Troy Grosenick is no stranger to AHL stardom. He took home the ‘Baz’ Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s top goaltender three years ago, leading the league with 10 shutouts and a 30-10-5 record with the San Jose Barracuda, and Grosenick has generally been one of the top netminders in the circuit throughout his career.
And when he joined the Nashville Predators organization in 2017-18, it wasn’t to fight his way to the NHL. He was there to serve as a mentor for the crease crop the Predators were assembling. And this year, Grosenick’s mentorship is paying off. Milwaukee are favorites to win the Calder Cup, and with Grosenick and 22-year-old Connor Ingram between the pipes, the Admirals have had the AHL’s top goaltending duo. And there’s the distinct possibility that the veteran is playing his way to another top goaltender honor.
If Grosenick was to win the award – and that he’s spent his entire campaign in the league while several other top keepers have made their way to the big clubs will help his case – he’d become just the third goaltender since 1984 to win the award twice, joining Mark LaForest and Jason LaBarbera. But Grosenick isn’t without competition. From high-end goaltending prospects, a few future NHL starters and some seasoned AHL netminders, here’s a look at how the race for the top goaltender award is shaping up heading into the back half of the season:
Connor Ingram, 22 (Milwaukee Admirals)
Ingram has been a fascinating player to follow. He made an AHL all-star appearance last season with Syracuse, but was later relegated to the ECHL due to conflicts with the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. Despite his topsy-turvy season, Ingram led the league with six shutouts in 22 games. Traded to the Predators for a seventh-round pick ahead of the season, Ingram has flourished with the farm club, posting a 15-4-4 record, 2.04 goals-against average and .929 save percentage, putting him among the leaders in all goaltending categories. Grosenick has been just as good, but the fresher-faced Ingram has the most NHL potential and statistical edge. Don’t be surprised if both are in the running to win the award come season’s end.
Jonas Johansson, 24 (Rochester Americans)
The situation in Buffalo couldn’t be much more dire, so Johansson’s promotion this week to fill in for an injured Linus Ullmark offers a fantastic opportunity for the 24-year-old to cement his spot in the Sabres pipeline. With Rochester, Johansson boasts a 13-3-3 record, a .925 SP and a 2.19 GAA, good for top-five spots in the latter statistical categories. With Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen breathing down Johansson’s neck, the Swede had to have a dominant year in the AHL and has lived up to the expectations. He will return to the Americans once Ullmark is healthy again, but Sabres fans have to be excited with Johansson’s development this season.
Igor Shesterkin, 24 (Hartford Wolf Pack)
Originally named to the AHL all-star game, an NHL call-up resulted in Shesterkin missing the big event, but he was ultimately returned to Hartford before the actual game took place. Still, Shesterkin hasn’t lost a regulation game since Nov. 22 against the Americans, winning his past 10 starts. A two-time KHL all-star, Shesterkin has proven he’s too good for the AHL and will start for the Rangers Friday night. He’d be a surefire top-goaltender contender if he remained with the Wolf Pack for the entire season – his 1.90 GAA and .934 SP are tops in the league.
Kevin Lankinen, 24 (Rockford IceHogs)
Lankinen became a sensation in May when he led a Finnish team with no full-time NHLers to gold at the World Championship, stymying opposition along the way and posting a stellar .942 SP and 1.50 GAA. Currently in his first full AHL season – he split time between the AHL and ECHL in 2018-19 – Lankinen’s surface stats may not be the prettiest, but his 3.19 GAA and .904 SP in 19 games don’t account for the Rockford roster he’s playing behind. Lankinen has been busy in most of his starts, facing 30-plus shots in 14 of his 19 games this season, and his play has been better than his numbers suggest. He’s proven he can be a big-game goaltender, highlighted with fantastic performances at the World Championship and good runs in the Finnish Liiga before that.
Max Lagace, 27 (Providence Bruins)
Leaving the Golden Knights organization has been a blessing for Lagace, who has posted a career-high five shutouts along with career-best .918 SP and 2.38 GAA. The Bruins currently sit third in the AHL’s Atlantic Division, a division with some of the best goaltenders in the league, but Lagace ranks among the top keepers and has stolen the spotlight from crease-mate Dan Vladar. As an AHL veteran, Lagace likely won’t factor into Boston’s future plans, but having him in the system to mentor Vladar and rookie Kyle Keyser is important.
Vitek Vanecek, 24 (Hershey Bears)
He’s been passed on the depth chart by Pheonix Copley and Ilya Samsonov over the past two years, but Vanecek has fought his way back into consideration for the Capitals’ backup role as early as next season. With Braden Holtby potentially jetting in free agency and Copley a trade-bait candidate, Vanecek, a second-round pick in 2014 (39th overall), has the numbers to support his case. His numbers are slightly better than Copley’s this season (Vanecek’s 2.45 GAA and .907 SP tops Copley’s 2.47 GAA and .906 SP, and both have played 23 games). Those aren’t brilliant numbers for either netminder, but Vanecek, the 2020 AHL All-Star Game MVP, has an opportunity to cement his role in the organization.
Anthony Stolarz, 26 (San Diego Gulls)
Stolarz, a mammoth 6-foot-6 netminder, failed to materialize after his selection in the second-round (45th overall) by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012, but he has plied his trade as a reliable AHL veteran. Stolarz has held the fort in San Diego, has saved more than a few games for the Gulls and has had his work cut out for him. Case in point: he’s faced 30-plus shots in 13 of the past 15 games on a bottom-feeding team. Stolarz is a solid call-up candidate given his experience with the Flyers and Edmonton Oilers in the past.
Cal Petersen, 25 (Ontario Reign)
Just to drive home how not-great the Reign have been, Petersen’s numbers have drastically improved from a 4.02 GAA and .896 SP in 38 games a year ago to 3.45 GAA and .906 SP in two fewer contests this season. The Kings value Petersen as an important depth piece, though, and he was impressive in 11 games with the Kings last season, leading some to believe he’d be with the big club full-time this season. Jack Campbell’s two-year extension in September put an end to that line of thinking, but if the Kings can find a way to move Jonathan Quick and his $5.8-million cap hit, Petersen will be back in the conversation.
Kasimir Kaskisuo, 26 (Toronto Marlies)
Kaskisuo started the year with a 6-0-0 run and helped the Marlies get off to a quick start in the strong North Division. He has cooled down a bit, posting just two wins in his past 10 starts, but he still holds a .911 SP. The Marlies haven’t been at full strength for most of the season, the result of a campaign in which the Maple Leafs’ injury issues have resulted in a number of call ups and a coaching change, but Kaskisuo continues to stand tall. Kaskisuo needs to stay consistent to put his name in the backup race for 2020-21.
Ivan Prosvetov, 20 (Tuscon Roadrunners)
The Roadrunners’ crease was crowded heading into the season and eight goaltenders have dressed for the club this season, but Prosvetov has been the standout. The youngest goalie on the Roadrunners, Prosvetov has a 12-4-0 record, 2.33 GAA, and .929 SP, the best numbers of any rookie in the league. Injuries in Arizona have kept Adin Hill up in the NHL for a large portion of the season, and that has allowed Prosvetov to play more than expected. He hasn’t disappointed at the halfway point of the season.
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.