Philipp Grubauer left his junior team, the Kingston Frontenacs in February after playing just 38 games this past Ontario Hockey League season. He missed the remainder of the year and didn’t step back onto the ice until last week at Capitals development camp.
Grubauer was suffering from mononucleosis, the effects of which include totally sapping a person’s energy. So the 19-year-old German goaltender had to bide his time.
But this past week, he shook the rust off and showed why he might be the next best goalie in the organization after the trio of Tomas Vokoun, Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby.
“You play so much over the years and you get a feeling, and I kinda lost that feeling over those five months and it’s slowly coming back,” Grubauer said.
During the week, coach Bruce Boudreau compared Grubauer to Neuvirth, calling his ability to control rebounds a “stepping stone in the right direction.” Grubauer’s compact style certainly seems to give off a calm vibe, and there isn’t a whole lot of herky-jerky movement to his game.
“I was sitting beside Dave Prior and he likes the way all the goalies have improved. But he’s really liked the way Grubauer plays – just the non-movement but the athleticism of him, and he’s a big fan of him,” Boudreau said. “I watched him, and I can see why.”
Grubauer admitted that it took time this week to feel ready to play again. But associate goaltending coach Olie Kolzig was impressed right away. In scrimmages later in the week, Grubauer gave up a handful of goals but also managed to get into a rhythm by facing a lot of shots.
“I actually like that,” he said. “If I get shots in the beginning, you’re into it.”
The Caps lined up many of their top prospects against Grubauer, including big Swede Mattias Sjogren and speedy winger Stan Galiev. But Grubauer showed he could stand up to some tough onslaughts.
General manager George McPhee admitted not knowing how to assess goaltenders’ play, instead deferring to Prior.
“I’m just happy to see him out there and healthy,” McPhee said.
After a week of hard training, Grubauer provided his own optimism when asked how he was feeling to be back on the ice after so much time away.
“Best than ever,” he said. “Better than before.”