Josh Harding is a trendsetter.
A career backup goalie for his first full six seasons with the Minnesota Wild, he was thrust into a regular role in the third game of the season when batterymate Niklas Backstrom suffered a knee injury.
Harding, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last fall, has been brilliant and has made it difficult for Backstrom to gain back his No. 1 status.
Harding, too, suffered a minor setback when he suffered leg spasms in a warmup last month. Still, he's become the Wild's new go-to goalie with a 16-5-3 record and a .938 save percentage.
But the 29-year-old native of Regina has not been the only NHL backup to thrive this season:
So why have been backup goalies been so dependable?
First of all, more teams rely on backup goaltenders not only give the starter a rest, but to win. There used to be more teams that played the No. 1 goalie 65 to 70 times a season and the backup would get in only against weaker clubs.
Some teams like New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames have even gone to a 1A-1B goalie system.
There no longer are easy games in the NHL. The standings are so tight that the backup goalie better be good and produce W's.
Teams also have done a better job developing more goalies into quality players. Most clubs now have a goalie coach with the NHL team and another to work with the organization's goalie prospects. These goalies are better prepared to step up and step in, and they stay sharp because of the drills they are put through in practice and morning skates.
Who has been the most reliable backup this season in the year of the backup and who has the best future as a No. 1 down the road? We convened a panel of five pro scouts and asked them for their top three choices under each category. Here were their consensus picks:
Most reliable this season
Best bets to be a No. 1
Follow Tim Wharnsby on Twitter @WharnsbyCBC
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