Kevin Allen: Canes take an unusual route by signing NCAA player mid-season
When it comes to NHL goaltending, sometimes two goalies is too many and five is not enough.
It’s the latter for the Carolina Hurricanes. That’s why general manager Don Waddell worked out a contract with University of Minnesota goalie Jack LaFontaine over the weekend to leave school and join the Hurricanes. He’s already been officially added to the taxi squad and will start practicing with the ‘Canes on Wednesday.
“Through the organization we have two healthy goalies,” Waddell said.
College goalies don’t usually sign with NHL teams during the season, but neither LaFontaine’s, nor the Hurricanes’ situations are normal. LaFontaine is 24 and the Hurricanes will be looking to fast-track him because they keep losing goalies to injury and COVID-19.
“It came down to the opportunity at hand, and the opportunity was golden,” LaFontaine said.
LaFontaine played Saturday in a 6-3 win against Michigan State and then agreed to a one-year contract for $750,000 on Sunday. He said the entire process, from talking to the Hurricanes to agreeing to join them, took under 20 hours.
“This wasn’t something I was pondering all season,” he said.
No Minnesota player had left during the season since Kyle Okposo left to sign with New York Islanders in 2008.
“Kind of shows you the magnitude of a decision like this,” LaFontaine said.
Freddie Andersen is Carolina’s No. 1 goalie. His backup Antti Raanta has an upper body injury. The team’s AHL goalies Eetu Makeniemi and Beck Warm are both injured.
The Hurricanes’ have the NHL’s best winning percentage. That’s another reason why the Hurricanes acted aggressively.
“The last thing you want to do is get caught short in goal,” Waddell said.
The unusual nature of a college player signing midseason has taken away from the truth that the Hurricanes believe he is ready for pro hockey. They tried unsuccessfully to sign him last offseason. He won the Mike Richter Award as the best goalie in college hockey. This season he’s 12-8 with a 2.69 goals-against average.
“He's fast up and down and has a very good stick to make longer clears and act as another defenseman at times,” said Russ Cohen, an NHL draft analyst for Sportsology.com and Sirius radio. “He has a good glove. He reads and reacts well and knows how to hug the post. He's fast post to post, as he sometimes glides when he's down. He's a leader on and off the ice. I think his potential is a solid NHL backup with possible 1B potential.”
The Hurricanes drafted him in the third round of the 2016 NHL draft and then LaFontaine took the long way to get here. He was a backup at the University of Michigan, then went to the British Columbia junior league and finally went to Minnesota. If all goes well, he could get some NHL games this season.
Before the Hurricanes signed him, Waddell sat down and watched hours of video on LaFontaine and liked what he saw.
“These opportunities don’t come along very often,” LaFontaine said. “I knew in my heart of hearts it was time to make this move.”