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Behind The Bench: Semyon Varlamov

by on 08/05/2011

Born: April 27, 1988
Ht: 6’2″
Wt: 209 lbs
Draft: 23rd overall by the Washington Capitals in 2006
Plays for: Colorado Avalanche, Goaltender, Catches Left
Jersey No.: #1

NHL Stats

Regular Season: 59 GP – 30 W – 11 L – 5 OTL, 2.39 GAA, .917 Sv%
Playoffs: 19 GP – 10 W – 8 L – 1 OTL, 2.49 GAA, .915 Sv%

At the age of eight, Semyon Varlamov learned how to play net. He learned to play need before he learned how to skate. Varlamov preferred the goalie stick over the bandy sticks the minor hockey players played with. A bandy stick is similar to the hockey stick used in field hockey.

The Washington Capitals drafted Varlamov 23rd overall in the 2006 draft, he spent the next two years in Europe. Varlamov signed a three-year ELC during the 2007 offseason. He came over to North America for the 08/09 season and spent a majority of the season with the Capitals AHL Affiliate the Hershey Bears. Varlamov was called up on several occasions throughout the season, he played in 6 games with the Capitals that season and posted a 4-0-1, 2.37 GAA and .918 Sv%. Varlamov finished his first season in North America playing in 27 games in the AHL, recording a 19-7-1, 2.40 GAA and .916 Sv%.

Varlamov started the 2009 playoffs as Jose Theodore’s back-up but after Theodore lost game 1, Varlamov was called to start the next game. Varlamov made his NHL playoff debut against the New York Rangers in game 2, losing to a score of 1-0. Varlamov played well enough that the Capitals were confident with using him in game 3 and 4. Varlamov won both games, 4-0, posting two shutouts. Varlamov recorded his first NHL playoff shutout in the game 3 victory. He help the Capitals win games 5 and 6, 5-3 and 2-1, respectively, to help the Capitals advance to the second round. Varlamov struggled in the second round against the more offensive Penguins. After winning games 1 and 2 by 1 goal and making a spectacular save against Sidney Crosby in game 1, Varlamov struggled in games 3 – 6, letting in 16 goals in 4 games and losing 3 of them. He’s struggles reached a boiling point in game 7 when he let 4 goals in during the first 20 minutes.

The following season, Varlamov challenged for the starting position and after an amazing start to the season, winning 12 the first 15 games of the season, it seemed as though he would supplant Theodore. Unfortunately, Varlamov suffered a groin injury that saw him miss 9 games. Upon his return, he was sent down the Hershey for a conditioning assignment. He was rejoined the Capitals in early March and played back up to Theodore once again. After Theodore was pulled 8 minutes into game 2, Varlamov started for the rest of the playoffs. Despite Varlamov’s solid goaltending, the Capitals offense could not solve playoff hero, Jaroslav Halak, the Capitals were eliminated in 7 games. Varlamov finished the regular season playing 26 games with a 15-4-6 record with a 2.55 GAA and .924 Sv%. He finished the playoffs playing in 6 games, with a 3-3-0 record, 2.41 GAA and .908 Sv%.

The Capitals did not re-sign Theodore during the offseason with Varlamov expected to become their starter for the 10/11 season. However, Varlamov suffered an injury during training camp and missed 4 games. He played in his first game of the season in relief for Michal Neuvirth on October 19, 2010 after the rookie let in 2 games in the first 13 minutes. Varlamov started the next game but suffered a groin injury that saw him miss 13 games.  Varlamov returned from injury in mid-November and was loaned to Portland for conditioning. After Varlamov suffered another injury in February, rookie netminder Neuvirth was awarded with the start position after a season long battle in the crease. By the end of the season, Varlamov had fallen to third on the Capitals depth chart behind, Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby.

On July 1, 2011, Varlamov was traded to the Colorado Avalanche for a first round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and a second in either 2012 or 2013. The Avalanche then signed Varlamov to a three-year $8.5M contract.

Given how much the Avalanche gave up for Varlamov, he should be their starter next year and will be counted on to start 60 games. Although he does have an injury history, all his injuries only happen while in Washington. He could very well be healthy for all of next season. If Varlamov does stay healthy next season, the Avs have a very good chance of making the playoffs next season. The Avalanche have a young back end led by Erik Johnson but they are a far cry from the best defense in the league. The Avalanche back end are better at offense than they are at defense and Varlamov will be seeing lots of shots on a nightly basis because of that. Varlamov will need to trust his defenders though, if not, a Craig Anderson-type situation may happen again. Varlamov is only 23 and injuries have halted his development a little bit, but if he is able to stay healthy next season, he should put up solid numbers and become a servicable number one goaltender in the league. Varlamov has a lot of raw talent and with the tutelage of goaltender coach, Kirk McLean, hopefully he’ll be able to develop that talent.

Varlamov is a hybrid-type netminder, he plays both a butterfly and stand up style. He’ll change his style depending on the situation he faces. He is constantly full of energy and is a very explosive goalie. He pushes from post-to-post like he’s being launched from a cannon. He uses his quick reflexes and fast reaction times to stop shots. Varlamov does have issues tracking the puck at times but with his agility and quickness he often makes of for this inability. He is also very quick in re-establishing his stance after he’s made acrobatic saves. He is the type of goaltender that makes a lot of highlight reel goals and flashy saves.

Varlamov is very sound and aggressive positionally and doesn’t lose the net often. He plays with a lot of composure and poise and rarely gets rattled but he can lose his focus when the team has a big lead. Varlamov has a quick glove hand and likes to use his stick sparingly but he uses his stick effectively by intercepting cross-crease passes. He is not a very good skater and will rarely leave his net to play the puck, opting to stay in net and let his defensemen gather the puck.  Varlamov does have a bad habit of letting in bad goals when the team has a large lead. He has shown that he is a big time player both internationally during the World Cup and World Juniors, as well as during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Varlamov’s talent level and calm demeanor suggest he will be a top goaltender for the foreseeable future but will need to improve his skating, stick handling abilities, vision and maintaining his energy level in order to become an elite goalie.

He doesn’t use his stick often but when he does, it sure it amazing. Save of the playoffs anyone?

Behind The Bench appears Monday to Friday only on puckpuckgoose.com.

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