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Jake Oettinger's Story is Just Beginning

Jake Oettinger gave the Dallas Stars a chance to win against a strong Calgary lineup every single night. As the Stars look to the future, Oettinger is going to be a major part of it, and he's only just getting started.
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The Dallas Stars have had some good goalies during the team's existence. 

Ed Belfour. Marty Turco. Kari Lehtonen. Ben Bishop. All of them were among the best goalies in the league at one point or another.

But nobody in Texas will forget just how incredible Jake Oettinger was during the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, even in an eventual series loss in Game 7.

Bar none, Oettinger was the first star of the first round. Oettinger was otherworldly for most of the run, leading the playoffs with a .953 save percentage and 6.33 goals saved above average at 5-on-5 -- absolute insanity. No other goalie was better, and he did it for a team that barely squeaked into the post-season. And to make an offensive group that contains Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, Tyler Toffoli, Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane look ordinary? That's extraordinary.

On paper, this shouldn't have been close. Jake Oettinger didn't allow that to happen.

If it wasn't for Oettinger, the Stars wouldn't have stood a chance in Game 7, or in most of the other games, realistically. The Stars never scored more than four goals in a game, yet Oettinger faced 38 or more shots in four of the seven games, highlighted by 61 saves on Sunday. Oettinger had to be a game-saver, and he did just that nearly every night.

It seemed like the better Oettinger played, the more it rallied the team around him. Oettinger's first win of the series was a 29-shutout. Wins two and three were absolute show-stopping performances. Oettinger was just as important as any goal-scorer in any of the team's wins.

At one point this season, the 23-year-old found himself as the odd-man-out in a crowded crease that already had Anton Khudobin and Braeden Holtby, with the looming presence of a potential Ben Bishop creeping around early in the season. 

Bishop never returned to the big club and retired; Khudobin struggled mightily and was waived. Holtby had some injuries plague what was an otherwise solid season for the veteran. 

So after playing 10 games in the AHL, Oettinger returned full-time in mid-November and went on an absolute tear, recording a 30-15-1 record to help the Stars go on an underdog run to the playoffs and – eventually – force a Stanley Cup contender to seven games in the first round.

Oettinger's rise isn't surprising. He was a first-round pick in 2017 after a great rookie season with Boston University and at 6-foot-5, he definitely had the size NHL teams were looking for. 

Some scouts compared his athleticism and calm demeanor to that of Carey Price, an incredible -- yet lofty -- comparison, no doubt. But so far, through 86 games of work between the regular season and playoffs, Oettinger has shown the makings of a true all-star quality goaltender that'll lead this team for at least the next decade.

The Stars are in a weird spot. They're two years removed from a Stanley Cup appearance. The team's top scorer, Joe Pavelski, managed to have a career-year at 37 years old, but how much longer does he left? Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alex Radulov are far from the players they used to be. The defense is good, and some of the young core has some true potential. But where Dallas goes from here is a bit of a mystery.

Oettinger is a pending RFA, but it goes without saying that he's here to stay. Who joins him as a backup next year remains to be seen -- Holtby is a UFA, and Khudobin doesn't appear to be NHL-caliber anymore -- but Oettinger isn't going anywhere, and that's all that matters.

With Igor Shesterkin, Ilya Sorokin, Spencer Knight and Jeremy Swayman -- as well as future NHLers Jesper Wallstedt, Yaroslav Askarov and Sebastian Cossa -- the Vezina Trophy race is going to be wild over the next decade. 

And Dallas has their fighter. He's ready.

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