With the 2011 NHL draft a little more than three months away, draft lists are all looking rather full and teams will be using the playoff and championship season that is March to May to do their due diligence on their targeted players and those they just don’t quite know enough about.
One question that will come up for every team this year is available goaltending. It might not be fair to call it a down year for goaltenders, but it is clear there aren’t many goalies grabbing attention the way Jack Campbell, Mark Visentin and Calvin Pickard did last year. So what’s the deal this year? Goaltending is the most competitive position in the sport. With only two open roster spaces on every team it is extremely difficult to win a position. And with every year added to a player’s age, and every level climbed, it only gets harder.
For this reason it isn’t uncommon to see years where first-year draft-eligible goaltenders aren’t on the radar. The possibility of a good prospect playing on a bad team and seeing his statistics inflate and his confidence head the other way makes scouting goaltenders a tough task. Suiting up for a bad squad is exactly what happened to previously top-ranked goaltender Tyson Teichmann, who now has fallen off a lot of team’s lists after going 17-39-4 over two years for the struggling Belleville Bulls of the Ontario League.
If you ask 10 scouts who the top 10 goaltenders for this year’s draft are, you’re going to see a lot of different names on each list. The frontrunners are a couple of Finns: Samu Perhonen and Christopher Gibson. Perhonen (which just happens to be the Finnish word for butterfly) is a tall and physically gifted goaltender whose technique can border on perfection. But the JYP Jr. keeper has been prone to “soft” goals in big games and this worries scouts. Perhonen’s biggest appeal is his potential. He still has a lot of room to improve and might provide the best long-term payoff of the goaltenders available this year.
Gibson, of the Quebec League’s Chicoutimi Sagueneens, is a competitive and focused goaltender with a lightning quick glove and excellent lateral speed who has rocketed his way up the draft charts with his consistent play and development all season long. Gibson might be the safest possible goaltender pick at this point.
Others who have garnered some interest are the U.S. NTDP goaltenders John Gibson and Matt McNeely, who have battled back and forth all year to start games for USA’s under-18 team. Jordan Binnington of Owen Sound won more followers with his play at the CHL Top Prospect’s Game and was the consensus top performer between the pipes with all the scouts I have spoken with since. Liam Liston of the Brandon Wheat Kings and Laurent Broissoit of the Edmonton Oil Kings are the two Western League goaltenders who have impressed me most this year, but neither has solidified their grasp on being drafted.
The biggest wild card remains the aforementioned Teichmann. Teichmann was hands down the best goaltender at Canada’s summer under-18 camp and was excellent during Canada’s Ivan Hlinka tournament victory in August. Since then, he has failed to impress and has even lost his starting job to Malcolm Subban who, because of his December birth date, isn’t even eligible for the NHL draft until next year.
Speaking of next year, the goalie trend doesn’t look to improve much, leaving teams in need of goaltending prospects in a serious bind. Hockey Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast has even gone so far as to say Hockey Canada will be seriously considering midget AAA goaltenders for their under-18 program. It’s far too early to tell if the goaltenders born in 1993 and 1994 are a bad lot or even if they are worse than the 1992s. What’s for sure is the level of competition for the most elite junior goaltending positions is more feverish than ever before and this could have some interesting implications on the NHL draft.
Teams may start to lean less towards drafting goaltenders and instead take their chances with overage free agents; we might start seeing goaltenders drafted from some not-so-typical areas; or we could see some teams gamble and find themselves with gems lost in the sea of blockers and pokechecks. As the playoffs start and with international events on the horizon, the time is now for goaltenders to improve their draft stock.
Scouts love to be able to say a player they recommend has proven he can perform under pressure. This could possibly be the most powerful skill a goaltender can display in their draft year. Let’s see who is up to the task.
Ross MacLean is the head scout for International Scouting Services and is considered one of the rising stars of the business. A young, diverse and versatile hockey mind, MacLean leads ISS’ network of scouts and puts his domestic and international hockey experience and knowledge towards ranking and providing industry-leading profiles and information on draft eligible players around the world.