Even in the days of modern technology, many still profess that meteorology is an inexact science more guess work than theory. The very same can be said when scouting goaltenders. For every Mark-Andre Fleury (selected 1st overall in 2003) thereâ€™s a Brent Krahn (selected 9th overall in 2000). Meanwhile recent Vezina nominees and winners such as Tim Thomas, Mikka Kiprusoff and Evgeni Nabokov had to wait until the 217th, 116th and 219th selections respectively to see their names on the board. Indeed, the vast majority of netminders who started a game last season in the NHL had long waits deep into the second day to see their dreams realized while others went completely unnoticed only to resurface as free agents years later.
Naturally such phenomenon appears at odds to the quintessential importance of a good backstopper, to paraphrase the old adage, you cannot win without a great goalie but you can with mediocre skaters.
Subsequently diagnosing the pitfalls when it comes to goaltenders development lies intrinsically with the mental fortitude required to play in the games most scrutinized position. Where technique, timing and positioning are all attributes a prospective goaltender can work on and a scout can value; courage, confidence and preparedness are not. As a result, countless players who have put up horrible numbers in junior have found a way into the NHL on character alone. Just look at Patrick Roy who coughed up a 4.44 GAA in his draft year only to go into the annals of hockey history.
With Brian Burke proving a proponent of building from the net out, there has been fervent speculation that the Leafs will draft a netminder to freshen up the stagnant depth charts too long headed by the soon-to-be RFA Justin Pogge.
Having poached goaltending coach supremo Francois Allaire from his former charges in Anaheim, Burke has certainly demonstrated a commitment to the much maligned position in Toronto. Responsible for the resurgence of Jean-Sebastien Giguere and the immergence of Jonas Hiller, many are now hoping Allaire will be working with the massive Swede Jonas Gustavsson for whom many consider the finest goalie outside the NHL.
Regardless of Gustavssonâ€™s, will-he wont-he arrival, the probable exits of Pogge, Gerber and Kolzig and the retirement of Curtis Joseph, will leave the Leafs cupboards thread bare on the goaltending front next season with only James Reimer and Grant Rollheiser amongst the organizations prospects. With seven selections in the upcoming draft, Burke is almost certain to select at least one goaltenderâ€¦ just donâ€™t expect it to be on day one.
Hereâ€™s a run down of some goaltenders likely to be drafted both early and deep that could be the next Mikka Kiprusoff (or Vesa Toskala).
Junior Team: Vasta Frolunda Jr. (Swedish Junior)
Final Rank: Europe 1st
Born: July 24th 1991 Birthplace: Molndal, Swe
Height: 6â€™3â€ Weight: 220lbs
Despite Robin Lehnerâ€™s father Michael being a former coach of Henrik Lundqvist, it wasnâ€™t until the age of 10 Robin first took up hockey. Since, Robin has grown into a hulking 18 year old lauded for his technique and his speed around the net, particularly his lateral movement. Noted as a butterfly goaltender whose mix of size and reflexes means he is rarely caught up high, the only real downsides to Lehner is his tendency to cough up big rebounds and his consistency in important games. While touted as the number one European prospect for the entire draft year, much of Lehnerâ€™s value is placed in perceived potential rather than current talent.
Likely to go late in the second round, questions concerning his mental maturity make him a risk despite his Burke-friendly size.
Junior Team: Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
Final Rank: North American 1st
Born: March 7th 1990 Birthplace: London, Ont
Height: 6â€™2â€ Weight: 170lbs
Cousin of former NHL goalie Jeff Hackett for whom he describes as his hero, Matt saw his draft stock rise precipitously after a standout year in Plymouth culminated in a scintillating playoff run where he posted a .930 save percentage. Originally backup for Nashville draftee Jeremy Smith, Hackett stole away the starters position and impressed to the point that Smith was later traded away to Niagara.
Considered an exemplary pupil by former trainers, Hackett is still a rough diamond in terms of his overall game and is also a bit on the lanky side. Regardless, what he lacks in width, he makes up for with positioning and anticipation.
A possible late first round punt for some, his rise from midterm 8th to end of season 1st in ranking means Hackett could have to wait deep into the second round to hear his name.
Junior Team: Espoo Blues (SM-Liiga senior)
Final Rank: European 2nd
Born: July 18th 1988 Birthplace: Vantaa, Fin
Height: 6â€™6â€ Weight: 192lbs
Having been passed over in the previous three drafts, Mikko Koskinen really came of age this past year playing for the Espoo senior team. Where the Finnish SM-Liiga may not be of the quality of the Elitserien or the KHL, a 20 year old posting a .931 save percentage in any top tier European menâ€™s league is still impressive.
Listed at anywhere between 6-5 to 6-7, Koskinen plies a huge, net filling butterfly that is aided by excellent anticipation and body positioning.
