EDMONTON – Having jumped from the back of the book to the front of the line in the Edmonton Oilers’ goal crease in a span of four appearances, Jeff Deslauriers might seem to be the proverbial overnight sensation.
But his success story has been five years in the making.
Third on the depth chart behind Mathieu Garon and Dwayne Roloson when this season began – listed between Carl Corazzini and Devan Dubnyk on page 88 of the “In The System” section of the Oilers 2008-09 media guide – Deslauriers knows the overnight angle is pure fiction.
He made 40 saves in a 3-2 shootout win over the New York Rangers on Monday, a day after a 37-save effort in a 2-1 win over New Jersey. Deslauriers, a native of St.-Jean-Richelieu, Que., has a 3-0-0 record, a save percentage of .951 and a 1.71 goals-against average.
Overnight sensation? He’s seizing the day.
“No matter what, I have to be ready,” Deslauriers said of muscling his way into the goaltending picture. “That’s the big challenge for me, and I feel like I can achieve that.”
Patience is the real storyline when it comes to the 24-year-old Deslauriers, who was drafted 31st overall from Chicoutimi of the QMJHL in 2002. He will likely get his third consecutive start against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.
“It took me a while,” Deslauriers said with a smile. “But I think those four years in the minors were good for me technically and mentally. You mature, and I think this year I felt more ready to play.”
For two of Deslauriers’ four seasons in the minors, the Oilers didn’t have their own AHL affiliate.
“He’s been through a lot,” assistant GM Kevin Prendergast said. “From a development standpoint, he’s been through the gamut and he’s had to persevere and work hard.”
Deslauriers’ first pro season in 2004-05 was split between the Edmonton Roadrunners of the AHL, where he went 6-13-2 with a 2.96 goals-against average, and Greenville of the ECHL.
When the Roadrunners folded after one season, Deslauriers bounced between Hamilton and Wilkes-Barre Scranton of the AHL – teams affiliated with Montreal and Pittsburgh – and Greenville for two seasons.
“We’ve always thought he was a blue-chip prospect, but that was a difficult situation,” said Prendergast. “He had to live with that and we had to live with that.
“He bided his time and waited for the opportunity. He’s still young, so you can’t hang your hat on this kid and say we’re going to ride him all the way at this point, but he’s proven to himself he can play at this level.”
Having persevered through a knee injury and being buried behind other prospects, Deslauriers posted a 26-23-5 record with a 2.90 GAA with Springfield, Edmonton’s new AHL affiliate, in 2007-08.
“I had my ups and downs and I know I’m going to have them again,” said Deslauriers. “What I know now is I can battle through adversity and I can take on a challenge. I see every game as a challenge.
“Those four years, I became a better person and a better goaltender in terms of preparation and work ethic. I think that’s why I’m here.”
With the Oilers in the ungainly position of having to start the season with three goaltenders, Deslauriers arrived for training camp behind Garon and Roloson in the pecking order.
“He established himself as a go-to guy in Springfield,” Oilers GM Steve Tambellini said.
“With that, comes the pressure and the expectations of the coaching staff and teammates that you’re going to be there for them every night. That’s not an easy thing for a young goaltender.”
The assumption at camp was Deslauriers would be the odd-man out and that Tambellini would have to risk losing him on waivers to get him to the minors. There is no such talk now.
“That’s not complicating things, that’s what you want,” Tambellini said. “You want to see people stand up and say, ‘I want more.’ That’s what you want and that’s what we’ve got.”
Since overcoming a predictable case of the nerves to beat the Calgary Flames 4-3 with 26 saves in his first NHL start Oct. 17, Deslauriers hasn’t looked back.
He turned aside all 14 shots he faced in relief of Garon in a 5-4 loss in Pittsburgh, then stopped 77 of 80 shots against the Devils and Rangers as the Oilers finished a seven-game marathon road swing with a 4-3 record.
“My first goal was to make the team,” Deslauriers said. “I’m part of the team now.
“I want to be a regular goalie in this league and I want to be one of the best, so I have to be on top of my game every night no matter what.”