Daniel Altshuller is starting to get up to speed with the Oshawa Generals after his team had a faltering start to the season.
The goalie came into the league with a lot of notice. Altshuller, 17, backstopped Canada to the gold medal at the prestigious Memorial of Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament in eastern Europe last August and then was traded to the Generals by their division rival Belleville Bulls, who had a logjam of draft-year goalies with potential NHL first-round pick Malcolm Subban already in place.
There was some doubt about the Generals handing the No. 1 goalie job to a rookie fresh from a season in Junior A. Altshuller, indeed, has ceded some playing time to 19-year-old Kevin Bailie. One shouldn't lose sight of the fact the Nepean, Ont., native is starting to turn a corner in the 'Shwa. He has a respectable 3.19 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in nine games dating back to Dec. 1, although his numbers took a hit in recent lopsided losses to division leaders Brampton and Ottawa.
"I think I've handled it pretty well," Altshuller says of the jump to Gennies from the Central Canada Hockey League's Nepean Raiders, who are owned by his father Bryan Altshuller. "At the beginning of the year it's hard to get up to the pace of the OHL game. I feel that as of now, more than halfway through the season, I am starting to be more on top of the puck and I'm making more saves."
Altshuller, whom overall has a 3.49 average and .901 save percentage in 28 saves this season, was ranked seventh among North American netminders in NHL Central Scouting's recent midterm rankings, behind fellow OHL goalers Subban, Matt Murray of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Jake Paterson of the Saginaw Spirit. At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, Altshuller, who was also Team Ontario's starter at the 2011 world under-17 challenge, offers a combination of good size, athleticism and intelligence, along with having international experience on his résumé.
The Generals, who moved into the Eastern Conference's final playoff position on Sunday, are in a tight race. Many 17-year-old goalies are relegated to door-opening duties when the pursuit of playoff position picks up. Conversely, Altshuller will be in some games where his team can ill-afford to leave points o nthe table.
"The season so far, we're working hard at getting the game plan together and getting the kinks out," he says. "I think we're starting to play well now and we just have to continue the momentum and we will start winning more games."
1. How do you block out all the speculation about the draft?
"You just focus on other things that you need to do and don't worry about what all those lists say. You just have to play your own game."
2. What goaltenders in the NHL do you try to model yourself upon?
"I think I play like Carey Price and Roberto Luongo. Just trying to cut off angles and use my body to make saves as well as be patient sometimes."
3. Every goalie has a how-I-got-started story. What is yours?
"When I was six or seven years old I told my parents I wanted to be a goalie and that was it. I kind of liked the pressure of being the last line of defence, being somebody that your teammates can depend on."
4. Aside from your home rink (General Motors Centre), what has been your favourite place so far in the OHL?
"I would say Kitchener [Memorial Auditorium] has been my favourite. They have a nice atmosphere with the big crowd and we were able to win a big game in there. I think that's why I like it."
5. If hockey had never been invented, what sport do you think you would have played?
"I think I would have played basketball. I always loved playing against my older brother [Shaun Altshuller, now a forward for the Junior A Nepean Raiders] in the driveway in front of our house." (BTN: Was there blood spilled in those games?) "Only a couple of times. It was usually a fair game. I'm a little taller than him, so he wouldn't be able to get away with that."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: OHL Images).