But the unexpected opportunity afforded to Soderblom by injuries has revealed a 23-year-old goaltender who looks big enough, skilled enough, poised enough and tough enough to not only swim but thrive in the NHL. He finally earned his much-deserved first win Thursday, saving 32 of 33 shots in a 2-1 overtime victory against the Kings.
And he’s hoping that has changed some minds.
“I’m trying my best to make it hard for them to not play me,” he said. “I feel great in the net and trying to keep it that way.”
He will, more likely than not, still be forced back to Rockford by a numbers’ game when Petr Mrazek and Alex Stalock return to health, as coach Luke Richardson noted postgame. But that doesn’t mean Richardson hasn’t also been impressed.
“[He was] way calmer than me,” Richardson said. “[With] his ability to stay cool and make a big back-door save, like he did late in the third period, he doesn’t just throw himself and do that. He responds and controls his body and seals the post so there’s no rebound… He’s just going to get better at his craft.”
The Hawks struggled to generate offense all night, but Jake McCabe took advantage of a Kings turnover in front of their own net in overtime to feed Jonathan Toews for the game-winner.
Minor-league journeyman goaltender Dylan Wells was watching the Blackhawks-Islanders game Tuesday with some of his Rockford teammates when he saw Stalock suffer his concussion. Not long after, Hawks general manager Kyle Davidson called, offering Wells an NHL deal.
By Wednesday, Wells was tending the net opposite Soderblom in Hawks practice and grinning ear-to-ear in the locker room.
“It was kind of spinning,” he said. “Things just happen so quickly, it’s tough to make sense of it right away. I had a feeling it could happen and knew it was a possibility, but I’m super grateful to be here.
Wells was originally drafted and signed by the Oilers, but the 24-year-old Canadian’s entire pro experience consists of 25 AHL and 76 ECHL games; he has never played in an NHL game.
That’s unlikely to change with the Hawks, as Soderblom will likely start again Saturday against the Jets and Mrazek will likely return next week, but even being in the NHL represents a massive pay raise for Wells. His new one-year contract includes a $750,000 NHL salary; he’ll receive a prorated amount of that based on how many days he spends on the roster.
“My parents were super excited when I called them,” he said. “It’s really fun. It’s a really special opportunity and I’m really happy to be here, soaking it in.”
In related news, the NHL fined Islanders forward Casey Cizikas the maximum amount of $5,000 for his hit on Stalock, but they did not suspend him.
Jujhar Khaira is currently playing center for the first time in his Hawks tenure, roaming the middle of the ice on the fourth line with Boris Katchouk and Reese Johnson.
While he previously played some center with the Oilers, it has been a while, requiring some adjustment.
“It takes about a game just to get the timing [down], and definitely [it requires] a little bit more skating going down the middle,” he said. “It’s a fun adjustment. It’s always a challenge, but something I enjoy doing.