The Washington Capitals went for a complete goaltending overhaul this offseason, replacing Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek with Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren. Not only did the Capitals get a proven starter and Stanley Cup champion in Kuemper they also got a solid team player.
It’s not just Kuemper’s positive attitude and winning mentality that makes him a strong locker room presence; it’s his leadership and willingness to battle for his teammates that makes him stand out. And one instance of that came back in 2019, when he took on no other than Matthew Tkachuk.
Kuemper was center stage as a line brawl broke out during a Nov. 16 tilt between the Arizona Coyotes and Calgary Flames. After seeing Matthew Tkachuk cross-check Jason Demers while he was already down, Kuemper immediately went to war for his blueliner. He grabbed Tkachuk from behind and got into it with the former Flames forward and didn’t shy away from standing up for Demers, even with David Rittich coming down the ice to drop the gloves, too.
Kuemper finished that shortened 2019-20 season with a 2.22 GAA and .928 save percentage. And nearly three years later, he found himself in Colorado, hoisting the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche.
READ MORE ON WHN: Washington Capitals Fringe Players To Watch In 2022-23
The 32-year-old netminder was the top goaltender on the market this summer, as his .921 save percentage is the highest among goalies since 2017-18 (at least 150 GP). However, once he heard that Washington was interested, he only wanted to go there and inked a five-year, $26.25 million deal with the Capitals on the opening day of free agency.
“I just really liked the roster. Obviously, it’s a team that has won before, and it’s a veteran group that knows how to win,” Kuemper said. “That’s what I was looking for: another chance to go win. I think this is the place where we can do that.”