We were all shocked (shocked!) when Saskatoon Blades' goaltender Andrey Makarov was left un-drafted in June. Based off the lack of the depth of '94-born players and the quality of Makarov's season in Saskatoon, it was odd to see teams leave him off the board in favour of lower profile goalies from smaller junior leagues or older goalies from European pro leagues.
Makarov wasn't the only one. Remember London's puckstopper Michael Houser, left off the board in both of his eligible seasons due to a club foot, was also prepped to be hockey homeless. He signed up for two teams' prospect camps—Florida and Winnipeg—and came away with a contract from the Panthers. But his situation was resolved earlier in the summer.
The Buffalo Sabres, who took one goalie, Linus Ullmark, in the sixth round of the draft, also coveted Makarov and invited him to camp. Trouble was, their training camp was set to begin September 21 and the NHL was set to lock out its players on the strike of midnight September 15:
With a new agreement between the NHL and the players' association not expected, the Sabres chose to sign the 19-year-old before the end of the current deal.
"They see me in Halifax and I play two games against Canada (the first one in Yaroslavl)," Makarov said during a brief phone interview before Friday's WHL pre-season road game against the Regina Pats. "They spoke with my agent.
"My agent told me Buffalo is a good deal so I sign the contract." [Saskatoon Star-Phoenix]
There's a notoriety aspect involved with this contract. In the two days before the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement signed in 2005, NHL teams rushed to sign as many of their players as they could to long-term contracts that may not be allowed under the new rules. A few former CHL stars, most notably Evander Kane, Tyler Seguin and Shane Doan (we go way back in Kamloops, there) were given long-term extensions.
However Makarov's deal was the last to be filed and reported by the National Hockey League, in essence, the last contract signed of the former agreement, goes to an un-drafted goaltender from Kazan, Russia making a name for himself in the prairies.
He was ranked as the 7th-highest goalie by central scouting, but for whatever reason, never went. This isn't a player who is a scrub or overrated by any means. He came on in relief for Andrei Vasilevski in the gold medal game of the World Juniors and repelled a dominant Swedish attack until midway through the first overtime period. Scouts who watched that tournament were divided between which Russian goaltender was superior, and Makarov had a much better chance to prove himself for scouts, playing at the CHL-level.
In fact, there wasn't a notable change of performance that should have scouts worried about whether he'd peaked. Before the World Juniors, Makarov had a 3.02 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. Afterwards, he had a near-identical 3.00 goals against average and a .914 save percentage, albeit for a much sloppier squad. Makarov went 18-11 in the first half and just 11-10 in the second for a team that conceded just as many shots on goal but was scoring less.
The other thing that could have factored in is a pretty weak playoff performance. Makarov played just four games against the powerful Medicine Hat Tigers, conceding 17 goals in a 4-game sweep at the hands of Emerson Etem & company. Small sample biases tend to restrict vision on the overall body of work of a prospect, and he's probably closer to a goalie who could stop 91.3 per cent of shots at the WHL-level rather than 87.2 per cent.
I think it's clear this is a player who wanted to play in the NHL, but the 18 teams that combined to select 24 goaltenders in Pittsburgh all found a red flag in the process leading up to the draft. The situation, as it happens, benefit Makarov, who got to choose his own destiny as opposed to a goalie who was otherwise picked in one of the later rounds of the draft.
Whether he gets NHL or AHL playing time in the future remains to be seen. He'll be competing for playing time in the near-future against another WHL grad, Nathan Lieuwen formerly of the Kootenay Ice, who was selected in the sixth round of the 2011 Draft.