When the Detroit Red Wings selected Keith Petruzzelli in the third round of the 2017 NHL Draft, the 6-foot-5 netminder looked like the team’s goaltender of the future.
After the draft, Petruzzelli did nothing to tarnish that distinction. Backstopping the NCAA’s Quinnipiac Bobcats, Petruzzelli put up a four-year 2.17 GAA and .915 save percentage. As a senior, he was named the ECAC Goaltender of the Year and a Hobey Baker nominee. He looked pro-ready.
Detroit however, wanted Petruzzelli to use the extra year of eligibility the NCAA provided during the pandemic to return to school for a fifth season. At that moment, the towering netminder decided to follow his own path. He was going to leave school, turn professional, and become an NHL free agent. It was a gamble on himself, and when he didn’t immediately earn an NHL contract, it looked risky.
The Boston Bruins were the first team to call, inviting Petruzelli to development camp, but it was the Toronto Maple Leafs organization that made an offer.
Toronto didn’t sign Petruzzelli to an NHL contract; rather, they inked the Wilbraham, Massachusetts prospect to an AHL contract. Here, it was up to the once highly touted prospect to prove himself, and Petruzzelli has done just that.
Could He Be Toronto’s Goalie of the Future?
If Petruzzelli’s rookie pro season is any indication, the Toronto Maple Leafs may have found a low-risk, low-cost prospect who could become an NHL starter.
At times in their development, Ian Scott and Joseph Woll have looked like the answer for Toronto’s future. Neither, however, have developed as expected, partly due to injuries. Toronto also has Erik Källgren, who has saved the team at times this season and has been a consistent minor-league goalie for several seasons.
Petruzzelli spent most of this season with the ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers where he earned Goaltender of the Month honors in October. The most notable improvement to Petruzzelli’s game was his consistency, which had been criticized in the past. As Toronto’s goaltending drama played out at the NHL level, an opening appeared with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, and in his first handful of games, Petruzzelli was spectacular.
“It is difficult (to score on) when you play as square and as positioned as he is with that size,” Toronto Marlies Head coach Greg Moore said about Petruzzelli’s play. “There are some goalies out there that have the size, but try to rely on athleticism rather than just positioning for themselves, and they catch themselves out of the net or they lose their net at times, where Petruzzelli plays a really strong system. He’s not trying to overplay shots, he just keeps it calm, keeps it square, and allows the puck to hit him.”
“Any time you have a goalie who can instill some confidence and stillness back there, it just gives confidence to the team in front of him,” Moore said on a separate occasion.
At the NHL level, the Toronto Maple Leafs explored trade deadline options to supplant the duo of Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek. Both have struggled with consistency or injuries this season, often leaving Toronto reliant upon their high octane offense to win games.
If they don’t sign him before season's end, Toronto will take a long look at their goaltending situation this offseason. Four netminders - Jack Campbell, Ian Scott, Michael Hutchinson, and Carter Hutton - currently under contract with the organization are on expiring contracts. Toronto has only Mrazek, Källgren, and Woll signed beyond this season, and the organization has shown their intent to move on from Mrazek, barring a hot finish, after waiving him earlier this season.
If they do sign Petruzzelli, It is foreseeable he becomes the starter for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies next season. If his progress continues, he could be frustrating shooters, and endearing fans in a Maple Leafs jersey sooner than later.