Last season, Mark Dekanich was just another excellent goalie in the goaltending factory that is the Nashville Predators. For some reason the Predators seem to consistently produce excellent goaltenders. Tomas Vokoun (acquired through expansion), Chris Mason, Dan Ellis, Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback have all thrived in the "Volunteer" State. Dekanich looked like he was another candidate to get lost in the Nashville shuffle, but Group six free agency allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. Group six free agency occurs for goalies when they have reached age 25, have 3 accrued years of professional experience, and whose contracts have expired, but have played fewer than 28 NHL games. Columbus signed Dekanich to a one-year, one-way, $575,000 contract on July 1st 2011, giving him a chance to prove himself in the NHL next season.
Dekanich, formerly an outstanding collegiate goaltender for Colgate University, was lights out in the American Hockey League last season, leading the league with a .931 save percentage. The 6'2, 196 pound goaltender has always managed to keep his save percentage in the stratosphere. In college his save percentage was .924 as a sophomore, .923 as a junior and .924 as a senior. In Dekanich's first pro season in Milwaukee his save percentage was .923. Finally he "slipped" in his second pro season to .914 and did a two-game stint in the ECHL before breaking through with his monstrous season in 2010-11.
Nashville didn't sign or trade him last season because prior to his outstanding performance in 2010-11 he was considered at most a potential NHL backup. He was a fifth round pick (146th overall) in 2006 and until last season was overlooked by most scouts as a potential No. 1 goalie. Physically, he has all the tools, but his apprenticeship in the relatively weak ECAC college conference, being buried in the Nashville goalie pipeline and some trouble with the mental aspects of the game (anticipation), had kept him from being considered a blue chip prospect. Another concern for scouts was his workload. He has never played more than 51 games in a season, so he still has to prove he can carry more than a 1A goalie's workload.
There are a ton of good rookie goaltenders that are Calder eligible this season although most are stuck behind proven NHL starters. Better known rookies including Jonathan Bernier, Anders Lindback, Jhonas Enroth, Jacob Markstrom and Braden Holtby all require an extended injury to their starter before they have a shot at significant ice time. Dekanich is playing behind Steve Mason who has had back-to-back mediocre seasons. Mason will be the starter to begin the season, but if he falters in the first four to six weeks, Scott Arniel won't hesitate to give Dekanich a chance to prove his NHL worth. In fact, Dekanich's pedigree might be enough to motivate Mason to perform to his rookie levels.
Mason no longer has an aging Mathieu Garon backing him up. This year, the AHL's reigning save percentage leader with a brand new one-way contract is waiting in the wings. Columbus are also a better team this season so Dekanich will have a decent team playing in front of him if he steals the No. 1 job. If he steals the job, he has an outside shot to win the Calder, although he'll have to prove he can play more minutes than he has in the past.