The Toronto Maple Leafs have decided to test their goaltending depth and will have Joseph Woll make his NHL Debut when the team visits the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday.
"I think the big thing, as an organization is that we really believe in him," Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following the team's 2-1 overtime win against the Calgary Flames on Friday. "In an ideal world, you would want him to get on a roll with the Marlies. As it turns out there's an opportunity here."
Earlier in the week, the team announced that goaltender Petr Mrazek would miss a minimum of four weeks with a groin injury.
It is Mrazek's second stint away from the team due to injury. During the first stint, Michael Hutchinson served as the team's backup, but an underwhelming .857 save percentage in four periods of work left the Maple Leafs looking at other options.
Although not ideal, they told Woll approximately three or four days ago that he would make his NHL debut on Sunday. A third-round pick by the Maple Leafs in the 2016 NHL Draft, the American goaltender feels he's up for the task.
"It's been a little weird with how COVID's been but I think it's afforded me a lot opportunity to work on some stuff that I don't think I would have paid a lot of attention to," Woll said on Sunday. "It's really given me the opportunity to look at some areas of my game and my life that are really important. It's been a long road and I feel ready."
Woll was called up immediately after the team announced Mrazek's injury. He's dressed as the backup for every game that Jack Campbell has started. But with a sequence of back-to-back games and a constant watch on the starter's workload, Saturday's starter was a bit of mystery until after Friday's game concluded.
"I have a lot of fun watching him, I call him 'Quickie 2.0'," Campbell said of Woll. "Not to give him too much pressure or anything but because he's really flexible."
Campbell is referring to Jonathan Quick, the Los Angeles Kings starting goaltender, whom he served as an understudy before the trade that brought him to Toronto.
Another option mulled over by the Maple Leafs was Swedish goaltending prospect Erik Kallgren, but the Leafs ultimately decided that Woll's tenure and hard work over the last couple of years deserved to be rewarded.
Woll acknowledged his struggles adjusting to the professional game. A standout at Boston College for three seasons, Woll has posted a save percentage below .900 in all three seasons with the Toronto Marlies.
Starting Woll is a bit of a risk but at some point, the team has to find out what they have in their other goaltenders and Saturday will mark another Maple Leafs making his NHL debut.
"He comes to the rink with a great attitude, he's always smiling," Said Auston Matthews, who played with Woll on the 2014-'15 U.S. National Under-18 team. "He's a great kid, works hard, just loves the game and loves competing."