Player: Hunter Shepard (G) – University of Minnesota-Duluth
DOB: November 7th, 1995 (Age 24)
Height: 6′ 1″
Weight: 201 lbs
NCAA Career: 76-37-5 | 1.94 GAA | 0.922 Save % | 17 Shutouts
While it becomes more and more likely by the day that the entire NHL season gets cancelled, the offseason for the Sabres will become a priority with so many players headed to free agency. One way that teams and Sabres GM’s current and past have retooled in the offseason is via college free agents and I wanted to highlight one such player that would be a great addition to the organization.
Hunter Shepard has been a favorite of mine for a few years now, going back to the season when he played a big role in the University of Minnesota-Duluth winning an NCAA National Championship in 2017-18. As a sophomore that year, he was the starting goalie for the Bulldogs and has not looked back, winning a second National Championship last year and was well on his to trying for a 3rd consecutive title in his Senior year.
Shepard played 4 years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and was a full time starter for 3 seasons beginning in his sophomore year. During this time he compiled a record of 76-37-5 which includes (2) NCAA National Championships, (2) NCHC Goaltender of the Year Awards, and an NCAA record 115 consecutive starts. He boasts a career 0.922 Save %, 1.94 GAA, and accumulated 17 shutouts in his time with the Bulldogs.
What is truly impressive about all of the accolades and stats above is the fact that he has done this against great competition in the NCHC the past 3 seasons as Denver, North Dakota, and St. Cloud State have been very strong programs ranked in the top 10 for the most part during that span. Overall, he finishes his college career with a 44-25-3 record in NCHC league play. All of these things combined with his success at UMD figures give him a great chance to add goaltending depth to any organization (hopefully Buffalo’s) who decides to give him an ELC this offseason.
While he stands relatively short (6′ 1″) for what NHL teams are looking for in a starting goaltender, Shepard more than makes up for his “lack” of height with his quick lateral movements and puck tracking ability. He’s very good at seeing the puck through screens and has been known to make acrobatic saves when all hope of stopping the puck seems lost. Having to make such miraculous saves can sometimes be an indicator that a goaltender is out of position frequently or gives up big rebounds but that is not the case for Shepard.
He shows great patience when deciding the right time to go down into the butterfly and is very quick to jump back up from that position as needed. This trait is very critical for a goaltender his size who does not take up nearly as much net on his knees as goalies who stand 6′ 4″ or greater. As shown below, he lets the shooter make the first move on a breakaway and comes up with the stop. This type of ability is one of the things that made Ryan Miller such a successful goalie in the NHL.
As evidenced by his long consecutive starts streak, Shepard has shown that he shines when in the starting role and while the NCAA travel and schedule is less grueling than the AHL/NHL, the quantity of games he has played over the past 3 years are more than most goalies at the end of their college careers.
It is presumed that he has been on the Sabres radar since 2018 when he attended their development camp and could be a possibility to join the franchise and add competition to the likes of Luukkonen, Johansson, and Portillo. At age 24 he’s much further along the development curve than UPL or Portillo and I feel offers NHL upside from a pure talent standpoint. One thing that could prevent him from reaching his ceiling or even getting an opportunity is his lack of draft capital.
For the Sabres, this would be a very cheap and low risk signing that has immense upside. I may be a bit bullish on Shepard as a goaltending prospect but there’s a lot to like about a player who possesses his skill set, endurance, and proven track record of winning. Here’s hoping that in a few days (or weeks), we will be hearing about Jason Botterill signing the former Bulldog to a contract.