Slightly tempered by poor mobility and a leaky five hole as demonstrated by the similarly sized Ben Bishop, Koskinen sometimes looks awkward in net.
Often compared to breakout Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne, who is another sizeable Finnish product, Koskinen projects along a spectrum, from raw project to hidden gem, whichever; Koskinen is held in high regard as a character locker room presence.
While many see him as a mid-second round pick, there is a school of thought that Koskinen may become a first round gamble, even the first selected netminder.
Koskinen Could certainly squeeze into a Burke mould if he slips.
Junior Team: Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)
Final Rank: North American 2nd
Born: July 12th 1991 Birthplace: Amqui, Que
Height: 6â€™0â€ Weight: 167lbs
One mans misfortune is another mans fate, or so the saying goes, and when the Screaming Eagles starter Marek Benda went down with a freak shoulder break early in the 07â€™-08â€™ season, Olivier Roy stepped up to become a 16 year old number one in the Q. Going on to win a record breaking 27 games for a 16 year old rookie, Roy established himself as an emergent talent playing a hybrid style more butterfly than Brodeur.
Improving to 35 wins in his sophomore major junior season, Royâ€™s game is rarely spectacular but his sturdy numbers and consistent wins have been built on a foundation of solid technical skills and a steady work ethic beyond his years.
Still small in terms of body size, Roy has made a name for himself for challenging shooters while relying on his superb reflexes and lightning glove hand to pull him out of tight spots. Extraordinarily fast in the paint and laterally, there is little to dislike about Royâ€™s game.
Arguably more technically sound than both Lehner and Hackett with Koskinen something of a wild card, thereâ€™s more than a little Q heritage about Roy. A real shot for number one goalie, Roy could go as a first round chance which would require a lot of sticking-ones-neck-out if Burke wants a shout.
Junior Team: Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Final Rank: North American 3rd
Born: November 11th 1990 Birthplace: Toronto, Ont
Height: 6â€™2â€ Weight: 216lbs
Having been named Player of the Game at the CHLâ€™s top prospects game in January, it seems a slightly rough playoff experience at the hands of the London Knights and the rise of Roy and Hackett conspired to drop Pasquale from his midterm number one rank, to third amongst North American goaltenders. Amongst the most peppered goalies in the CHL last year and the most used, Pasquale demonstrated great stamina throughout the season but the heavy workload did seem to impinge on his consistency as the year wore on and led to some detractors within the scouting community.
Subsequently Pasquale has become something of a big game enigma. His huge net-plugging frame has been a boon when covering the net from the butterfly but his movement around the paint tends to be stilted and mechanical and he can be caught out laterally. While technically sound, nothing about Pasquale stands out as particularly game breaking and he is something of a project.
Originally touted for the first round, expect Pasquale to slip late into the second. With too much emphasis on his size, Pasquale stands alongside Lehner as potentially overrated.
Junior Team: Fargo Force (USHL)
Final Rank: North American 3rd
Born: October 5th 1990 Birthplace: Fargo, ND
Height: 6â€™1â€ Weight: 185lbs
Americaâ€™s top ranked goaltender for 2009, Lee left the Minnesota High School system and its coveted state hockey tournament early to backstop an expansion USHL team last season. Obviously a risk for any highly touted youngster in his draft year, let alone a goalie taking the reigns of a newly created entity, Lee excelled in the USHL, guiding his hometown Fargo Force all the way to the Clark Cup finals where they just fell short.
Still, posting a .918 save percentage during his teams surprise maiden season, Lee was honored with the Dave Peterson Goalie of the Year award, having already been named to the USHL Western Division All-Star team. Earlier in the year Lee had been a member of the gold medal winning Team USA at the World Junior A Challenge, Lee was named the tournaments goaltending All-Star.
With an undisputed Junior A resume, Lee is noted as an unflappable presence with impeccable positioning and a solid glove and blocker. Technically sound on all fronts, Lee is an extremely serviceable goalie whose only real downside has been the quality of his competition.
With little to go on in concerns with Lee, itâ€™s hard to evaluate his quality. Said to be exceptionally competent he plays big for his size but doesnâ€™t stand out as an archetypal Burke goalie. Likely to go very late second to mid third, Leeâ€™s composure behind a young expansion team that reached the USHL finals will stand him in good stead with GMâ€™s.
Junior Team: Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
Final Rank: North American 5th
Born: June 14th 1991 Birthplace: Cambridge, Ont
Height: 6â€™3â€ Weight: 180lbs
Playing behind a lightweight Attack roster, Stajcer was one of the leading forces that brought playoff hockey to Owen Sound. Eventually swept in a first round rout, Stajcer mid season number two ranking seemed symbiotically damaged by Owen Soundâ€™s consistently poor play. Taking the opportunity to redeem himself at the CHL prospects game, Stajcer posted a thirty minute shutout having faced 26 shots.
