From Potvin to Pogge to Källgren, Leafs goalie debuts are hard to bank on
Exceptional debut performances by goaltenders wearing the uniform of the Maple Leafs should be savoured and enjoyed by those who support the squad.
But with the city still buzzing from the spectacular first NHL start by unheralded Erik Källgren, it’s worth being a little cautious.
As a general rule, you see, goaltending debuts just aren’t a reliable indication of what is to come.
When it comes to Leafs goalies, all I have in terms of first-hand knowledge is the 33 years dating back to the final days of the Original 21. Since then, 16 goaltenders have played their first regular-season NHL minute wearing Leafs colours, and 15 have started their first NHL regular-season game playing for Toronto.
Nine of those starters won, six lost. One — Félix Potvin — became a front-line starting goaltender. That’s not an exhaustive sample size, but it’s not bad.
Here are the top five starting debuts by Leafs rookie goalies since 1989:
1. Damian Rhodes
at Detroit, March 22, 1991
Drafted 112th out of Michigan Tech, Rhodes was a long-shot to make it to the NHL. On March 22, he got the call to backstop the last-place Leafs in Detroit against an improving Red Wings team and walked away with a 3-1 triumph, making 25 saves in front of a sellout crowd at the Joe. Rhodes was the first Leafs rookie goalie to get a win in his NHL debut since Allan Bester in 1984.
2. Ben Scrivens
at Columbus, Nov. 3, 2011
Scrivens starred with the Toronto Marlies before finally getting his shot at Columbus. James Reimer was injured and backup Jonas Gustavsson had played the night before. Scrivens stopped 38 of 39 shots and shone in a 4-1 victory that briefly put the Leafs into first place in the Eastern Conference. “Is my hair all right?” Scrivens joked afterwards, enjoying his moment in the limelight.
3. Félix Potvin
at Chicago, Nov. 14, 1991
While both Rhodes and Scrivens were tasked with making their first NHL starts on the road, that wasn’t close to the assignment given to Potvin, who faced a powerful Blackhawks team at the old Chicago Stadium, as hostile a rink as there was at the time. With Grant Fuhr hurt and Jeff Reese suffering from the flu, the 20-year-old Potvin responded with 37 saves in a 3-0 defeat. It was a poised, sensational performance that surely let the Leafs know they had an elite prospect on their hands. By the 1993-94 season, Potvin and Rhodes were the regular tandem.
4. Erik Källgren
vs. Dallas, March 15, 2022
Kallgren, 25, was the second Leafs goalie (after Joseph Woll) to make his NHL debut this season. Following up on the 35-save shutout effort against the Stars, he’ll get the start Thursday against Carolina, hoping to match Woll’s 2-0-0 start to his NHL career.