Dallas Eakins didn’t know what to think when the Ducks acquired goaltender Jhonas Enroth from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 10 in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick in 2018 and then assigned him to the San Diego Gulls of the AHL.
The Ducks needed depth in goal last month, with Jeff Hackett and Dustin Tokarski injured.
Eakins, the Gulls’ coach, was unsure what to expect from Enroth, a 28-year-old Swede who played only six games for the Maple Leafs in relief of former Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen before he was assigned to Toronto’s AHL team, the Marlies, in November.
Eakins knew a frustrated and disappointed Enroth had played only 16 games with the Kings in 2015-16, serving as Jonathan Quick’s seldom-used backup before departing as an unrestricted free agent and signing a one-year contract with the Maple Leafs.
Was Enroth in shape?
Was he committed?
Would he be a dressing room distraction?
Enroth addressed Eakins’ concerns swiftly and certainly, going 9-1-0 with a 1.20 goals-against average, a .954 save percentage and two shutouts in 10 games since the trade.
The next question is, is Enroth about to shake up the Ducks’ depth chart in goal?
“It’s obvious he’s a really mentally strong kid to still be up emotionally,” Eakins said. “I made some calls on him. Nothing but great stuff. It’s great when you see a guy who’s got a passion for his position. He’s a really good human being. He’s supported his teammates.
“Not only has he come in, in a great frame of mind, but the group has helped him.”
Asked about a possible promotion, Enroth said: “I try not to think about that too much. I’m trying to focus on being in San Diego right now. If an NHL chance comes for me, I’ll deal with it when it comes. Right now, I’m just trying to focus on the Gulls.”
John Gibson has reaffirmed his status as the Ducks’ top goalie with superb play while posting a 21-14-8 record, a 2.36 goals-against average, a .918 save percentage and three shutouts in 44 games this season. Jonathan Bernier, Gibson’s backup, has made only three starts since Jan. 1.
More to the point, the Ducks are paying the 28-year-old Bernier $4.150 million this season as opposed to the $2.3 million owed to Gibson and the modest $750,000 paid to Enroth. Hackett and Tokarski are each making $600,000, but don’t have Enroth’s NHL experience.
A change in scenery, and a return to Southern California from snowy Toronto, as been good for Enroth, who has played 153 games with the Kings, Maple Leafs, Dallas Stars and Buffalo Sabres since making his NHL debut in 2009-10.
“Obviously, I was very motivated when I got traded,” Enroth said. “I wanted to show for myself that I was a better goalie than what happened in Toronto. At the same time, the team started playing really well just before I got here. I just came in and it was good timing.”
Enroth could have signed with the Ducks as a free agent last summer, and he said there were some negotiations. The Ducks then acquired Bernier from the Maple Leafs in a deal separate from the one that shipped Andersen to Toronto. Enroth was expected to be Andersen’s backup.
“I was hoping to make another step in my development,” Enroth said of leaving the Kings for the Maple Leafs. “I was hoping to get a bigger spot on the team. It never really worked out for me in Toronto. If I could do it all over again, I would have done something different.
“There was a little bit (of talks with the Ducks in the offseason). The way I understand it, they were talking about it. I guess they had some other plan in mind and then they traded for Bernier, and right after Toronto called me. It’s funny how that works sometimes.”
Six months later, Enroth is back in California with a fresh start.
“I’m feeling good,” he said. “I’m playing a little bit differently since I got sent down the first time in Toronto. I took a good look at my game and there were some small details to correct. The main thing is to try to start deeper in the net. That’s the biggest thing.”
“I love California,” he added. “There’s a lot to look at and a lot to do, but you want to be up in the NHL and riding the bus (in the AHL) is not the most fun thing to do. When I heard I got traded to Anaheim, I got really happy and was very excited to go back to Southern California.”
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