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Offseason Evaluation: Braden Holtby

As the 2011-12 season has come to a close, the time has come to evaluate what it meant for the Capitals, both as a team and as individuals.  As such, as the summer progresses, I will be writing a report card, or individual evaluation, for each player who played in 9 (~10%) of the team’s games, or 4 playoff games. Next up is goaltender Braden Holtby, who finished his third professional season in the Capitals’ organization on this past campaign.

Season Summary: Holtby struggled down in Hershey bigtime at the beginning of this season, putting up poor numbers through the first half of the year.  When he was called up to DC in February, he was hammered to the tune of five goals on 35 shots against San Jose, but just like last year, his second recall was much more successful.  Pressed in to action because of injuries and poor performances, Holtby collected seven of a possible ten points in the games he started in March and April and helped get the Capitals to the playoffs.  Overall, he finished with a 4-2-1 record, 2.50 goals against average, .922 save percentage, and one shutout in seven games (six starts). Grade: B+

Role Play: In the regular season, Holtby did just about everything you could ask from a rookie.  With the exception of two games, he was more than solid in regular season action and helped Washington pick up critical points in big games down the stretch.  I don’t know what else you could want from a guy who entered the season third on the organizational goaltending depth chart.  Though he didn’t play many games, his impact was significant when his team needed him – something Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun cannot say. Grade: A

Playoffs: Again forced to start because of injuries, Holtby shocked the hockey world by carrying the Capitals almost singlehandedly to a victory over the Cup champion Bruins and pushing the top-seeded Rangers to seven games.  In his 14 postseason starts, Holtby recorded a 7-7 record, 1.95 GAA, and .935 save percentage, great numbers for anyone, but especially a rookie against the East’s top two teams.  He was mortal at times, such as game one against New York, but in the end, he was the reason the Caps got as far as they did with some highlight-reel saves and steady, consistent play.  I was very impressed, once again, with his play. Grade: A+

Future Potential: Despite his exceptional playoffs, Holtby should not be the number one goalie next year, nor is his performance a reason to trade Michal Neuvirth.  Make no mistake: Holtby is a supremely talented goalie and he has excelled at the NHL level.  But the sophomore slump will almost surely come, like it does with all young goalies, and with 35 games of NHL experience, I am not ready to give Holtby a 60 game workload over the course of a full season.  You shouldn’t either.  He may prove me wrong, but he and Neuvirth should fight it out for starts until a number one is decided upon near the playoffs.  Nevertheless, he is a special talent and I think he will be a very good goalie at this level, as do many scouts. Grade: A

The next report card will feature winger Jason Chimera.

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