Taking over starting goaltender duties for the defending Stanley Cup champions can’t possibly be easy, can it?

“It’s good kind of pressure,” goaltender Alexandar Georgiev told me.

The 26-year-old was acquired by the Avalanche in July shortly after Colorado defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 and celebrated its first Stanley Cup championship in 21 years. The trade was seemingly announced out of the blue and spelled the end of a successful one-year tenure for Darcy Kuemper as the Avs’ starter. Kuemper was impressive in the regular season and won 10 playoff games, including all four in the Final, despite dealing with the aftereffects of an eye injury suffered in the third game of the postseason.

Make no mistake about it, every goalie wants to be a starter. But Georgiev’s first shot at it comes with a team that has aspirations of repeating. And given the three-year, $10.2 million deal the Russian netminder received later in the offseason, the plan is to do it with him between the pipes.

So far so good following a huge 44-save victory at Madison Square Garden against his former team. Georgiev is 4-0-1 in his first five starts with Colorado, sporting a .921 save percentage and a 2.56 goals-against average.

“I feel like I always put big expectations on myself,” Georgiev said. “This will be a challenge. But it’s no different than every year.”

Listen to “Alexandar Georgiev Steals the Show at MSG” on Spreaker.

Georgiev began his NHL career with the New York Rangers in 2017-18 after signing an entry-level deal as an undrafted free agent. He was a star in the Finnish league and, at 22, was ready to make the leap to the NHL.

The Rangers were among a handful of teams scouting him when he played for TPS Turku in Finland. He spent two years with the Junior A team before one successful season in the top-tier league.

“That season was really good for me and the team as well,” Georgiev explained. “They were super interested in getting me to New York. They invited me for development camp and I played good there so they offered the contract.”

Following his move to North America, Georgiev spent multiple years learning from one of the NHL’s best goaltenders in Henrik Lundqvist. His time spent with the long-time starter was an experience he’ll forever cherish.

After all, it was only a matter of time before he would be the heir to the Lundqvist throne. That’s the way the front office saw it and that’s the way Georgiev understood things would unfold.

“I knew I eventually wanted a bigger opportunity,” he said. “But (Lundqvist) is such a great guy and amazing goalie. It was fun to see him competing really hard in practice every day. That’s kind of what I took from him and I also picked up a lot of technique from him as well.”

Everything was going according to plan until Igor Shesterkin — the reigning Vezina Trophy winner and Hart Trophy finalist — arrived on the scene.

Shesterkin made his NHL debut in January 2020 at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers were hosting the Avalanche, and Shesterkin, who had a successful career in the top Russian league, the KHL, was suddenly another highly touted goalie in the pipeline.

New York won that game 5-3, and Shesterkin stopped 29-of-32 shots. He quickly became the guy the coaching staff relied on, and went 10-2 through the rest of the regular season before the COVID pause in March.

Georgiev suddenly found himself third on the depth chart, stuck between this hot new commodity and a future NHL hall-of-Famer. New York often carried three goalies, not wanting to risk losing any to waivers. But also set up an awkward situation where one had to sit.

And it was usually Georgiev.

“It was not great,” he said. “They went ahead with (Shesterkin) pretty much from the start and that was really frustrating.”

Listen to “Alexandar Georgiev Steals the Show at MSG” on Spreaker.

The writing was on the wall that Georgiev was eventually going to have to play elsewhere if he wanted to become a starter. It was only a matter of time before his tenure with the Rangers would have to come to an end.

“I want to play a lot,” he said. “Last couple seasons, I really didn’t get too many of those opportunities to get going. I definitely feel more in the flow when I get to play games without too many breaks.”

Georgiev is expected to get a majority of the starts in Denver, splitting the crease with backup Pavel Francouz, who signed a two-year extension before the playoffs. Francouz missed the entire 2021 season but has been one of the better backups in the NHL in 2020 and 2022. He even won six playoff games, and helped Colorado sweep Edmonton in the Western Conference Final.

“He’s an awesome guy, awesome goalie,” Georgiev said of his new teammate. “Really experienced.”

Georgiev is excited to work with Francouz, but just as excited to communicate with him.

“He speaks Russian, too,” Georgiev said. “We can speak two languages to each other. I’m excited to work with him.”

He didn’t know Francouz before the trade, but he was familiar with three others. Despite being an NHL regular for five seasons, Georgiev still spends his summers in Finland – the country that had such an impact on him when he moved there at the age of 18.

Throughout the years, he’s gotten to know Finnish natives Mikko Rantanen, Artturi Lehkonen and even prospect Sampo Ranta.

“I’ve known Alex for a long time, he’s my longtime buddy,” Lehkonen said. “We skated a lot together during the summer, so I’m excited for him to have this opportunity.”

Rantanen has also skated with Georgiev in the summers with Ranta often joining as well. Between the three of them and countryman Valeri Nichushkin, Georgiev feels he already has acclimated well to his surroundings.

Even making some new friends.

“It’s been pretty quick to get to know all the other guys,” he said. “The leadership here is very strong and it’s easy to notice. They’ve been really, really welcoming here.”

Georgiev also had to familiarize himself with Colorado’s long-time goalie coach. Jussi Parkkila, also a native of Finland, met with Georgiev a number of times after the trade. Unlike the others, Georgiev had never met Parkkila before the trade and didn’t take the ice with his new coach until training camp began in September.

“We texted a lot during the offseason,” Georgiev said. “He’ll give me some tips to improve for sure. I’m very excited to work with him.”

Parkkila has been paramount in Colorado’s goaltending success for nearly a decade. He spent years working with Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer, and in one season with Kuemper, helped the goalie play the best hockey of his career.

For Georgiev, working with Parkkila will only help as he takes on a bigger role than he’s ever had. The veteran of just 121 career starts and 61 victories is going to see those numbers rise relatively quickly. Especially if he’s the guy general manager Chris MacFarland and the rest of the Avalanche’s brass believe him to be.

After all, Georgiev has waited a long time for this. He’s no longer interested in the past. The opportunity he’s yearned for is finally here.

It’s just a matter of making the most of it.

Aarif Deen is our Colorado Avalanche beat reporter. He covers Avs games live from Ball Arena and attends practices, media availabilities and other events pertaining to the Avs on the daily beat. He is also a co-host of Hockey Mountain High: Your go-to Avalanche Podcast. Deen joined Mile High Sports upon completing his bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Before Mile High Sports, Deen worked as the assistant sports information director for the Michigan Wolverines Athletics Department.
Follow him on Twitter @runwriteAarif

Listen to “Alexandar Georgiev Steals the Show at MSG” on Spreaker.