When Chris Driedger walked out onto the podium wearing his brand new Seattle Kraken jersey on Wednesday night, one could forgive him for his thoughts turning back a few years.
It was only three years ago when Driedger was cut loose by the Ottawa Senators after years of toiling mostly in their minor league system.
Without any NHL offers, Driedger had told his agent to start looking at options at playing in Europe.
Then the Florida Panthers called with a lifeline — a minor-league contract.
Driedger took it and has never looked back.
Fast forward to Wednesday night and here is Chris Driedger, the assumed starting goalie of the Seattle Kraken with a three-year, $10.5 million contract to go with it.
Although it had been known Driedger was going to be going to the Kraken after a stellar three-year run with the Panthers, he said he still felt some nerves when he walked out onto the stage to greet the television cameras and the joyous fans gathered to celebrate the start of their NHL dream.
“When you get marched out on stage, there are definitely some nerves there,” Driedger said with Puget Sound in the background.
What’s up Seattle?!
— Chris Driedger (@ChrisDriedger) July 22, 2021
“This is really exciting. I couldn’t really sleep last night and when I woke up this morning, I was just really excited. This is a new chapter of my life and my career. This is a beautiful city, the fanbase has been unbelievable so far. … You know it’s going to be electric. I can’t wait to get going on opening night. It’s going to be a madhouse in Climate Pledge Arena. I’m just trying to enjoy all of it.”
Driedger said this past year in Florida, in which he was alternated starts with Sergei Bobrovsky was big for his development.
He added that he spoke with Panthers goalie coach Robb Tallas about what will change now that he is expected to be a starter and he said the experience he got with Florida should be beneficial.
“I think the last season was a crucial building block for me,” said Driedger, who went 14-6-3 with three shutouts this season. His 2.07 goals-against average and .927 save percentage were both ranked fifth in the league among regular goalies and his goals-saved above average ranks eighth at 11.78.
“With the schedule so compact, even though we were rotating, I was still playing two games a week and that’s pretty much a starter workload during a normal NHL season. It was good to know I could handle that kind of a workload. It was good for my confidence.”
Driedger had said in the past that he would have loved to have been able to stay with the Panthers but with Florida having so much financially invested in Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight on the fast-track to an NHL job, it simply was time for Driedger to move on.
He had worked for this opportunity for years and his teammates in Florida are thrilled he is going to get this chance.
“We wish him the best as he prepares to open the next chapter of his career in Seattle,” Florida GM Bill Zito said in a statement on Wednesday.
“His story is one of perseverance, and we were happy to play a part in it over the past several seasons at both the AHL and NHL levels. Although I only knew him for one season, I can safely say that he left an indelible mark on both teammates and fans.”
And, according to Driedger, the Panthers left their mark on him.
When asked what if he had a message for the Panthers, Driedger smiled.
“The kindness I received on social media from Panthers fans has been overwhelmingly positive and incredible,” Driedger said.
“Panthers fans have been great to me, I have nothing but positive things to say about my time in South Florida. I was extremely fortunate to be able to be a part of that organization. Last season was a blast. We were unfortunate to lose in the first round, but we had a really strong team. You could tell the fans were starting to rally around the group we had there.
“I had a blast and I will always look back fondly on my time in Florida.”