Since Martin Biron’s departure, the Buffalo Sabres have struggled to find that ideal backup goaltender to support franchise star Ryan Miller. The first replacement, Ty Conklin, wasn’t with the team for even ¼ of a season and played only three games.
Next up was Jocelyn Thibault, who was about as wildly inconsistent as they came and lasted just one year. Patrick Lalime has also found it difficult to maintain rhythm, posting a 9-26-5 record in three seasons with the Sabres, including 0-5 this season.
But at long last, this 2010-2011 season has given hope in the form of Jhonas Enroth, who is well on his way to becoming a fan favorite in Buffalo.
Enroth was born on June 25th, 1988 in Stockholm, Sweden. His success in hockey came early when, a day before his 18th birthday in 2006, he was drafted in the second round by the Buffalo Sabres as the 46th pick for that year’s NHL Entry Draft.
Although he was the sixth goaltender picked overall, the final scouting reports listed him as the #1 European goaltender, ahead of even future Washington Captitals’ goalies Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth.
A year later, when he was just 19 years old, Enroth answered all kinds of questions with his brilliant play for Södertälje SK in the Elitserien, otherwise known as the Swedish Elite League. He led all goaltenders in the 2007-2008 season in save percentage and goals against average, and was one of four nominees for the Rookie of the Year award.
Just as impressive was his play at the 2008 IIHF World Juniors in the Czech Republic. Enroth carried Team Sweden to a Silver Medal after going 4-1 throughout the tournament with a 2.33 GAA and .905 SV%. His only loss came in the Gold Medal game, where Team Canada won a 3-2 thriller in Overtime.
Enroth’s accomplishments with his Scandinavian homeland carried him to a three-year entry level contract with the Buffalo Sabres. On October 19th, 2008, he debuted with their AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates, albeit in a 4-1 loss to the Providence Bruins.
Enroth recorded his first win with the Pirates only six days later over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. It would be the beginning of a six-game win streak for him, during which he posted a pair of shutouts.
From 2008 through 2010, Enroth was the primary workhorse for the Portland Pirates in net. Through two seasons he played in 106 regular season games, posting a 54-41-7 record with eight shutouts. He also played in 41 contests for the 2010-2011 campaign, going 20-17-2.
“The reason he’s here is because of how hard he worked in Portland,” said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff.
Enroth finally got his first taste of NHL action on November 7th, 2009 in Boston against the Bruins, where the Sabres fell 4-2. He would not play for Buffalo again until nearly a year later on November 3rd, 2010, where he defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 in a shootout.
His next two NHL victories, over the New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens, respectively, also came in the shootout, currently making Enroth the only NHL goaltender in history to win his first three games in extra time.
“We knew that it was going to get to a point where he was going to get an opportunity to play and he came up and proved that he can be a capable NHL goaltender,” Lindy Ruff further added.
When Lalime became sidelined by a knee problem in March of 2011, Enroth was promoted to being the regular backup behind Miller. He secured his first regulation win in the NHL over the Ottawa Senators and then his first overtime win against the Minnesota Wild.
The highlight of Enroth’s early NHL career undoubtedly came on March 30th against the New York Rangers in front of an impassioned crowd at HSBC Arena, where he earned his first NHL shutout.
He had already gained the Buffalo coaching staff’s favor long before, but that shutout appeared to win over just about every fan in Sabreland. What was formerly a pun to go alongside Ranger’s goaltender “King” Henrik Lundqvist, the nickname “Prince Enroth” has taken off as a legitimate moniker to the fan base.
Though, Enroth is in no rush to think of himself as NHL royalty, just yet.
“I have to keep my feet on the ground and not think that I’m better than I am,” Enroth explained, “I’m trying to stay focused. I’m just trying to enjoy it, and be ready for the next game.”