This week The Journey looks at Montreal’s surprise playoff standout Dustin Tokarski and the winding road of success he has been traveling.
Rights: Montreal Canadiens
Drafted in the 5th round 122nd overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft
G, 5’11”, 198lbs
Hometown: Humboldt, Sk, CAN
Tokarski at a Glance
Tokarski is your typical example of what happens when a goaltender with top level potential is given the time to develop without pressure of needing to crack the NHL roster as soon as possible. Sometimes guys come into the league and are thrust into the spotlight and dubbed the savior of their respective NHL clubs. On top of all the other pressures that come with being a new pro, the need to carry an NHL franchise while trying to adapt to the pro game and continuing to develop your own skills, can ruin a young netminder. Tokarski has never had to worry about anything but improving his game. He just seems to take it all in stride, cool, calm and collected every step of the way.
Tokarski Cover to Cover
At every level of his career Tokarski has tasted success. Even when he started out in Midget he was a force to be reckoned with. Playing for the midget Prince Albert Minots in 2006 he posted three shutouts and a 1.98 GAA while leading the team to the Midget Hockey Championship.
He was drafted by Spokane of the WHL and in 2006-07 put up a 2.80 GAA and had a .903 SV% in 30 games as a rookie. In 2007-08 he played to the tune of a 30-10-3 record while setting a new Spokane record with six shutouts. He had a 2.05 GAA with a .922 SV% in the regular season and went on to post a 1.38 GAA and .944 SV% in the WHL playoffs on the way to a WHL Championship. He was named the WHL Western Conference Finals MVP after his 1.22 GAA and absurd .953 SV% pushed the Chiefs past the Tri-City Americans and into the WHL Finals. Tokarski and the Chiefs would go 4-0 in the Mem Cup Tourney as he tallied a 1.72 GAA and a .953 SV%. The memorable season ended with him stopping an amazing 52 of 53 shots against the Kitchener Rangers in the Mem Cup Final, winning the Championship and being named Memorial Cup MVP.
In 2008-09 Tokarski joined the Canadian Juniors for the World Junior Championships. Tokarski won all four games he started including a 39 save, 5-1 win over the Swedes in the Gold medal game. Back in the WHL he posted a jaw dropping 1.97 GAA and .937 SV% for Spokane, broke his own shutout record setting the new mark at seven perfect contests and once again led his team into the playoffs. They were unable to repeat their previous year’s glory however as they fell in the second round.
2009-10 was the start of Tokarski’s professional career as he landed in Norfolk of the AHL. He didn’t disappoint, over the next three season he averaged a 2.46 GAA with a .910 SV%. In his third pro season he went 32-11-0 in the regular season and then posted a 12-2 playoff record as the Admirals won the AHL Calder Cup. That’s right; he won 44 games and lost only 13 in the entire season front to back. He did see five games in a Lightning jersey while called up for a stint but was ineffective in his first go around at the NHL level, posting a 1-3-1 record.
For the 2012-13 season Tampa moved their AHL affiliate to Syracuse where they became the Crunch. Tokarski was on his way to another stellar season when he was traded to the Canadiens. With Bishop and Lindback both in the mix it would be tough for Tokarski to reach his potential. Joining a team like the Habs with a clear goaltending anchor in Carey Price, certainly didn’t accelerate his ascent to NHL starting status but it will allow him to potentially make it in as Price’s backup and that is a very good situation to be in. The two could form one of the NHL’s most feared tandems in years to come although Price will be expected to carry the bulk of the load as usual.
Tokarski and the Bulldogs have failed to make the AHL playoffs in his two opportunities with the club but this spring the worst case/best case scenario happened. Montreal mainstay Carey Price was on his way to a legitimate shot at not only a Stanley Cup but a Conn Smythe Trophy when he was felled by a season ending injury. The Habs skipped over backup Peter Budaj (who had a decent season himself) and went to the stud prospect Tokarski. He had shown all the tools at every other level, it was time for him to earn his paycheck and his future spot in the Habs lineup. With the second round series versus the Rangers tied at one game each Tokarski won his first game and the Habs went with him the rest of the way. He was stellar at times showing his worth and then some. The Canadiens fell in six games to New York with the final game being a 1-0 nail-biter.
Readers Digest of Tokarski
He has regularly seen his stat line hovering near, if not at the top of league leader boards. He is the model of consistency which is so rare to find in a young goaltender. He has the calm of Jonathan Quick and a determination second to none. It is his determination combined with excellent positioning and awareness that allow him to diminish the fact that at 5’11” he is a little undersized by today’s NHL goaltending standards.
When Tokarski was drafted by the Lightning in 2008 it was expected that he would eventually share the starting duties in Tampa. When the Lightning acquired Lindback it put a slight damper on the emergence of Tokarski and he was later dealt to the Canadiens with Ben Bishop in the fold. With Carey Price the man in charge for the Habs, Tokarski could be the backup of the future. The current number two, Budaj, has one year left on his contract at $1.4 million. That will likely keep Tokarski in the minors for at least one more year. Of course he will see duty as an injury call-up but barring a trade involving the very capable Budaj.
There will be no full-time gig in Montreal for the youngster this coming season. Interestingly enough, Tokarski’s new two year deal has the first year with an AHL salary elevated from $80,000/yr to $135,000/yr and has his second year at a one way deal. This looks to be planned out similar to the way Jake Allen has been handled in St. Louis and should land the Habs up-and-comer in a Canadiens jersey full-time for 2015-16.
There isn’t much value in Tokarski for the coming year simply because Carey Price is averaging 65-games-per-year his last three 82-game schedules and he played 39-of-48 in the lockout shortened season. So unless Price suffers an injury there aren’t many scraps left over for Budaj let alone to give a call-up a look when your backup is making 1.4 million. Even once he takes over as the back-up, 15-games is not even close to enough to warrant a fantasy pickup. Basically as long as Tokarski is behind Price there will be very little opportunity for him to shine as he did in his three appearances this past season. Should he get moved to another team or more likely, should Price suffer a long-term injury, Tokarski would then be a must own on a talented and still improving Canadiens team.
There is always the chance the Canadiens deal Budaj this summer in preparation to elevate Tokarski in the fall but that seems like a little bit of a risky move as Budaj has played admirably when called upon and Tokarski is still in the proving stage with a very small sample size in a big league crease. Regardless, if the youngster is the guy come October, he still stands to only start 15-20 games tops and would have limited fantasy value barring an injury to Price. I’d place him on my ‘watch list’ and see what happens with Budaj. If Budaj moves to another club, move Tokarski to the top of your watch list and keep your ears open for a Price injury. The kid has skills to get you decent points in any league, he just needs opportunity. Will it ever come in Montreal? That remains to be seen.
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