One neat aspect of putting together our Future Watch issue every season is seeing how scouts analyze the ever-so-difficult vocation of prospect goaltender.
While budding forwards progress at a relatively fast rate and defensemen take a little longer after getting drafted at 18, goaltenders often take five to seven years to progress to the NHL. That’s just the nature of the development curve and the relatively few job openings.
Tim Thomas and Miikka Kiprusoff are a couple examples of goalies who didn’t hit their prime until their late 20s. There are exceptions, such as Steve Mason, but for the most part all goalies drafted outside the top 10 picks or so are long-range projects.
The top ranked goalie in Future Watch this year is Florida 2008 first-rounder Jacob Markstrom. Back for multiple years are prospects Tuukka Rask, Ondrej Pavelec, Jonathan Bernier, Simeon Varlamov and Cory Schneider.
Of course, there are no guarantees these prospect goalies ranked in the top 50 will ever make it. New Jersey’s Ari Ahonen was a top 50 prospect for five years earlier this decade before evaporating into a career in Europe. Rangers first-rounder Al Montoya was supposed to be the next great American-born stopper. He floundered in New York’s system before being dealt to Phoenix. Once a top 50 mainstay, he’s no longer on the Coyotes top 10 prospect list.
We’re just past the third-year anniversary of Justin Pogge’s ascension from late third round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs to the proclamation of him being Toronto’s goalie of the future.
That was in January, 2006 after Pogge had an unbeaten run leading Canada to a gold medal at the World Junior Championship. All of a sudden, it didn’t matter that 40-year-old Ed Belfour was at the end of the line, or that Jean-Sebastien Aubin and Mikael Tellqvist were left tending the home front. Justin Pogge was on the way.
What’s more? Rask, Toronto’s first-rounder in 2005, was fabulous as well at the 2006 WJC and all of a sudden the Leafs were set in goal for the next 20 years.
Three years later, Rask is no longer in Toronto’s system – but is a top prospect in Boston – and the future hasn’t arrived for Pogge.
These are the pitfalls of handing out the “goalie of the future” label. Unlike the undeniable skill of a budding defenseman or forward, prognosticating a goalie’s future is more like gambling.
Future Watch will be available on newsstands in early March.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
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