Although his rookie debut with the Vancouver Canucks was certainly one to forget — he was forced to backstop a tired group against a red-hot San Jose Sharks team that beat him seven times — Michael DiPietro took a massive step this season with the Utica Comets.
After a highly acclaimed junior hockey career in the OHL, DiPietro was eager to prove that he could find the instant success at the pro level that eludes so many young goaltenders.
The jump from junior to the AHL is a significant one for goaltenders. No longer are you facing off against teenagers; these are grown men bursting down the wings, and they can absolutely rip the puck.
There’s often an adjustment for most goaltenders because of this. Some rise to the challenge after some time, others crumble. In the case of DiPietro, not only did he rise to the challenge, but he rose far above what was expected of him this season.
After starting the year backing up veteran journeyman Zane McIntyre, DiPietro quickly forced Trent Cull’s hand into giving him half the starts, then eventually knocked down the door into the starter’s role.
In watching DiPietro’s games in Utica this year, a few things stand out when it comes to his style. Namely, it’s clear right away that he’s an undersized goaltender when you’re watching the broadcasts. Listed at just under six feet tall, DiPietro is considered undersized for a goaltender.
A lack of size may worry teams for obvious reasons, but DiPietro makes up for his lack of size with phenomenal mechanics and positional play.
DiPietro is incredibly smooth on his skates, and although he hunches over a bit more than any goaltender I’ve seen in recent memory, (his stance is almost like an old school stand-up style where the hands are high and tight to the body and the feet are closer together) DiPietro appears bigger in the net due to his ability to quickly come out and challenge shooters.
That being said, coming out too far and being too aggressive when it’s not absolutely necessary may make him susceptible to back door tap ins when he graduates to the NHL level, but again, these are all things that can be worked on. Knowing when to come out and when to stay deeper in the crease is going to be vital for DiPietro’s success at the next level, but in the AHL, he was just fine.
It goes back to his smooth skating. No matter how far out he goes, DiPietro never has to hesitate to figure out where he needs to be positionally when the puck is cycled around. He’s quick with his movements which helps him a ton when it comes to east-west puck movement and again, when coming to and from the top of his crease and beyond.
All of his movements are precise, quick, and executed with purpose. His narrow stance certainly helps him with this, as DiPietro never seems to panic and always seems to be in the right position when making stops.
Take this sequence for example. It’s a highlight reel save, no doubt, but take a look at how quickly DiPietro moves to and from his post, then immediately sets up to challenge the shooter who has a grade-A scoring chance:
He keeps his hands high while coming out to challenge, and makes a beautiful stop.
In his one and only NHL appearance against Vegas this season, DiPietro looked much more confident than he did against San Jose in 2018-19. He only played for part of the third period and only faced eight shots, but from a pure technical standpoint, he showed signs of promise.
He’s undoubtedly the Canucks’ top goaltending prospect and fans should be excited to watch his progression over the next year or two with the Comets, where he will be the full time starter and continue to grow and develop his skills at the professional level.
The question must be asked though, who will DiPietro make his next NHL start against?
If history repeats itself, the Canucks will be on the second leg of a back-to-back and playing their fourth game in six days against a Tampa Bay Lightning team who has won 13 straight, or something along those lines.