Literally no one played more NHL hockey than Cam Talbot last season. It wasn’t even close. The Edmonton Oilers goaltender made 73 appearances, which was seven more than his closest competitor, Toronto’s Frederik Andersen. That was an extra 500 minutes more than Andersen and San Jose’s Martin Jones, who were basically tied for the next-highest amount of work time-wise. But Talbot isn’t sweating it and would be happy for a repeat performance this season.
“I felt great,” he said. “That’s what you work your whole life towards.”
The heavy workload certainly didn’t affect his output, as Talbot ranked top-15 in save percentage (.919) and tied for third in shutouts, with seven. The keys to his success were trust and honesty. Coach Todd McLellan and goalie coach Dustin Schwartz kept an open line with their starter and that meant a lot.
“Todd and his staff deserve a lot of credit,” Talbot said. “They’re great communicators and I knew that if I felt run down, I could walk into his office or the goalie coach’s office and be honest with them.”
The end result was an Edmonton team that nearly won the Pacific Division just one year after missing the playoffs altogether. Heroic efforts by Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the new top ‘D’ pairing of Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom all helped, but don’t sleep on Talbot’s contributions.
“He held us in games night in and night out,” said defenseman Darnell Nurse. “You can’t put a value on what he did for our team last year. And he’s one of the hardest workers around.”
This summer, that work involved tweaking parts of his evolving game. Talbot concentrated on tracking pucks (a technique which has become very popular in netminding) and rebound control, while at the same time being careful to still stand his ground in the crease. Increased flexibility was another target and it will be fun to see what the payoff will be once the Oilers hit the ice again this fall.
Expectations are going to be very high for this Edmonton edition, but that doesn’t bother the team’s star goalie at all.
“We set the bar pretty high last year,” Talbot said. “Nobody believed in us, except the guys in the room. The only difference now is that we won’t sneak up on teams.”
But it will be fun to see what these Oilers can do, now that they’ve had a taste of a playoff run. With Talbot specifically, his rise from University of Alabama-Huntsville standout to Henrik Lundqvist’s understudy in New York to his first NHL starter’s job has been rather impressive. His most famous teammate in college isn’t even known for hockey anymore – it’s actor Wyatt Russell from 22 Jump Street and Everybody Wants Some (though he did play psycho power forward Anders Cain in Goon 2). And Talbot’s pro aspirations with the NCAA Chargers weren’t high. “If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t think it would ever happen until my third year, with about two weeks left,” he said. “I didn’t even have an agent.”
Now, he’s a top-10 goalie in the NHL with a fast, exciting team in front of him. The hunger is there in Edmonton and with Talbot in net, one major piece of a championship puzzle is already solidified.