Dustin Tokarski has made some brilliant stops for the Habs in their Eastern Conference final, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be a star goalie in the NHL for years to come. He still has to prove himself in a regular season and as teams get a book on him, his tendencies and how he can be exposed, he’ll need to adapt.
Regardless of what transpires the remainder of this post-season, Dustin Tokarski has been a pleasant surprise and nice storyline. His play has kept the Eastern Conference final competitive and compelling.
Whether this is his 15 minutes in the spotlight, or the beginning of an ascent to loftier heights, however, is unclear.
While the 24-year-old native of Humboldt, Sask., has displayed some terrific attributes so far, including impressive agility and a steely-calm demeanor, some questions have also been raised. At 5-foot-11, is he big enough by today’s standards? Is his style too aggressive and will it become easy to expose if/when shooters become more patient? Once the league has a book on him and can predict his tendencies, will he be able to adapt and compensate?
And what will that book say about his glove hand? For the most part, it’s been sharp and he has made some fantastic stops in the limited time we’ve seen him. But it’s also been beaten on a few notable occasions.
Martin St-Louis, for one, has made a point of testing it repeatedly. The Rangers’ sniper, who has scored on more than his share of netminders high to the glove side, had success in Game 2 on this tremendous power play shot from the slot.
Then in Games 2 and 3 he was robbed on at least three point blank chances by Tokarski’s flashy leather.
In the second period of Game 3, Tokarski made this acrobatic stop on St-Louis with the Ranger on his doorstep. While it’s not top shelf, it’s to the glove side, really St-Louis’ only option on the play.
Then, in the dying moments of the same game, with the outcome hanging in the balance, the two engage in a mirror image of the previous clip with Tokarski coming out on top again.
And in Game 4, St-Louis is in all alone and opts to go glove side, with Tokarski expertly snaring the puck in windmill fashion.
Give St-Louis full credit for sticking to his gameplan/strength in overtime of Game 4 when, with a little more time on his hands than a couple of the previous attempts, he finally threads the needle with the winner.
So St-Louis goes 2-for-5, and reinforces a pattern, one for which it’s too soon to draw a conclusion.
As for Tokarski, with Carey Price ahead of him, and popular Peter Budaj the incumbent backup, his place in Montreal next season isn’t guaranteed. He begins a two-way, two-year contract next season, with a favorable $562,000 cap hit, so he’s attractive from a financial perspective. He’d have to clear waivers in order to be sent down, so that might push the Habs to deal Budaj, or buy him out, and have Tokarski serve as their backup.
It’s very likely he’ll get a chance in someone’s NHL crease if not Montreal’s, though talent evaluators must decide how much of a gamble he represents and what they’d be willing to part with as they weigh the risks and rewards.