Next up in our annual prospect review and forecast series is Hunter Shepard, goaltender for the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL). (You can access all of our Capitals Prospect Reports and player analysis on our “Prospects” page in the top menu or right here.)
Shepard, 26, is a 6’-1” netminder from Cohasset, Minnesota. He signed a tw0-year, $750,000 AAV contract with the Capitals on July 28, 2021 and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2022-23 season.
Prior to his collegiate career, Shepard appeared in 81 games with the Bismarck Bobcats of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) from 2014-15 through 2015-16. In 2015-16, Shepard earned North American Hockey League Goaltender of the Year honors, was named to the First All-Star Team and led the NAHL in games played (50), wins (34), and shutouts (8), while ranking second in goals against average (1.90).
Shepard spent four years with the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs in the NCAA. In 119 games with the team, which included an NCAA-record 115 straight games from Oct. 21, 2017 to March 7, 2020, Shepard finished with a 76-37-5 record, ranking first all-time in Bulldogs history in wins, goals-against average (1.94), save percentage (.922) and shutouts (17).
Shepard won back-to-back NCAA Championships with the Bulldogs in 2018 and 2019, was twice named the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Goaltender of the Year (2019 and 2020), earned First-Team All-American honors in 2019 and Second-Team All-American honors in 2020. Shepard finished his NCAA career as a three-time Mike Richter Award Finalist, given to the NCAA’s top goaltender, and a three-time All-NCHC selection.
Shepard appeared in three games with the Hershey Bears last season, finishing with a 3-0-0 record with one shutout, a 1.00 goals-against average and a .969 save percentage. Additionally, he played in 21 games with the South Carolina Stingrays of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), earning a 12-6-2 record with one shutout, a 2.55 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. He earned Goaltender of the Week honors with South Carolina for the week of May 24-30, after going 3-0-0 with a shutout, a 1.33 goals-against average and a .952 save percentage.
The 2021-22 season saw Shepard spend a majority of his time with the South Carolina Stingrays. He garnered a 2.88 goals against average and a .917 save percentage in 23 games played with the Stingrays.
Shepard also played in nine games with the Bears last season, earning a 2.06 goals against average and a .922 save percentage. He was also recalled by the Capitals last season but played in no games. He was reassigned to the Capitals taxi squad on January 6, and returned to Hershey on February 2. He was also recalled by the Capitals in May as a third goaltender for the postseason.
2021-2022 MONTH-BY-MONTH RECAP AND TREND ANALYSIS
The following is a compilation of our month-by-month prospect reports for Hunter Shepard during the 2021-2022 season. You can find all of our monthly prospect reports on our “Prospects” page in the top menu.
Shepard started the season on the Hershey roster, but was scratched for both games during opening weekend. He was then sent to the South Carolina Stingrays for the start of the ECHL season.
The two-time National Champion at Minnesota Duluth was stellar in the season opener. Greenville peppered him with 42 shots. Shepard stopped 40 of them and allowed South Carolina to come away with a 4-2 victory. He was especially good in the second period when the Stingrays were outshot 17 to 8. Shepard made 16 saves in the period, only surrendering one goal to keep South Carolina ahead after two periods. He then turned away 14 more shots in the third period.
Shepard was then recalled to the Bears, but did not dress for any games. He needs to play and if that is not going to happen currently in Hershey, he needs to go back to the ECHL and get time between the pipes.
Shepard was given his first AHL start of the season against the Charlotte Checkers on November 14. Unfortunately for the Minnesota-Duluth alum, he did not get much help from the team in front of him. The Bears showed a lack of discipline that plagued them the whole month and gave Charlotte seven power plays, including a five-on-three advantage. The Checkers converted on four of those power plays. The lone even-strength tally for Charlotte came through a screen and Shepard never saw it.
The Coleraine, Minnesota native kept battling. Down 4-1 in the third period, Shepard denied Carson Twarynski on a two-on-one breakaway. He made 21 saves in the loss. The two-time NCAA national champion also started five contests for South Carolina in the ECHL during November.
He posted a 2-2-1 record with the Stingrays.
With Pheonix Copley recalled to Washington and Zach Fucale in COVID protocols, Shepard was summoned from South Carolina to step between the pipes. The Minnesota Duluth alum rose to the occasion. In his second start of the season, he made 24 saves in a 4-1 victory on the road at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He stopped nine of 10 shots in the first period and then turned aside all 12 shots he saw in the second. His best save came with 6:22 remaining in the middle frame. Nick Hutchinson came around the back of the goal and tried to stuff his attempt. Shepard dove across the crease and blocked the shot with his stick.
