The last time Peter Budaj was a starting goaltender, it was the 2008-09 season. Fast forward to the 2016-17 season, Budaj found himself back in that role. Jonathan Quick suffered a lower-body injury in the team’s opening game and Budaj has been the starter ever since, and has almost single-handedly helped the Kings stay in the playoff hunt.
Peter Budaj Shining For Kings
Before this season, it looked like Budaj was at the tail end of his NHL career. He had spent the last two seasons in the American Hockey League and looked like he would have another year there. The Kings signed Budaj to a pro tryout contract for the 2015-16 season largely because they needed an extra goalie for training camp.
That tryout lead to another season in the AHL with the Kings minor league affiliate, the Ontario Reign. Budaj would go 42-14-4 with nine shutouts that season. His .932 save percentage and 1.75 goals against average would lead him to be named the AHL’s most outstanding goaltender.
All signs pointed to another year in the minors because the Kings had signed Jeff Zatkoff and expected him to be the backup during the year. Zatkoff had only had 35 games of NHL experience prior to this season.
Everything changed during the first period of the team’s season opener when Quick would badly hurt his groin. Zatkoff would then injure his own groin a few days later. The Kings would turn to Budaj and the rest would be history for the 34-year-old goaltender. Before detailing how he has provided stability for the Kings, it is appropriate to look at his journey to the West Coast.
Budaj was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. He wouldn’t make his NHL debut until the 2005-06 season. He appeared in 34 games for the Avalanche in his first season, recording a 14-10-6 record. Budaj would then record 47 wins combined in his next two seasons.
His first crack at being the starting goaltender came in the 2008 season. The team would find themselves just on the outside of the playoffs after Budaj would go 20-29-5. He would be re-signed to a one-year contract, but was the backup goaltender again.
He would later go on to become the first Slovakian goaltender to reach 100 career wins with a 4-3 shootout win over the Phoenix Coyotes in April of 2011.
Montreal Canadiens & Winnipeg Jets
The following offseason Budaj would sign a two year contract with the Montreal Canadiens. Behind Carey Price, Budaj found playing time to come at a minimum as he saw a combined 54 games during his three seasons with the team.
In October of 2014, Budaj was a part of a trade that sent him and Patrick Holland to the Winnipeg Jets. He was waived less than a day later and assigned to the minors. It was a struggle that season as he failed to win a single game in 19 contests. His NHL days appeared to be numbered.
Los Angeles Kings
Fast forward to now and Budaj is 25-16-3 for the Kings. The 25 wins have given him his first 20+ victory season since 08-09. His seven shutouts lead the NHL. And he ranks among NHL leaders with his 2.09 goal against average and .917 save percentage.
#LAKings Peter Budaj:
Last 35 starts: 7 shutouts
Previous 203 starts (2007-2016); 7 shutouts
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) February 4, 2017
This past week Budaj went 3-1-0 with a 1.62 GAA and a .930 save percentage. He also had back to back shutouts against the Avalanche and Philadelphia Flyers during those four games. He was named the NHL’s third star of the week.
This draws up the question of how a goalie can go from winless in the AHL to a number one job in the NHL. Budaj would give all the credit to Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford and Reign goalie coach Dusty Imoo.
“Billy helped my game so much staying on top of the detail, and getting adjusted to switch from American Hockey League to NHL is big. I wouldn’t be here without Dusty.”
With Quick beginning to practice after almost four months, it’s likely that Budaj will go back to being a backup goaltender. But it’s no secret that Budaj may have just rescued a career that was in danger of being over. His teammates can do nothing but enjoy the ride they are on with Budaj.
“He makes the same kind of big saves that Quickie has made around here for years, we’re used to it, but it’s still amazing to see him step right in.”
-Dustin Brown, Kings Forward
The Kings find themselves just on the outside of a wild card spot in the Western Conference. They can thank Budaj for stepping in when needed most.