With poise and confidence, Stajcer enters games with a swagger and has buoyed scouts with his attitude. Still underdeveloped size wise, Stajcer has shown himself to be a pressure player and is good at swallowing pucks but some concerns remain about his positioning.
While questions abound about Stajcerâ€™s technicality, the mental elements of his game make him a tantalizing third rounder particularly as his numbers were tainted by a sloppy defense.
Junior Team: USA Under-18 (USDP)
Final Rank: North American 8th
Born: March 22nd 1991 Birthplace: Winter Park, Flo
Height: 6â€™0â€ Weight: 195lbs
Buried 8th in the North American rankings Brandon Maxwell is a player still struggling whether to go Major Junior or NCAA. Having previously committed to Boston College at just 16, Maxwell, who was taken by the Erie Otters in the second round of the OHLâ€™s 2007 midget draft, recently saw his rights traded to the Windsor Spitfires in what many see to be a big steaks-low profile trade.
Born in the somewhat ironically named Winter Park Florida, Maxwell was a standout at the 2008 World Under 18 Championships held in Kazan posting a .925 save percentage on route to a Team USA bronze medal.
With the Under 18â€™s National Development Team struggling this last season, Maxwell has still managed to scale the rankings despite a mediocre .887 save percentage. Much of this has been put down to character. At times cocky, Maxwell appears to have channeled his gamesmanship and bad-loser attitude into a mentally strong game that is aided by his speed and technical strength. Still extraordinarily rough around the edges, Maxwellâ€™s sleeper status weighs on his winning mentality and ability to agitate attackers.
Likely to go somewhere in the third or fourth, Maxwell, a former pupil of Francois Allaire, has a Burke character but his overall quality remains a doubt.
Junior Team: Lulea Jr (Swe-Jr)
Final Rank: European 5th
Born: March 19th 1990 Birthplace: Sweden
Height: 6â€™5â€ Weight: 220lbs
Another hulking Scandinavian goalie, Anders Nilsson has been flying under the radar for a draft crammed with talented Swedes. With that said many are comparing the Lulea goaltender as a younger, perhaps more consistent Mikko Koskinen who, unlike the breakout Finn, has enjoyed two good seasons tallying a .927 save percentage in his first year as a starter last season.
Noted as a consistent performer at the junior level, Nilsson even enjoyed 27 minutes in a senior Elitserien net allowing zero goals on ten shots. Believed to be technically sound, Nilsson is an intelligent reader of the game who challenges shooters in a tight butterfly.
Like many an unsung European junior, Nilsson has an air of quality about him that suggests a deep draft position will offer great value.
With Burke size and an unassuming calmness, expect Nilsson to go in the fifth round, a real dusk prospect.
Junior Team: Erie Otters (OHL)
Final Rank: North American 13th
Born: September 21st 1989 Birthplace: Presov, Svk
Height: 5â€™11â€ Weight: 192lbs
The catalyst for Slovakiaâ€™s World Junior Cinderella story, Janus achieved overnight stardom when he stopped 44 of Team USAâ€™s 47 shots on route to quarterfinal victory in the tournaments biggest upset. With a string of implausible saves, Janus ended the night by handing his stick to a young fan, only to return later to sign it.
Solidifying his place in the Canadian psyche thereafter, Janus received the kind of adulation only ever reserved for hometown players and almost pulled of the same heroics in the semi final game against a stacked Swedish team. Finishing the tournament with a .895 save percentage, Janus went on to be named a popular tournament All-Star on the fourth placed Slovakian side.
Domestically, life has proved somewhat tougher for the once passed over Janus but there have been unquestionable signs of improvement. Playing behind almost the same Erie Otters that lost 46 games in 2007-â€™08, the Otters enjoyed something of a revival last season winning 34 games on route to a first round playoff exit.
Posting a .908 save percentage up from .892 the year before, Janus has set himself apart with a quiet analytical demeanor and a self-effacing accountability. Unfortunately those very characteristics are perhaps responsible for the troughs and peaks in confidence Janus experiences in the OHL.
On the ice, Janus has shown to be extraordinarily agile athlete with excellent mobility and lateral speed. Like many small goaltenders Janus challenges shooters to close of the net and has adequate positioning.
With the cult hype, there has been a certain level of censorship concerning Janusâ€™ foibles. Per example, much of Janus spectacular play is resultant of poor rebound control or a lapse in concentration and he appears fidgety in the crease. Also his size is a problem in a league where big is in vogue. With equipment size decreases expected in the future, the NHL could well legislate players such as Janus from the game.
Depending on how high a team is willing to buy into Janus fever, the undersized overnight phenom could go as early as the fourth, but chances are the Slovakian will have to wait very late to see his name on the board. Perhaps too small for Burke, Janus will be a favorite selection wherever he is drafted.