BOSTON — Boston University’s hockey jerseys don’t contain a logo on the front, no Terrier to grace their chests. Instead, BU spells out “BOSTON” or sometimes even “BOSTON UNIVERSITY” on its jerseys, a crowded mix of letters unique to the historic northeastern hockey power.
So when it comes to BU goalie and 2017 Stars first-round pick Jake Oettinger, what’s one more letter on his chest? Oettinger is the backstop for a program that pumps out first-round picks, and he is also an alternate captain, a rarity among goaltenders.
“It means a lot,” Oettinger said. “We have a lot of good leaders in that locker room. Anyone could have had that ‘A’ on their jersey. To get the nod from the guys was really special, and it’s something that I take a lot of pride in.”
The Stars, who play host to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday, selected Oettinger No. 26 last year — after they selected Miro Heiskanen at No. 3. That made Oettinger the club’s highest-selected goaltender since Jack Campbell at No. 11 in 2010. Oettinger is a potential goalie of the future, a 6-5 teenager with international pedigree (he played for the United States at the World Juniors the last two years).
He’s also “probably one of the more normal goalies you’d meet,” according to BU coach Albie O’Connell and earned the “A” through a team vote.
“He’s a regular guy,” O’Connell said. “He’s well-liked by his teammates. He works hard on the ice; he works hard off the ice. … We love him. He’s the backbone of our team, and we’re going to have to ride him. To go anywhere we want to go, it’s going to be on his sweat.”
Oettinger’s numbers this season are not eye-popping, with an .894 save percentage and 3.72 goals against average. But he’s only started five games and is coming off a 37-save performance in his last game Saturday against Northeastern.
This season, he’ll hope to showcase his sharpened skills: flexibility, mobility, speed, quickness and communication with his defensemen.
“That stuff is just a lot of game experience and little things in video and whatnot,” Oettinger said. “Obviously, you can work on your skill set on and off the ice, but it’s all about the stuff you’re doing off the ice: watching video, especially when it comes to goalie-D exchange and whatnot. It’s all communication and trust in your teammates.
“I think it’s something you’ve got to work on every single day.”
Oettinger set a goal this year to watch as many NHL games as possible to learn from the world’s best. He watches Carey Price in Montreal, Andrei Vasilevskiy in Tampa Bay, Martin Jones in San Jose and Frederik Andersen in Toronto. He’ll flip around the NHL package to watch games, with both eyes on the crease.
“That’s strictly based off who’s in net for them,” he said. “I don’t really care about any of the players on their teams, just the goalies.”
Sometimes he’ll flip on the Stars and watch Ben Bishop, whose size and calmness stand out to Oettinger, especially since only two inches separate Dallas’ goaltender of the present and their potential goaltender of the future.
Just how soon Oettinger will make the jump to professional hockey is unknown, though.
The Stars and Oettinger discussed him signing a professional contract after the Terriers season ended in March, but Oettinger elected to return to BU for his junior season. He expects similar discussions when the BU season ends next spring.
“Obviously, I love what they have going on down there,” Oettinger said. “They’ve been nothing but first-class to me. Even in the decision-making process, I think you never know how a team is going to react when you tell them you don’t want to sign with them yet. They were first class, top to bottom, and extremely supportive in understanding my decision.”
Oettinger said he’ll account for where he is physically in the spring and consider that among a number of variables whether he should go pro or stay in school for a potential senior season.
Bishop was once met with a similar decision. Bishop was a third-round pick of St. Louis in 2005 before he spent three seasons at the University of Maine. He signed a professional contract and began playing in the AHL at 22 years old.
“I was ready,” Bishop said. “I didn’t have much more to prove. I was top of the college level, so it’s time to try to push yourself on the next test just so you can keep pushing to get better. It felt like a good time from a hockey standpoint.”
O’Connell mentioned the aging curve for goaltenders is different from other positions, about how goalies don’t typically peak until their mid-20s. They usually have a career that dips farther into their 30s than other positions.
He said Oettinger, who turns 20 in December, is “still just kind of scratching the surface,” and described him as a poised player under pressure.
“We always say the slogan here is ‘When you’re ready, we’ll drive you to the airport,'” O’Connell said. “If they’re ready to go, we feel confident in our recruiting and the guys that we have coming in that can step in and make an impact. If he feels that he’s ready to go after the year and there’s a good opportunity, then go.”
Should Oettinger turn pro after this season, he’ll likely battle Colton Point for minutes and exposure with AHL affiliate Texas or even ECHL affiliate Idaho. On Monday, Point (.854 save percentage and 3.96 goals against average in his first professional season) was sent from Texas to Idaho.
Oettinger said he knows who the Stars have in their system, in part, because of participation in development camp. But it’s not something his chooses to focus on.
“I think it’s just worrying what I can do to make myself better and obviously, you can use those guys as a measuring stick, but I think at the end of the day, you can only worry about the stuff you’re doing and the attitude and effort you bring to the rink every day,” Oettinger said. “Whenever you get to high-level hockey, you’re going to have to beat out really good goalies. That’s kind of the nature of the position.”
Until then, though, Oettinger will bide his time at BU, battling for Hockey East titles and Beanpot championships and Frozen Four appearances. And should he get to the NHL, he won’t be allowed to have an extra letter on his chest since the NHL forbids goalies from doing so. But Oettinger would like to see that change.
“If they’re deserving of it, then why not?”