With the apparent graduation of 2015 third round pick Samuel Montembeault to the Florida Panthers to serve as backup to prized free agent acquisition Sergei Bobrovsky, Chris Driedger looks like he will be the clear-cut number one for the Springfield Thunderbirds to start the 2019-20 AHL season. Behind him are two talented prospects who have the ability to challenge for starts.
After signing an AHL deal with the Springfield Thunderbirds last summer, the fine work of the 24-year-old Driedger led to an NHL deal with Florida in February for the rest of the season. The former Ottawa Senators draft pick appeared in 32 games, posting a 18-10-2 record, 2.45 goals against average and one shutout, while leading the American League with a .924 save percentage. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, also appeared in 12 games with the Manchester Monarchs of the ECHL, registering a 6-5-0 mark, 2.75 goals against average and .911 save percentage. Driedger has appeared in three career NHL games, all with the Ottawa, and has now played 124 career AHL games, recording a 56-49-8 record, 2.91 goals against average, .910 save percentage and three shutouts. On April 30, 2019, Driedger signed a two-year contract extension with the Panthers. Based on his experience and his performance last year, Driedger is the favorite to be the starter in Springfield this season.
The last man of Florida’s 2015 draft haul, Bednard was drafted 206th overall after appearing in 37 games for the Johnstown Tomahawks of the Tier-II NAHL. Bednard compiled a 16-16-5 record with a 2.66 GAA, 1 shutout and a .913 save percentage. He also played one game for the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms, surrendering 4 goals in a loss. Bednard appeared in just seven games as a freshman for Bowling Green University. During his sophomore season, he served notice that he was a prospect to watch as he went 15-8-4 and posted a 2.24 GAA. After his impressive sophomore season, Bednard excelled in his third and final NCAA campaign with Bowling Green. His numbers: 20-8-4 / 1.77 GAA / .927 save percentage - were eye-popping. Bednard signed an entry-level contract on April 2, 2019 and will battle Philippe Desrosiers for the right to backup Driedger.
A talented goalie who excelled in the high-scoring QMJHL as a junior, Desroisers was taken 54th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. After four seasons with the Dallas Stars organization, Desrosiers was not tendered a qualifying offer and was released as a free agent on June 25, 2019. He was signed to a one-year, two-way contract with the Panthers a week later. Last season, Desrosiers appeared in a 23 AHL games (a career-high) with the Texas Stars, where he went 8-12-0 with a 2.54 GAA and .910 save percentage. The 24-year-old gets a fresh start with Florida, but will need to beat out drafted prospect Bednard to get playing time behind Driedger.