Team North America may not have a lot of experience in goal, but Matt Murray has demonstrated enough poise, promise and performances under pressure during his brief career to likely earn the No. 1 job when it opens the World Cup of Hockey 2016 against Team Finland at Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Sunday.
If Murray's calm play while winning the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season wasn't enough to secure the job before camp opened, his pretournament play probably sealed it. The 22-year-old had a 23-save shutout against Team Europe and stopped 16 of 17 shots in two periods against Team Czech Republic, finishing the pretournament with a .975 save percentage.
That should be enough to keep him ahead of Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson, who stopped 29 of 33 shots in his only pretournament game, and Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets, who stopped 10 of 12 shots in relief of Murray and took the loss against Team Czech Republic.
Video: CZE@NAT: Murray stones Michalek twice on the doorstep
None of the Team North America goaltenders has a lot of NHL experience, which isn't surprising for a team made up of players 23 and younger from Canada and the United States.
Gibson, 23, leads with 66 games and a .920 save percentage over the past three seasons with the Ducks. Hellebuyck, 23, is next after playing 26 games with a .918 save percentage as a rookie for the Jets last season.
Murray played 13 regular-season games for the Penguins last season and then 21 in his first Stanley Cup Playoffs. His .923 playoff save percentage was down slightly from his .930 in his limited regular season action, and his quality-start percentage dropped from 76.9 in the regular season to 66.7 in the playoffs, but each is exceptional, and Murray bounced back quickly from his few postseason hiccups.
Gibson, who has a .912 save percentage in six playoffs games over the past two seasons, has a 59.7 quality-start percentage in the regular season, a statistic used to measure how often a goalie plays above the NHL median, according to hockey-reference.com. That's consistent for a goalie who seems to rely more on his impressive skills than on technique and positioning, and it should be enough to keep him ahead of Hellebuyck.
Video: CZE@NAT: Murray slides across to stone Frolik
Teams didn't have a lot of scouting material on Murray at the start of the playoffs, but there is nothing like a trip to the Stanley Cup Final to break down and analyze a goaltender's style.
In Murray's case, there was focus on his post-integration tactics after goals from bad angles. So he worked on his reverse-VH, a technique used to seal the post on attacks from below and around the goal line, making sure to activate his back skate so he doesn't get caught flat.
Murray, who plays a controlled game but has gotten more aggressive as a pro, also talked this offseason about not becoming too predictable, passive or overly reliant on technique. Changing his glove from a hip-high handshake to a higher, fingers-up position depending on the situation is part of that and makes it tougher to scout Murray.
"You have to dictate what the shooter is going to do," Murray said. "You can't sit back and wait. You have to dictate the pace of the game, and being more aggressive is a good way to do that."
Gibson is similarly harder to break down, with more movement and flow in his game than a lot of more-structured young goalies in the NHL, including Hellebuyck, whose lone quirk is an unusually low glove positon just above his left knee. That style can get Gibson caught moving and reaching at times, and leaves him more reliant on timing, and the ups and downs that come with that, rather than positioning and size, but through three NHL seasons he's had more highs than lows, including winning the 2016 William M. Jennings Trophy after combining with Frederik Andersen to help Anaheim allow the fewest goals in the League.
There's little to suggest Murray will be affected negatively by the World Cup spotlight. But with Gibson and Hellebuyck, who helped the United States win the bronze medal at the 2015 World Championship, behind him, the lack of relative experience might not be a problem for Team North America at the World Cup.