Most Oilers fans have a decent idea of who Jeff Deslauriers is. Drafted early in the second round of 2002 (as Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers), he was widely considered to be the best North American goaltender available. Redline Report placed him second overall amongst goaltenders (behind only Kari Lehtonen), and said this about him:
”[T]he biggest surprise of the top-enders, is as big as an octopus and takes up virtually the entire net with his 6-4 frame. In addition, he moves extremely well for a huge man. He has great intangibles with very positive body language and an alert attitude that gives teammates confidence. His rapid rise from nowhere this year gives the impression that he’s got a huge upside if he can continue to make the same type of quantum leap from season-to-season.”
Deslauriers has had a bumpy journey since being drafted. He regressed following his draft year, posting a .888 SV% with Chicoutimi before finishing off his junior career with a very respectable 0.916 SV% on a middling team. In 2004-05, Deslauriers turned pro, splitting time between the Edmonton Roadrunners and Greenville Grrrowl. In 2005-06, the Oilers decided not to continue the Roadrunners franchise, and Deslauriers was shopped out to Montreal’s farm team, the Hamilton Bulldogs. Given that Montreal was also busy developing Jaroslav Halak, Yann Danis and Olivier Michaud (not to mention that both Ty Conklin and Cristobal Huet spent time there on conditioning stints), Deslauriers only appeared in 13 games, putting up a .897SV%, and basically burning a year of his development for no return.
2006-07 was a better situation; Deslauriers was again farmed out, this time to Wilkes-Barre Scranton, but with the exception of a brief stint by Nolan Schaefer, he was clearly the starter and got into 40 games, posting his best numbers to that point (22-12-3, 2.47 GAA, 0.908 SV%). Last season, he showed more improvement, playing a career-high 57 games and posting a 26-23-5 record and 2.90 GAA and .912 SV% on a very young Springfield Falcons team.
Let’s compare his last season with some other goaltenders of note.
Jaroslav Halak – 15-10-2, 2.10 GAA, .929 SV%
Brian Boucher – 23-16-1, 2.47 GAA, .917 SV%
Cory Schneider – 21-12-2, 2.28 GAA, .916 SV%
Deslauriers – 26-23-5, 2.90 GAA, .912 SV%
Curtis McElhinney – 20-18-2, 2.28 GAA, .911 SV%
Ondrej Pavelec – 33-16-3, 2.77 GAA, .911 SV%
Marc Denis – 11-17-2, 2.91 GAA, .910 SV%
Justin Pogge – 26-10-4, 2.34 GAA, .908 SV%
Jim Howard – 21-28-2, 2.83 GAA, .907 SV%
Tuukka Rask – 27-13-2, 2.33 GAA, .905 SV%
Erik Ersberg – 10-13-2, 2.92 GAA, .897 SV%
Thomas Greiss – 18-21-2, 3.09 GAA, .892 SV%
Marek Schwarz – 14-14-2, 2.79 GAA, .891 SV%
Looking at those names, there’s some quality there. Pavelec, Pogge, Howard and Rask are all highly regarded as prospects, while players like McElhinney and Ersberg are getting NHL jobs this season (Calgary and Los Angeles).
The point here is that Jeff Deslauriers didn’t have an awful season last year- he didn’t shoot out the lights at the AHL level, and frankly I think he should spend another year in the minors, but he’s a long way from a complete bust. He’s still young for a goaltender (turned 24 in the summer) and he’s a quality starter in the minors (even behind a mediocre team), and there isn’t any reason to believe that he won’t have an NHL career. It probably won’t be a particularly glamorous career, but for the first time in a long time, the Oilers have drafted a goaltender out of junior, and developed him to the point where he’s on the cusp of NHL duty.
Given the number of obstacles that he overcame along the way, I see no reason why Jeff Deslauriers shouldn’t be proud of his accomplishments to date.
—Jonathan Willis is the force behind Copper and Blue, and a frequent OilersNation contributor.