It took Chris Driedger seven years and 213 professional games to get his first NHL start, but the Winnipeg product certainly made it a night to remember.
After coming in in relief on three occasions prior, the 25-year-old backstop earned a victory in his first game. And it wasn’t just any victory, it was a decisive 27-save shutout win over an offensive Nashville Predators team.
In typical Winnipeg fashion, the former AAA Bantam and Midget Monarch turned the credit to his defence, whom he claimed made his night much easier in the crease.
“It was incredible,” Driedger said. “Every shot that I saw, I could save. If I didn’t see them, they blocked them; it was awesome. They did an incredible job in front of me. I wouldn’t be answering these questions if it wasn’t for them.”
Driedger became the 37th goaltender in NHL history, and the first in Florida Panthers’ history to record a shutout in his debut. After skating out onto the ice for his ‘rookie solo lap’, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound netminder said that the nerves settled down.
“Honestly, I’m speechless at this point,” Driedger said. “It’s been a long time coming. They told me I was starting yesterday. I was definitely pretty nervous going into it, but once the puck dropped I kind of felt good. The [defense] did an incredible job tonight making my job easy. It was incredible. It was a lot of fun.”
Originally drafted 76th overall in the third round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Driedger concluded a four-year WHL career before bouncing around the AHL and ECHL, with the odd NHL call-up for a fill-in role. He found his way into three NHL games in relief, but failed to earn a win in either situation.
Driedger’s .938 save percentage in the 2019-20 AHL season was tops in the league at the time of his recall from Springfield early this past week. His 27-save shutout included four power play opportunities for the red-hot Predators, who had earned points in four-straight games prior to Saturday’s contest.
The 25-year-old and his Panthers will next welcome the Central Division’s Minnesota Wild to town on Tuesday. Florida travels to Winnipeg to take on the Jets on March 17.