Taran Kozun establishing himself as one of league’s top goalies

Dec 26, 2014, 5:28 PM | Updated: 5:31 pm
Seattle’s Taran Kozun currently leads the league with a 2.24 goals-against average. (T-Birds)...
Seattle's Taran Kozun currently leads the league with a 2.24 goals-against average. (T-Birds)
(T-Birds)

In his final WHL season, Taran Kozun is having a year to remember.

The 20-year-old netminder currently ranks first in the league with a 2.24 goals-against average and is tied for fourth with a .917 save percentage.

“The stats are good,” said the Nipawin, Saskatchewan native, “but there are some games where I wish I would have done a bit better. I’ve let in a couple soft ones here and there, but (the stats) are looking pretty good … I have to stay confident that I can keep doing that in the second half of the year.”

It’s no surprise to hear Kozun be so hard on himself, as is so often the case after a game, whether the Thunderbirds win or lose.

“For me, (I always remember) the goals I let in,” he said. “If they’re beating me on a two-on-one and I have no chance of making a save, you have to give it to them. But if it’s a shot from the point and I miss it, I get pretty mad at myself.”

Despite his own reservations, it’s difficult to disagree that Kozun has established himself as one of the league’s better goaltenders in his first full season in Seattle.

Unfortunately, even with his impressive goals-against average and save percentage, Kozun’s record stands at 13-10-2-2, with his win total standing just 13th overall in the league. The team in front of him has totaled 86 goals this season, lowest in the Western Conference and the second lowest total in the entire WHL. The 92 goals the team has allowed is the fifth best in the league, in no small part due to Kozun’s stellar play.

It’s been a difficult situation for the Thunderbirds, who have been missing at least one of their top two returning scorers from last season for the first half of the year. It began with Shea Theodore, who was injured at Anaheim Ducks training camp, and was followed by a knee injury suffered by Mathew Barzal just days before Theodore was set to return.

While the slower-than-expected start seems to have some level of justification, it’s not an excuse Kozun and the Thunderbirds are willing to use.

“We’d like to have a couple more wins in the close games we’ve lost,” he admits. “I think as the year goes on we can only get better. We have some young guys in the locker room who are going to get better and we have a positive mindset. Our attention to detail has come a long way. We didn’t always come out ready to play in the first period, but we’ve cut down on the shots we give up. Guys have been getting (head coach Steve Konowalchuk’s) message and been working hard at both ends.”

The veteran goalie could easily get frustrated in the aforementioned close games – 10 of Seattle’s 15 losses have been by one goal – but instead he’s used it as justification that he has, for the most part, played well, even if he usually comes away thinking that he was capable of making the one or two more saves that could have altered the outcome of the game.

“It can be (tough), but you have to take the mindset that you gave the team a chance to win,” Kozun said. “A lot of the time you just have to tip your hat to the other goalie if he made one more save than you. You can’t get too frustrated. Some nights (your teammates) will score five goals for you and some nights you’re going to lose 2-1. (The close games) make me work harder and focus more on making the stop.”

While his stellar numbers have yet to trigger the interest of professional scouts, Kozun knows it’s not something he can let distract him.

Over the summer, Kozun attended the Washington Capitals Development Camp, a good sign that he may be in line for some professional opportunities if his final WHL campaign went well. Surprisingly, he wasn’t invited to the Capitals’ rookie camp shortly after.

“(The camp) was fun and I learned a lot with all of their goalie coaches and the goalies that were there,” he said. “I thought I did really well and I received good feedback, but they had a couple of other young goalies they wanted to look at (in rookie camp). They got a new coach there and he got to pick the guys they wanted to look at. Overall, I’m just happy I got the chance to at least go to one camp.”

He’s had to take the same mindset for the more near future, as the league approaches its early-January trade deadline. It’s still a question whether or not the Thunderbirds will be buyers or sellers, as they have yet to see the entire roster work together as one unit. With Barzal’s timetable for return still uncertain, they still may not have that opportunity before the Jan. 10 deadline.

If Seattle decides to be sellers and instead regroup for next season, Kozun could be a very valuable trade commodity. Veteran goaltenders with his numbers aren’t easy to come by, and there are some playoff contenders around the league looking for help in net.

“We have some games right after the break ends that will probably decide what we’ll do,” Kozun said. “You can’t think about being traded. If you think about it too much, it’ll hurt your play and no one will want you. You have to think you’re staying where you are and give the team a chance to win. You have to play your best every night and not worry about what you can’t control.”

Kozun certainly has given the Thunderbirds a chance to win more often than not. Trading him would be a difficult decision to make considering the value he has provided since being acquired from Kamloops at last season’s trade deadline for two players who are no longer in the WHL and a fourth-round draft choice. He’s provided veteran leadership and just the right combination of confidence and humility in net that can permeate the entire locker room.

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Taran Kozun establishing himself as one of league’s top goalies