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Vanecek ‘Happy’ To Be With Sharks, Ready To Turn Page on Season

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Vitek Vanecek is ready to turn the page on this season.

Going into the year, he was the No. 1 goalie for a presumed Cup contender. But Vanecek never hit his stride, and the New Jersey Devils, barring a miracle end-of-the-season run, will probably miss the playoffs.

“It wasn’t a great season,” Vanecek said yesterday, of his 17-9-3 but .890 Save % campaign.

On Mar. 8, the Devils traded Vanecek, dealing with a probable season-ending lower-body injury, and a 2025 seventh-round pick to the San Jose Sharks for Kaapo Kahkonen.

Vanecek described his Feb. 10 injury: “It was in Carolina. I was in the butterfly. The puck was getting through my five-hole. I tried to squeeze my legs and something [went] wrong there.”

For the Devils, acquiring Kahkonen was about giving themselves some healthy help in net right now. For the Sharks, Vanecek is an eye toward next season: Kahkonen is a pending UFA that they likely had no plans to re-sign, while Vanecek is inked for one more year at $3.4 million AAV.

Vanecek believes that he will be 100 percent healthy by training camp next season.

So what happened to the Devils this year?

“I don’t want to talk about New Jersey anymore,” Vanecek said genially. “I’m in San Jose now.”

He’s excited for all that entails too, including the San Jose Sharks’ competitive situation.

“I’m happy to be here,” Vanecek said. “What I see, it’s a rebuild. For sure, it’s a hard thing. But I think they’re going to go in a good direction. They’re doing what they can and I will do what I can.”

We’ve seen what Vanecek can do from 2020 to 2023, when he went 74-33-14 with a .909 Save % with the Devils and Washington Capitals. Per Evolving Hockey, his +1.94 Goals Saved Above Expected was middle-of-the-pack during that time span, 20th of 43 qualified netminders. Mackenzie Blackwood and Kahkonen were 40th and 41st, for what it’s worth.

Speaking of Blackwood, Vanecek is excited to be reunited with his former Devils partner, acquired by the San Jose Sharks last summer.

”He’s a good guy,” Vanecek said. “I enjoyed playing with him and I think it’s gonna be great to be here with him next year.”

Fabian Zetterlund is another familiar face. Vanecek played with Blackwood and Zetterlund in New Jersey last season.

“They are going to show you the city and they are going to help me,” he said. “They were driving me from the hotel to here, so it’s great to have somebody. They can help me see the things here.”

Vanecek is excited for next season here, and is hoping to replicate his 2022-23 success.

“Last year, I had a great season in New Jersey. I was playing 55 games or something like that,” he said. “Yeah, of course, I think I can be a No. 1.”

Then, Vanecek flashed some of the humor that Blackwood saw plenty of in New Jersey.

“Goaltending is different right now,” Vanecek smiled, when talking about the modern workload for an NHL goalie. “If you’re preparing for the playoffs, you don’t want to be that tired. So it’s nice to sleep sometimes.”

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