Ben Boudreau was clear from his first day as the Komets' head coach, May 30, that it was important to build his team from the net out.
Things are easier said than done, however, with the Komets still yet to affiliate with an NHL team.
If, as expected, they renew their deal with the Vegas Golden Knights, that would likely land the Komets at least one goaltender. If they also enter into a less-formal working agreement with the Los Angeles Kings, something that has also been rumored for many weeks, that could get them a second netminder.
But Boudreau wasn't about to rest on his laurels, so Wednesday he signed rookie goaltender Stephen Dhillon. No matter what happens with NHL teams, Boudreau believes Dhillon has the goods to be the next in a long line of great Fort Wayne goalies.
“His potential, he's a great kid in the locker room,” said Boudreau, who is well connected with Dhillon's junior team, the Niagara Ice Dogs, because he's from that area. “He was their No. 1 guy and carried them through the regular season. He's got a winning record. He's got size, which you can't teach. He's going to compete for a spot.”
Dhillon, 20, who is 6-foot-5, 203 pounds, set an Ice Dogs record with 38 victories in 58 games last season, garnering a 2.97 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage. He had a career record in the Ontario Hockey League of 98-64-9 with a 3.22 GAA and a .907 SP in 197 games.
“He's young and wants to put all his marbles into playing pro here. He knows what the expectations are and what the situation is,” said Boudreau, who couldn't discuss any potential affiliation scenarios.
Last season, the Komets' No. 1 goalie was Zach Fucale, who was assigned by the Golden Knights. If the affiliation is renewed, either rookie Jiri Patera or rookie Dylan Ferguson would likely wind up in Fort Wayne, based on Vegas' depth chart.
The Kings' ECHL goalie could be Cole Kehler, who played 17 games last season in the ECHL with the Manchester Monarchs before they folded.
While the Komets had pursued re-signing goalie Alex Dubeau, he has inked a deal with team in the higher-level American Hockey League.
Even if the Komets get one or two NHL agreements, they know all too well that won't necessarily guarantee players will be here, especially indefinitely.
“In a perfect world, we'd know exactly what we're going to have,” Boudreau said. “We might know what we may have but that's not a guarantee because it takes only one goalie (getting injured) to affect the goalie pipeline. We wanted someone that we're very comfortable with.”
Based on the recommendations of people he trusts in Niagara, Boudreau believes Dhillon could be that netminder, though Fort Wayne is evaluating other goalies, too.
“(Niagara) is a good pipeline,” Boudreau said, adding: “We can get honest reports and we feel comfortable with his ability and his character.”
The Komets had previously signed forwards Shawn Szydlowski, Brady Shaw, Anthony Petruzzelli and Matthew Boudens, along with defensemen Jason Binkley, Chase Stewart and Eric Israel.