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Aaron Dell has been everything and more for the Sharks

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Remember the panic when San Jose didn’t sign an UFA goalie this summer?

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

July 1, 2016:

The San Jose Sharks, weeks removed from defeat in the Stanley Cup Finals, waste no time addressing their off-season priorities. Doug Wilson and Peter DeBoer need a goal-scoring forward, a defenseman to replace Roman Polak (LOL), and a goalie.

One piece of the puzzle gets solved when San Jose inks Mikkel Boedker to a four-year, $16 million contract. The Danish forward reportedly turned down more lucrative offers to play for the Sharks.

Hours later, defenseman David Schlemko also signs a four-year deal with the Sharks. Clearly Wilson isn’t playing around here; the Sharks have inked its two biggest needs to lengthy deals and now a back-up goalie is the priority, especially after James Reimer signs a five-year contract with the Florida Panthers, although it made very little sense for the Sharks to pursue him as his price was too high.

That same day the Sharks resigned goalie Aaron Dell, a former North Dakota product who played with the San Jose Barracuda all season, to a two-year contract. If anything, this seemed like a depth move for the Sharks. Dell performed well in the AHL posting a 17-16-6 record with a 2.42 GAA and a save percentage of .922%. Those weren’t jaw dropping numbers but resigning him made the Sharks deeper in net with Troy Grosenick and Mantas Armalis in the mix.

There’s no rush to find a netminder, though, as the free agent market is filled with goalies who have a hat and a clipboard in their future. Ben Scrivens, Karri Ramo, Jhonas Enroth, Chad Johnson, Al Montoya, Carter Hutton, and Peter Budaj are just several names that were available and that I’m sure Wilson called. As summer turned to fall and players started to leave for the World Cup of Hockey, all had found homes that weren’t in the Santa Clara Valley and suddenly Aaron Dell was the Sharks No. 2 goalie heading into training camp.

The majority thought that Dell was a repeat of Alex Stalock, a fringe AHL starter who couldn’t get the job done when Martin Jones needed the night off. Jones played in 65 games in 2015-16 and was starting to look tired when Reimer was brought in from Toronto and exceeded expectations. The rest for Jones helped him play a big part in taking the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final and had the Sharks won that series, I’m convinced he would have a Conn Smythe Trophy to his name. The Sharks needed an experienced back-up who could take some of the pressure off Jones, but instead they chose a 27-year old rookie.

January 24, 2017:

Tonight Aaron Dell makes his eighth start of the season as the Sharks skate their tired legs into the MTS Centre to take on Winnipeg in the second game of a back-to-back. Through seven starts and one relief appearance (San Jose’s 5-0 blowout loss to Pittsburgh), Dell has been magnificent: 5-2-0 with a 1.84 GAA and a save percentage of .933%. Of course, this is a small sample size but if Dell’s performance stands pat for the rest of the season, he deserves more starts.

His first start back in October against the New York Islanders was a respectable performance, making 21 saves on 23 shots and earning his first career win. His first career loss, a 1-0 defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes, was even better. Dell allowed just one goal on 33 shots. Say what you will about the Hurricanes, but it’s hard to win games in the NHL and for somebody making just their second career start, it was a tremendous performance.

Dell earned his first career shutout on December 30 blanking the Philadelphia Flyers 2-0. He wasn’t challenged often but was his best, stopping 21 shots in front of his home crowd. Last Thursday again Dell stepped up to the challenge, making 24 saves on 25 shots against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the third win of San Jose’s current five-game winning streak.

Tonight Dell will play a major part in trying to extend the Sharks winning streak to six games. The Jets aren’t a good hockey team and could be without Patrik Laine, who’s missed the past eight games with a concussion. The Sharks are tired and the All-Star Break couldn’t get here any sooner for them; this will be the team’s seventh game in the last 11 days. They skated tired for two periods on Monday against the Avalanche before Patrick Marleau decided to take matters into his own hands, and odds are the Sharks will look lethargic again tonight.

Dell has been one of the fun stories to watch this season in San Jose and it’ll be nice if his hot performances continue throughout the second half of the season. He’s certainly earned more starts and hopefully DeBoer gives him those opportunities.