledge of the game, goes a long way in terms of a goalie’s longevity. And perhaps, deciding to finish his career out at Quinnipiac allowed him to mature more, rather than booking for the NHL early.
Now, of course, Hartzell still has a lot to learn, and won’t be evaluated till the season’s done. However, recognizing he’s gaining confidence and comfort with each start he gets, you can see the promise Hartzell possesses.
If you’re worried Pittsburgh may run into goaltending issues, keep your eye on this guy.
Marc-Andre Fleury’s contract is up after next season. You never know. We may see Hartzell occupying the net at the CONSOL Energy Center in the future.