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In Ben, We Trust?

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Graham James Holloway/Edmonton Oilers Fans (Facebook Group)
Edmonton Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens put on quite the show Wednesday night, establishing a new NHL record with his 59-save shutout of the San Jose Sharks in a 3-0 win at Rexall Place. In case you missed it — or you just wanted to see it again to believe it — check out the link below. Either way, this will be seven minutes of your life you won’t want back.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxbPv5bR2fE

Ben Scrivens was nothing short of spectacular on Wednesday night. Some of the saves he was making were ‘cray, cray’ as the kids say these days.

When the final buzzer sounded, the newly acquired Edmonton Oilers goaltender had backstopped an NHL-record 59-save shutout — in a 3-0 blanking of the sharp-shooting San Jose Sharks, no less.

Scrivens was great, but can the Oilers expect greatness going forward?

The final 26 games of this year’s regular season should serve as a decent indicator of whether Scrivens warrants re-signing — as a starter, in a platoon scenario or as a hometown backup.

The Spruce Grove, Alta., product who turns 28 in September is a pending unrestricted free agent, having failed to establish himself as a starter in previous stints with Toronto and Los Angeles. He did show flashes with both franchises — albeit, not quite as flashy as Wednesday’s performance — but he was ultimately relegated to backup duty.

Personally, I’ve been familiar with Scrivens for some time. While working in Lloydminster for the Meridian Booster and covering the AJHL’s Blazers-turned-Bobcats, I first watched Scrivens play during his final junior season in 2005-06.

Even back then, I liked what I saw. As a teenager, Scrivens already had that “IT” factor and when he was on his game — in his zone — he was fully capable of stealing points for his team . . . as Oilers fans came to realize on Wednesday.

The AJHL has produced its fair share of NHL talents from that timeframe, including Mark Letestu (Bonnyville/Columbus), Justin Fontaine (Bonnyville/Minnesota), Matt Frattin (Fort Saskatchewan/Los Angeles) and Joe Colborne (Camrose/Calgary). None have developed into big-time scorers — at least not yet — but Scrivens faced them all in a standout campaign that saw him named Spruce Grove’s Most Valuable Player after also participating in the AJHL All-Star Game and playing a key role in Team North winning the 2006 Viking Cup in Camrose.

Scrivens finished that year with a .921 save percentage, which was a sign of things to come even as he took the road less travelled by going the NCAA route rather than playing major junior.

To that end, perhaps Scrivens was (or still is) a late bloomer, as goaltenders often are.

In four years of collegiate hockey with the Cornell Big Red, Scrivens’ save percentage gradually improved from .911 in 2006-07 to .934 in 2009-10. From there, he turned pro and has maintained a save percentage above .900 in climbing the ranks from the ECHL to the AHL to the NHL.

The next step? Solidifying a starting job in the NHL, an opportunity that very well could present itself in Edmonton next season. Based, of course, on how this season ends.

Because, as we all know, one game does not make a career. Not even if it is a career-defining game like the one Scrivens turned in on Wednesday.

In four starts since coming to Edmonton via trade from Los Angeles earlier this month, Scrivens has posted a 2-2 record, but he’s gradually been getting better as he’s settled into his new surroundings. That much is evidenced, again, by an escalating save percentage — going from .879 in his Oilers debut to .926, .971 and, most recently, a perfect 1.000.

There’s essentially nowhere to go but down from that flawless effort, but those numbers average out to .944 and if Scrivens could somehow sustain that kind of save percentage — or anything north of .925 — Edmonton would be crazy not to keep him around in some capacity. That’s assuming he isn’t demanding crazy dollars come summer, or whenever the two sides enter into contract negotiations.

Time will tell what the future holds for Scrivens in Edmonton — short-term and, potentially, long-term. I wouldn’t bet against him becoming the new face of the franchise between the pipes — that is, if he wants to continue calling Edmonton home past this season.

It would also be in the Oilers’ best interests, in my opinion, to find him an experienced goaltending partner that has been an NHL starter in the past. Depth and competition in the crease is never a bad thing, and so long as their roles are clearly defined from Day 1, that partner should only bring the best out of Scrivens and push him to thrive in his new environment.

Any of Martin Brodeur, Tim Thomas or Evgeni Nabokov would fit that bill via free agency. Or if the Oilers preferred a younger backup with the aforementioned platoon potential, then Brian Elliott, Jonas Gustavsson, Thomas Greiss, Anton Khudobin, Al Montoya or even Ray Emery are possible options.

I’m not a huge fan of the platoon blueprint for success, however. More often than not, it blows up in a bad way with a goaltending ‘controversy’ and neither guy ends up performing to their capabilities or the fan base’s expectations. The 1A and 1B concept presents an uncomfortable situation that Scrivens is already well-versed in, having battled James Reimer — and the Toronto media — for the Maple Leafs’ starting status. For everybody’s sake, I would hope Edmonton has learned from others’ mistakes.

I also hope the Oilers are aware of their own blunder in signing an older, sub-par goaltender as a backup, which they did by bringing in Devan Dubnyk’s buddy Jason LaBarbera this past summer. Chalk that up to a rookie error in judgement by MacT, but I see him steering clear of Tomas Vokoun, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Scott Clemmensen and those types this time around.

If it’s determined that Scrivens is best suited as a backup or an understudy of sorts, then perhaps Ryan Miller, Jonas Hiller or Jaroslav Halak would be the best bets as free agents. Or, as my blog suggested yesterday, acquiring Cam Ward from Carolina via trade could be a great ‘buy low’ move — granted with a high cap hit, or comparable to what Miller, Hiller and Halak will command on the open market.

At the end of the day, there are clearly several options available to Edmonton in the goaltending department. But, for the time being, the ball is in Scrivens’ court and his play will likely dictate the next move or series of moves.

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