Lovably dubbed "The World's Okayest Goalie," for a long time it seemed like that would be all that Aaron Dell was. After all, he was an undrafted, tiny 6-foot goalie who had bounced around from the CHL to the ECHL when it absorbed the CHL to the AHL and then back down to the ECHL after a few games.
In an age of goaltending where guys like Ben Bishop, Matt Murray, and Devan Dubnyk, who are all 6'4 or taller, have almost made it a requirement to be tall in order to be an NHL goalie, to predict that Aaron Dell would ever make it as a viable goalie in the NHL would be almost blasphemous.
But yet, here we are: Aaron Dell is a solid backup goalie for the San Jose Sharks.
Granted, his limited usage so far this season still leaves room for judgment, but it's definitely fair to say that he has easily surpassed expectations. Through 12 games (10 of which were starts), Dell has gone 7-3-1 with a sterling .934 Sv% and a 1.95 GAA. After Alex Stalock's disastrous year last season as Martin Jones's backup, it's a relief that the Sharks finally have an actual backup goalie.
But it didn't always look like things were going to play out like this for Aaron Dell. In fact, the more you delve into Aaron Dell's history, the more remarkable and implausible his journey becomes.
Dell's journey first begins in North Dakota, where he spent three seasons with the Fighting Sioux and set the school record for most wins in a season with 30 in the 2010-11 season. That year, the Fighting Sioux made it to the Frozen Four before losing to the Michigan Wolverines.
After his third season at North Dakota, he opted to sign with the CHL's Allen Americans in 2012. Dell played for four teams in three years in the CHL/ECHL, splitting time with the Americans, the Utah Grizzlies, and the Abbotsford Heat before returning to the Allen Americans in 2014. Despite the constant shifts in scenery, Dell managed to put up solid numbers, never posting a save percentage below .915 until the start of the 2014-15 season when he started with a .902 save percentage before being called up to the Worcester Sharks.
Dell spent his first season with the Sharks as the backup to Troy Grosenick, another smaller, undrafted goalie who played college hockey around the same time as Dell. He played relatively well in 26 games, boasting a .927 Sv% and a 2.06 GAA. His performance that season was enough to persuade AHL coach Roy Sommer to evenly split starts between Grosenick and Dell the next season. Once again, Dell was solid in goal, putting up similar numbers and taking the renamed Barracuda to the playoffs. Dell put up an admirable performance against the Ontario Reign, but the Barracuda lost the best of five series in four games.
And that takes us to where we are now. Dell's performance in the AHL the past two seasons convinced Pete Deboer and general manager Doug Wilson, who refused to sign a backup goalie in free agency this past offseason and wanted to give Dell the chance to earn the backup job. As said previously, Dell hasn't disappointed; if anything he's overachieved.
But that's what he has been doing all along.