Mon. Apr 22nd, 2024

The Bridgeport Islanders in the American Hockey League (AHL) are seeing goaltender Jakub Skarek start the 2023-24 season on the right foot. He’s looked sharp through five games and while his save percentage (SV%) has dipped below .900, he has a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.76 as he’s keeping games low-scoring for the Islanders. The low GAA stands out considering where Skarek was a season ago when he had a 3.37 GAA.

The Islanders have only played five games and there’s still plenty of time for him to regress. However, he’s already shown signs of improvement and put together strong performances in the net. On Oct. 21 against the Utica Comets, he made 26 saves to allow the Islanders to win the game in overtime 2-1. He’s continuing to develop and taking a big step forward this season can have greater implications for both him and his trajectory as a goaltending prospect.

Skarek is Becoming A Starting Caliber Goaltender

In the past two seasons, Skarek split starts with veteran journeyman Cory Schneider. In 2021-22, he started 37 games while Schneider started 30 games, and last season, they were a 38-33 split. With the veteran retiring this offseason, the expectation is that Skarek will take on the majority of the workload this season. The Islanders signed Ken Appleby in the offseason, another veteran who has played in multiple leagues in recent seasons, but he’s only started two games this season.

Jakub Skarek, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Skarek still has a lot of room for improvement and has had a few hiccups early on. In the Oct. 27 game against the Charlotte Checkers, he allowed four goals in the first two periods of play as the Islanders lost 5-2. That said, he’s making his mark as the top goaltender for the team and is capable of starting the majority of the games this season without being a liability in the net.

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At 23 years old, this leap is expected and the question for Skarek is what comes next. Will he keep up the strong play beyond these first five games and in the seasons ahead?

What is Skarek’s Ceiling?

Speaking to two prospects experts at The Hockey Writers (THW), they provided mixed opinions on Skarek. The common ground is that while he’s playing better, it’s still too early to make any firm judgments on what his career will look like. The hope is that he becomes an NHL-caliber goaltender, but that is still years away at best with goaltending being the most unpredictable position to gauge.

Even if he isn’t projected to make it to the NHL, something one of my colleagues noted was the most likely scenario, it’s possible he can develop later in his career and join the pro game in his late 20s. His size (6-foot-4 and weighing 204 pounds) and vision give him a high floor and make him a goaltender suited for the AHL for years to come but he has to work on everything else to take that next step.

The big thing for Skarek is to prove he can consistently put together strong starts. With a great season under his belt, the Islanders will start to see his potential and a possible avenue to make the NHL team as a viable backup.

Skarek Avenue To The NHL Roster

If Skarek proves he’s ready for the NHL, even by the end of this season, the Islanders have an interesting predicament considering their goaltending unit. Semyon Varlamov is under contract for the next four seasons and at 35 years old, he’s playing at a backup level. A decline looks inevitable for him but so far, the team will rely on him to start the occasional game. Ilya Sorokin meanwhile is expected to take on the majority of the workload as a perennial Vezina Trophy-caliber goaltender and after signing an eight-year extension this offseason, he’s expected to do so for the foreseeable future as well.

Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This leaves little to no room for Skarek to join the NHL roster. The best-case scenario is that he continues to develop and eventually becomes Sorokin’s backup. This would give the Islanders a younger option than Varlamov and further strengthen the goaltending unit.

The other option for the Islanders is to trade him at some point. As a goaltender on the rise, he is suddenly an intriguing trade asset, especially for many teams looking for young backups. Goaltending around the league has been on the decline and teams are searching for prospects who can fill the void on their rosters. Skarek can do that and the Islanders could move him as part of a blockbuster deal as a result.

Until then, expect Skarek to keep improving and remain in the net for the AHL team. A big season will help catapult a team that went 34-30-7 last season and will pave the way for him to eventually make his way to the NHL.

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The post Islanders Prospect Jakub Skarek’s Improvement Provides Optimism appeared first on WorldNewsEra.

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