If you pegged Karel Vejmelka to be thriving as an NHL starting goalie this season, you're either a psychic or simply a liar.
Sure, Carter Hutton is far from a true NHL starter, and the Arizona Coyotes are far from being a competitive club. But the one positive thing you can say about Arizona's descent into madness has been the play of Vejmelka in the Coyotes crease.
If you're looking at the stats, Vejmelka's 0-6-0 record definitely stands out. No other goalie with at least five starts has failed to win a game this year. But someway, somehow, through all the calamity that is Arizona's fight for Shane Wright, Vejmelka has been, statistically, a standout among the rest.
At 5-on-5 this season, Vejmelka's .946 save percentage and 3.92 goals-saved-above-average puts him in the top 10 in both categories among goalies with at least five games played. His .898 high-danger save percentage and 2.44 HDGSAA are also near the top in the league, and he's by far been the best rookie goaltender thus far.
The Coyotes have been laughable this year, failing to win a game through 10 outings. Like, at this point, they're off to one of the worst starts we've seen in decades. The team is tanking in the most aggressive way possible, but don't tell Vejmelka that.
You see, Vejmelka was drafted by the Nashville Predators in the fifth round back in 2015. He never made his way over to join the club and quietly made his mark in the top Czech league. Internationally, Vejmelka has never represented the Czechs at the men's level, his two domestic championships came while he was a backup and he had an overall losing record with pretty average stats as a starting goaltender in Brno.
So Vejmelka's play at this point is a bit of a surprise. Many Czech fans hold him in high regard, but this was someone that seemed unlikely to make the team out of training camp behind Josef Korenar and Ivan Prosvetov. Maybe the Coyotes felt they could force poor results with him in the crease. And while he still hasn't won, Vejmelka has defied the odds to simply play good hockey.
You can call these "small victories" for a guy like Vejmelka, who, ultimately, still wants to win hockey games. No player will admit to tanking, especially goalies. If the Coyotes continue to lose, but Vejmelka continues to play well, teams will notice. He's on a one-year, low-risk contract. If he suddenly starts to fall back to earth, it won't be a big loss. But this is Vejmelka's opportunity to prove what he's capable of, and it's likely NHL teams are taking notice.
In his 10 games, Vejmelka has allowed 1-2 goals in five outings, while making 30-plus saves four times. The Coyotes have been shutout three times with Vejmelka in net, and even looked strong in recent games against Carolina (2-1) and Washington (2-0) to give his team a fighting chance. For a team that, offensively, is being led by defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere's five points, it's a good thing. And Hutton, currently on the sidelines with a lower-body injury, allowed 14 goals in his first two starts and has a .741 SP and 7.76 as one of the worst-performing goalies from the opening month of play.
So that makes Vejmelka's play look even more stellar. Not that it matters too much in the grand scheme of things to anyone but Vejmelka. But he's proving people wrong, that he can be an NHL goaltender and perform well for a team that doesn't seem interested in helping him out.
What happens next, nobody knows. But Karel is going to have a heck of a time finding out.