The offseason will be full of decisions for the Rangers. Some will be huge, team altering decisions, such as whether to buy out Chris Drury or whom to draft with their first round pick. Other decisions are not as important at face value… such as whether to sign goaltending prospect Scott Stajcer. The soon to be 20 year old was a 5th round pick by the Rangers in the 2009 draft, and his rights with the Rangers expire July 1st. Thus, the Rangers have about two months to make a decision. Let’s look at what will factor into their decision:
Obviously what will matter most is how he has played since he was drafted. Stajcer posted a 3.67 GAA and .897 save % in the 2009-2010 season, which aren’t at all impressive. However, Owen Sound was absolutely brutal last season, finishing second to last in their conference. This year, Stajcer was a monster in net before he got injured. He was named the OHL’s goaltender of the week in early October and, at the time, led the OHL in GAA and Save %. Stajcer looked poised for a huge season until hip surgery shut him down for most of the regular season. At that point it looked like he was a lost cause, but he came back in March and has responded greatly. Stajcer reclaimed his starting role and has been unbelievable in the playoffs for the Owen Sound Attack, posting an 8-0-1 record with a 2.08 GAA and .931 save %. He has been a major reason that Owen Sound is now in the OHL finals and have earned a chance to play for the Memorial Cup, which is the tournament that plays the best of all three major junior leagues against each other. Owen Sound is a great team, but Stajcer has been the prime reason for their playoff success.
Stajcer has done well to save his season, and perhaps even any chance of the Rangers signing him, after undergoing surgery, but that doesn’t eliminate all concerns. As well as Stajcer performed this season, it wasn’t over too big of a sample size. The Rangers really needed a full season to evaluate Stajcer since he was on the bubble going into this season. The injury leaves him still on the bubble. Then there’s the injury itself. Stajcer has come back without any real problems, but what are its long-term affects. Hip surgeries can really affect goaltenders down the road, and short term success doesn’t eliminate the possibility of it flaring up in the future (see Rick Dipietro).
This is what might be the biggest deterrent. Lundqvist is a lock to be the starting goaltender for the foreseeable future, and Biron is the unquestionable backup for at least 2011-2012. From there, Talbot is signed and probably staying, and the Rangers just added Jason Missiaen this year, so he isn’t going anywhere. Chad Johnson is an RFA. Is there a spot for Stajcer? Teams are only allowed to have 50 players signed to professional contracts, so signing Stajcer very well could mean that there’s no spot to sign a guy like Roman Horak or Chris Kreider. It seems that it ultimately comes down to Scott Stajcer vs. Chad Johnson. I can’t imagine a scenario where both are on the team. Do the Rangers go with the goalie who had one very good season in the AHL and a few good games in the NHL, but faltered this season? Or do they go with the guy who has been great in the OHL but has injury concerns and is unproven at the professional level? When the Rangers signed Missiaen in March, I thought it meant that Stajcer was gone. However, I’m having a change of heart. At 25, the developmental clock is winding down on Johnson, and with no spot on the NHL roster for him next year combined with the success of Cameron Talbot in the AHL this year, I think the Rangers would rather try to develop Stajcer into an NHL goaltender than keep Johnson. We’ll have to wait and see, though.
There are clearly more important decisions the Rangers’ brass will have to make, but don’t underestimate how important the little things can be. Stajcer certainly has the potential to be an NHL goalie. Look at what other teams have been able to pawn off excess goaltending for. Even if Stajcer never finds a spot on the Rangers, he could still be a valuable piece.