The netminder got the call again against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on December 29. He made five saves early as the Bears struggled to find their legs. His teammates got going in the second, staking him to a 4-0 lead. Shepard gave up a goal to Jan Drozg with 18 seconds left in the second, but nothing else got by him, as he finished 19 saves. The two starts raised Shepard’s save percentage from .808 to .901 and his goals-against average fell to 2.34.
The Minnesota-Duluth alum saw action in a single game for the Bears in January, but made that one game count. He turned aside all 20 of the shots he faced in a 3-0 Hershey triumph over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on January 8.
His best save came with 7:55 remaining in the third period. Alex Nylander skated in from the right circle and tried to get behind Shepard and tuck a shot into the net. The netminder dove back and smothered the puck with his glove.
Shepard spent much of the month on the Washington Capitals taxi squad.
Shepard provided the Bears with strong goaltending in a month where Pheonix Copley was in Washington and Zach Fucale struggled. The Minnesota Duluth product started in three games in February and saw action in relief of Fucale in another. He went 2-1 in his starts.
Shepard surrendered four goals in a 5-4 win over Belleville on February 12, but made several strong saves. The first came four minutes and one second into the game. Egor Sokolov tried to backhanded a loose puck in, but Shepard stopped the attempt with his left pad. Then with his team shorthanded at the 9:09 mark of the first, the netminder came across to deny Rourke Chartier’s one-timer from the right circle.
In his next start, the Minnesotan was nothing short of stellar in Bridgeport on February 19. He made 18 first period saves, including three early stops on Chris Terry and Arnaud Durandeau. Late in the period, Shepard denied Robin Salo’s left circle shot and then stopped Jeff Kubiak on the rebound. Shortly after those saves, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby gave the Bears a 1-0 advantage. In the second period, Shepard was huge. One minute and three seconds into the middle stanza, Cole Bardreau was open in front. Shepard flashed his left pad to keep the puck out. He was back at it a minute and 35 seconds later. He made two left pad stops on Parker Wotherspoon and then kept Collin Adams’ attempt out as well. Shepard was not done. The Islanders came in on a three-on-one after a Hershey defenseman fell down. The Minnesota Duluth alum knocked down Felix Bibeau’s wrist shot with his glove and then used his shoulder to keep Bibeau’s rebound attempt out. Immediately following this sequence, the Bears came down and scored to go up 2-0. Shepard ended the game a career high 42 saves and earned a well-deserved victory.
He played well in his final start of the month against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on February 22, but got no offensive support. Shepard gave up a single goal, but Wilkes-Barre/Scranton potted two empty net goals and Hershey fell 4-1. He stopped 22 shots in that game.
For the season, Shepard is 5-2-0-1 with a 1.93 goals-against-average and a .926 save percentage
Shepard got one start prior to being sent down to South Carolina in the ECHL. He surrendered three goals on 28 shots in a 3-1 loss in Hartford. He played in seven games for South Carolina, going 4-3. Shepard made 30 saves in a 1-0 shutout victory over Greenville on March 16.
He earned his second shutout of the month on March 25 versus Trois-Rivieres. The Coleraine, Minnesota native turned aside all 32 shots he saw in a 3-0 win. Shepard has played well enough to still be in the AHL, but was caught in a numbers game with both Pheonix Copley and Zach Fucale in Hershey.
Shepard appeared in 23 games with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL this season. He went 12-9-2-0 in those games. He posted a .917 save percentage and a 2.88 goals-against-average with the Stingrays.
He recorded two shutouts with South Carolina. Those numbers are respectable when one considers that the Stingrays were one of the worst teams in the ECHL. They finished last in the South Division with 62 points and a record of 28-38-6-0. Only one team had fewer points and fewer wins than South Carolina.
In the AHL, Shepard played nine games with the Bears, going 5-3-0-1. He had a goals-against-average of 2.06 and a save percentage of .922. Shepard shut out Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on January 8.
Shepard has flashed stretches of very impressive play during his time in the Capitals organization. His play at times even leaves you wondering if he might be able to succeed at the NHL level.
Shepard will likely enter Bears’ training camp as the number two netminder, behind Zach Fucale, assuming the Capitals do not re-sign Pheonix Copley and could earn the number one spot, depending on the play of Fucale. Shepard may also see another callup to the Capitals and feasibly make his NHL debut this coming season.
By Jon Sorensen
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