Goalies are among the most difficult players to project into the future and draft history shows it. You’re just as likely to pick up an eventual starting goalie in a late round or as an undrafted free agent as you are anywhere in Round 1.
The game of goaltending musical chairs in Edmonton is more than just a sign the Oilers grew tired of waiting for Devan Dubnyk to figure it out. It’s a sign that drafting high – as the Oilers have been doing for years now – doesn’t guarantee success.
Especially when it comes to goalies.
On paper, Dubnyk should have been a solid starting goaltender by now. He’s got the size (6-foot-6, 210 pounds) and the pedigree (drafted 14th overall in 2004). But goalie talent is notoriously tough to judge at 18 years old.
Just look back at Dubnyk’s draft year. In 2004 – back when the draft went for nine rounds, not the current seven – 34 goalies were selected. Of those goalies, the undeniable home run almost a decade later has been eighth-rounder Pekka Rinne, a steal for Nashville at 258th overall. Outside him, the next best has been first-rounder Cory Schneider (26th overall), who became a 1A goalie in Vancouver and is only now starting to push Martin Brodeur out of the way in New Jersey. The Rangers missed on Al Montoya (6th overall) but he still became a decent backup, as did Justin Peters (38th), Thomas Greiss (94th) and Anton Khudobin (206th). Karri Ramo went to Tampa in the sixth round (191st overall) and is basically splitting duty in Calgary today. That’s eight goalies out of 34 chosen who are seeing NHL action in 2013-14.
Compare that to the 2003 draft, when just five of 25 picks became NHL goalies. Marc-Andre Fleury went first overall, while the second round saw future starters Corey Crawford (52nd) and Jimmy Howard (64th) go to the Hawks and Red Wings. Rounds 3 through 8? Nothing. The next pair of quality guys were future St. Louis Blues tandem Jaroslav Halak (271st) and Brian Elliott (291st) drafted by Montreal and Ottawa in the now-defunct ninth round.
The seven-round 2005 draft was the most top-heavy, with Carey Price (5th overall) and Tuukka Rask (21st overall) going in the first round. Atlanta picked Ondrej Pavelec 41st overall in the second, while Jonathan Quick went in the third round (72nd overall) to the Kings and Ben Bishop – who is only now coming into his own – went to St. Louis at the 85th spot. That’s five eventual starters, but after that, fourth-rounder Alex Stalock (112nd) was the only backup in the final four rounds. In total, 2005 produced five starters and one backup from 23 goalies selected.
So what have we learned? Well, for one thing, no first-round goalie is a surefire NHLer and while 10 of the NHL’s 30 starters were drafted in the first round, eight more were picked in the now-defunct eighth and ninth rounds or never picked at all. Four goalies were picked in the second round and four in the third, while the rest went in rounds 5 through 7.
Ultimately, there are many roads to finding a goaltender and the draft isn’t necessarily the best. Evaluating the talent of 18-year-old goaltenders is an inexact science and guys such as Devan Dubnyk really ought to be judged on their body of work in the NHL – not on where they were drafted. Ten years after being selected in the first round, Dubnyk becomes a fill-in backup until Pekka Rinne can return, while undrafted Ben Scrivens – who is only a few months younger than Dubnyk – will get the chance to run with the net in Edmonton.