Boston University’s Oettinger as NHL Draft hopeful: ‘Whatever happens, happens’

Jake Oettinger (BU - 29) - The Harvard University Crimson defeated the Boston University Terriers 6-3 (EN) to win the 2017 Beanpot on Monday, February 13, 2017, at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)
BU goalie Jake Oettinger should be an early pick at this weekend’s NHL Draft in Chicago (photo: Melissa Wade).

Back in 2000, Boston University goaltender Rick DiPietro was the top pick of the New York Islanders in the NHL Draft.

He had put together an impressive freshman campaign that culminated in a dramatic 77-save, four-overtime loss to St. Lawrence in the NCAA regional final. His season ended with an 18-5-5 record, a 2.45 GAA and a .913 save percentage. He entered the draft ranked the top North American goaltender.

This weekend, another Terrier netminder will be drafted.

Jake Oettinger, too, is the top-ranked North American goaltender by NHL Central Scouting. His freshman numbers are similar – even a little better – than DiPietro. He posted a 21-11-3 record, a 2.11 GAA and a .927 save percentage.

That, though, may be where the similarities lie when it comes to the NHL Draft.

Unlike the days of DiPietro, goaltenders don’t seem to have the same value to NHL clubs when it comes to the draft. And DiPietro’s career may be part of the reason.

See, the Islanders took a risk in choosing DiPietro. They could have selected either Dany Heatley or Marian Gaborik, both of whom had long and relatively successful NHL careers.

Instead, they traded up to take DiPietro, whose injury-riddled career ended in 2013 and produced just four full seasons played at the NHL level.

Since DiPietro, only one goaltender has been selected first overall — Marc-Andre Fleury. His story is much different as he helped Pittsburgh win three Stanley Cups and, after Wednesday’s NHL Expansion Draft, will now try to lead the Vegas Golden Knights.

But even with his success, goaltenders have become a cautionary tale for NHL general managers when it comes spending first-round draft capital.

In the last five seasons, only three netminders have been first-round picks. Usually a goaltender is selected early in the second round which then opens the floodgates for other teams to make a similar pick.

That means that Friday night when the 31 NHL teams will make their first-round selection, could be a long night of waiting for Oettinger.

For Oettinger, though, that’s not a problem.

“Whatever happens, happens,” said Oettinger about the draft. “I’m just really going to be extremely open-minded and whatever happens, I’ll be extremely grateful.”

Listening to Oettinger, grateful is a word that often comes off his lips. He says he is grateful for every opportunity he’s had in life, particularly to play at Boston University.

That, though, doesn’t mean that he’s satisfied with how his first season ended. With a roster loaded with talent, the Terriers weren’t able to take home much in terms of hardware. BU lost to Harvard in the Beanpot final and, though the Terriers were part of a three-way co-champions situation in the Hockey East regular season, BU was eliminated by Boston College in the Hockey East semifinals.

After beating North Dakota in a not-very-neutral-ice game in Fargo to open the NCAA tournament, an overtime loss to Minnesota Duluth in the West Regional final ended the Terriers’ season.

It also left a lot of unfinished business for Oettinger and his teammates.

“My freshman year was everything I could have asked for and more,” said Oettinger. “But obviously, we fell short of our goal [of a national championship]. That’s motivated me to work harder this summer.

“I want to win a national championship at BU and I know next year we have the team to do it.”

That, probably, is music to the ears of Terriers fan and, in particular their coach David Quinn. BU already lost a trio of players in Clayton Keller, Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson to the NHL, as well another NHL first-rounder Kieffer Bellows, who departed to play major junior in the Western Hockey League.

But talking to Oettinger, his focus right now is getting through draft weekend and returning to Boston University with the chance to work further on his game.

“I need to continue to get better in almost every aspect of my game,” said Oettinger. “I’m focused a lot on the basics and positionally being really sound. There’s a lot of growth left in my game and definitely a lot of work ahead.”

Oettinger says that about 20 people – family and friends – will accompany him to Chicago. And while it’s almost a given Oettinger won’t follow DiPietro’s footsteps of being the number one selection and even quite possible that he’ll slip to the second round, that doesn’t seem to worry this glass-half-full prospect.

“Come draft day, whatever team takes me, it’s going to be the start of what hopefully is a long career,” said Oettinger. “I know it’s just a step in the process and definitely a day I’m looking forward to. I’m just excited to hear my name called and have an NHL team that I can start working towards making.”