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Penguins recall Dustin Tokarski from the AHL

Injury insurance in net kicks in for Pittsburgh

2023 Discover NHL Winter Classic - Pittsburgh Penguins v Boston Bruins Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

One day after Tristan Jarry was removed from the Winter Classic due to an apparent right leg injury of some kind, the Penguins have added a goalie from Wilkes-Barre.

From the team:

The Pittsburgh Penguins have recalled goaltender Dustin Tokarski from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, it was announced today by general manager Ron Hextall.

Defenseman Kris Letang’s status has been designated as non-roster while he is away from the team.

Tokarski, 33, has suited up for 18 games with WBS this season, going 8-6-4 with a 2.22 goals-against average, .926 save percentage and one shutout. His goals-against average and save percentage both rank fifth in the AHL. Tokarski won his 200th career AHL game on Nov. 25 against Lehigh Valley, becoming just the 16th netminder in league history to accomplish this feat.

Last season, Tokarski had a career year with the Buffalo Sabres, appearing in 29 games, going 10-12-5 with a 3.27 goals-against average and one shutout. His 10 wins and one shutout (tied) were both career bests.

The 6-foot, 198-pound netminder has 76 games of NHL experience over parts of eight seasons split between Tampa Bay, Montreal, Anaheim and Buffalo where he’s gone 22-32-12 with a 2.14 goals-against average, a .902 save percentage and 2 shutouts. He also has five games of Stanley Cup Playoff experience with the Canadiens in 2014.

Tokarski is about as good of an insurance policy as an NHL team can get. By rule no “third string goalie” is ever going to be that fun to see around, but the Penguins paid a premium to have him in the organization. Tokarski makes a $775,000 salary this year, regardless of playing in the AHL or NHL, but does not carry a cap hit unless in the NHL. A lot of the richer teams in the NHL are gaining the willingness to pay a high price to stash a veteran depth goalie in the minors, and Pittsburgh is back in that area these days.

That said, while Tokarski is an excellent AHL goalie — see his .926 save% in 18 games so far in Wilkes this year — his .902 save% in 76 career NHL games also speaks for itself. As an emergency, this type of goalie is only good in very small doses and the longer he’s to be relied on, the more of a chance of disaster happening (see Louis Domingue from last spring).

The Penguins are traveling out to Las Vegas today and not practicing, so no immediate update on Jarry was given.

If you’re feeling hopeful, there could be something to read between the lines that in order to gain the space under the 23-player maximum to bring up Tokarski that the team elected to temporarily put Kris Letang off the roster as he is given time away from the team for his father’s recent passing.

That means the move the Penguins did NOT do was put Tristan Jarry on the injured reserve, which would have kept him out for at least a week. Of course, that could always be an option if necessary, but it does feel slightly noteworthy and hopeful that Jarry wasn’t instantly ruled out for at least a week by placing him on the IR.

If anything, as our friend DPS pointed out, this recall could put Wilkes-Barre in a tough spot with their starting goalie now up with Pittsburgh and talented youngster Filip Lindberg injured currently. That could leave only rookie Taylor Gauthier (who has played in the ECHL all season, save for one AHL appearance) under NHL contract to be available for WB/S. However, ECHL Wheeling also has goalie Tommy Nappier around, who could be a short-term option that has also played in the AHL in the past two seasons.

Up top, it all depends on the extent of Jarry’s injury. The Pens have two more games on the road, Thursday in Vegas and then Sunday in Phoenix before flying back to Pittsburgh. Based on Jarry limping off, it could be time once again for the reins to be turned over to Casey DeSmith for the near future as the go-to goalie for the Penguins.