Left to their own devices, it’s unlikely the Edmonton Oilers would ever find out how good Jeff Deslauriers can really be.
It’s been seven long years since they spent the 31st pick in the 2002 entry draft on the big goalie and they still don’t have a clue what he can do at the NHL level.
Now, with Nikolai Khabibulin nursing a bad back, they might very well discover, entirely by accident, what they’ve got in the 25-year-old from Quebec.
Nobody knows how long Khabibulin is on the shelf, or whether or not this will be a season-long recurring problem, but with three games in the next four days, Deslauriers’ immediate future could involve a lot of very important work.
“He’s going to be our guy for a bit, anyway, till we get Khabby back,” said head coach Pat Quinn, who didn’t have his Russian starter on the ice for practice Tuesday. “I don’t know how long this is going to last, so (Deslauriers) gets the games.”
He’s been waiting a long time to hear those words from an organization that really hasn’t done a whole lot to help his career.
Whether he was buried in the East Coast League when Edmonton got caught flat footed without an AHL team, or farmed out to opposition or shared affiliates who wanted to develop their own goalies first, or stuck in three goalie rotations or sitting months between starts with the Oilers, his progress is moving at the speed of a rush hour traffic jam.
But he never complained once.
“I’ve been through the minors like most guys during their careers,” said Deslauriers, who played for the Edmonton Road Runners, the Greenville (ECHL) Growl, Hamilton Bulldogs, Greenville again, Wilkes-Barre and Springfield, in a frustrating four-year span.
“I went down and up, but that’s how hockey is sometimes. You don’t control stuff. You just have to pick yourself up and keep battling. Just never forget where you want to go.”
He wants to be right here, right now. Playing important games, in a row, in the NHL.
“I’m day to day right now,” Deslauriers said of his starting status. “I prepared in the summer and worked hard in training camp. I wanted to have more responsibility than last year. Now I have more minutes, more games. That’s what I wanted and that’s what I prepared in the summer for.”
It’s not exactly the way he wanted it to go, at the expense of an injured teammate, but there’s no time for sympathy.
“We’re a family here and it’s never fun to see a teammate get hurt. Khabby is a great goalie, really experienced guy, a leader on the team. But he’s injured now and I have to go in there and show them that they can trust me.”
He’s only played 16 NHL games in his life, after collecting cobwebs last season and starting only two of Edmonton’s first 17 this year before Khabibulin got hurt, so it’s not like they’ve been grooming him for this moment.
If he succeeds, it’ll be despite the Oilers development efforts, not because of them.
He wasn’t all that brilliant in his previous two starts, giving up four goals on his first nine shots against Colorado and three on his first six shots against Chicago, but rust and short notice and bad defence all played a hand in those lukewarm outings. The 36-save shutout win over Phoenix is more like the goalie he wants to be.
“It helped my confidence,” he said. “But yesterday is yesterday, it doesn’t mean anything today and it won’t mean anything tomorrow. Everybody is going to look at what happens against L.A. (Wednesday). That’s what’s important for me now, the LA game.”