Last season, Jordan Binnington seemingly appeared out of nowhere, carrying the St. Louis Blues to their first-ever Stanley Cup. This season, Pavel Francouz’s rise and success for the Colorado Avalanche have uncanny similarities to Binnington’s story. Francouz’s incredible goaltending has contributed significantly to the Avalanche’s success, and, with the injury to Philipp Grubauer, his value to the team has risen. Entering the final stretch of the season. Francouz’s success could drive the Avalanche on their quest for the Stanley Cup, not unlike Binnington.
Francouz Before the Avalanche
Drafted in 2011, Binnington waited seven years before he started his first NHL game, playing over 200 games in the American Hockey League. Similarly, Francouz had a long career before he made his NHL debut. At only 18, Francouz played his first professional game for Plzen in the Czech Extraliga, the highest league in the Czech Republic.
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Over three seasons, he split time between Czech Extraliga and Czech’s additional professional leagues. Finally, in 2011, he secured a starting role for HC Oceláři Třinec and also played for HC Litvínov in the 2014-15 season. After winning a championship and the award for MVP, he opted to leave the Czech Republic for the Kontinental Hockey League.
Francouz played for three years in the KHL before coming to North America. Unlike Binnington, Francouz was never drafted by an NHL team, but he did play in the AHL. He logged 49 games in the minors, posting a 27-17-3 record for the Avalanche’s affiliate the Colorado Eagles and earning him a bid in the AHL All-Star Game. He played two games for the Avalanche in the 2018-19 season, but he never started in net.
NHL Debut and Subsequent Success
After 10 years overseas, and a decent chunk of time in the AHL, Francouz started his first game for the Avalanche on October 12, 2019. While it was not a shutout like Binnington’s debut, Francouz made 34 saves in a 3-2 overtime win against the Arizona Coyotes. Needless to say, eleven years after his first professional game in the Czech Republic, he had paid his dues.
This season, Francouz served as backup to Grubauer until his injury during the Stadium Series game against the Los Angeles Kings. Before that game, Francouz had a stellar record at 13-5-2 in the backup role. Since assuming the starting role, he has registered a better-than-stellar record of 6-0-1, allowing more than two goals only once in those seven games. His incredible goaltending has not only kept the Avalanche afloat but also helped them secure 13 of 14 possible points since Grubauer’s went down.
Francouz’s play is reminiscent of Binnington’s 24-5-1 record during the 2018-19 season. Binnington’s rookie season culminated in a Stanley Cup victory. With 18 games left in Francouz’s rookie season, one has to wonder if he could carry the Avalanche to playoff success.
The Francouz Factor
Of course, Francouz’s reliability and success add value to the Avalanche. But, his play is not the only factor in the unfolding of this Binnington-esque story. While Grubauer is out indefinitely, he could return in the next few weeks following his initial diagnosis. He could resume his position as the number one goalie if he returns. However, given Francouz’s success – in combination with Binnington’s last season – it would make sense for the Avalanche to use him heading into and throughout the playoffs.
The Avalanche’s success and positioning in the standings will also influence whether or not Grubauer retakes his spot between the pipes. Currently, the Avalanche sit three points behind the St. Louis Blues and four points ahead of the Dallas Stars. Francouz has won his last six starts. Why fix it if it is not broken?
He is too old to be considered an NHL rookie, but his professional experience should also disqualify him. He has proven himself for over a decade. It would not be taking a risk on an unseasoned player but tapping into the potential of a goaltender who has won at various levels in his career.
The Rest of the Season
With the addition of Michael Hutchinson at the trade deadline, the Avalanche are not in trouble with Grubauer out. Instead, Francouz’s solid play has injected confidence into the team in front of him that could generate significant momentum heading into the postseason. Riding that wave could lead the Avalanche to a deep playoff run.
Binnington’s storybook season has provided a blueprint that Francouz appears to be following, if only coincidentally. At 29 years old, he could provide the spark the Avalanche need to win.