At first glance, the 2014 crop of draft eligible goaltenders doesn’t seem to be overly strong. The class clearly doesn’t have a netminder as highly regarded as then-Tri-City American Carey Price in 2005 or American phenom Jack Campbell in 2010.
When digging into the crop, though, the draft seems to have a handful of enticing goalies outside of the first round with the potential to develop into quality starters.
Scout’s take: “Although this year's draft class may not have the depth of the previous two years, I think the goalies at the top are going to prove to be as good, or better, than those taken in the same slots in 2012 and 2013,” says Brad MacCharles, goalie scout for International Scouting Services. “(Thatcher) Demko, (Mason) McDonald, and (Ville) Husso all have the size and athleticism necessary to compete in today's NHL and this leads me to believe they may have more upside than some of the smaller goalies taken in the first few rounds of last year's draft. I don't think we'll see a goalie taken in the first round, but we will probably see several go in the second round and it won't be long until they're competing for jobs."
The consensus is Boston College’s Thatcher Demko is the top puck-stopper of the draft. The San Diego, CA., native not only has the size at 6-foot-3, 192-pounds and an enticing butterfly style, but he also exceeded preconceived expectations in his rookie season in the NCAA as he posted a 2.24 average and .919 save percentage in 24 contests.
Scout’s take: “I believe Demko's ranking is deserved when you consider the year he's had along with his potential for improvement,” says MacCharles, who also operates Empire Goaltending in Halifax, NS. “Not only is he playing great hockey in the here and now, but he also has a very high ceiling in terms of where he could be in the next two-three years. NHL teams are looking for bigger goalies who can make tough saves look easy, but who can also abandon convention and battle their way out of difficult situations should the need arise. Demko fits this mold.”
The Plymouth Whalers’ Alex Nedeljkovic seems to be a bit of a wildcard. The 6-foot, 182-pound Parma, OH., native came into the season regarded as the second best goalie of the draft class behind Demko. But despite posting impressive stats – 2.88 average and .925 save percentage in 61 games – he dropped in some draft rankings, including falling to fourth among North American netminders by NHL CSS.
Scout’s take: “Nedeljkovic hasn't dropped in my eyes, but I understand why his ranking may have taken a hit,” says MacCharles. “He is a smaller goalie at six-foot, who relies heavily on his athleticism and reactive abilities. So while he is capable of making some remarkable saves, his game can occasionally appear a bit frantic and he simply doesn't take up as much space as the bigger goalies who are ranked high this year. But the kid can play. I believe ISS has him ranked No. 2 and I know there are some NHL teams that might even have him at the top of their boards.”
Largely because of his imposing 6-foot-4, 185-pound frame, Halifax native Mason McDonald was this year’s biggest riser. He started to come into his own in the QMJHL following being traded from the Acadie-Bathurst Titan to the Charlottetown Islanders, maintaining a 3.35 average and .907 save percentage in 16 matches with his new club.
Scout’s take: “He was nothing short of spectacular in the CHL Prospects game, displaying tremendous power and control, not to mention a quick glove hand, to go along with his extra-large 6-foot-4 frame,” says MacCharles. “McDonald is a big goalie who plays even bigger. He has terrific posture in his butterfly so he stays tall and hardly sacrifices any vertical coverage when on his knees, and he keeps himself compact when moving laterally so he doesn't expose the holes commonly associated with larger goaltenders moving in transition or changing lanes. The X-Factor when it comes to McDonald is his puckhandling ability. He easily holds the title of a 'third Defenceman' and can break the forecheck and/or start the breakout with ease. If a team looking to draft a goalie high is placing an emphasis on their ability to make plays with the rock, McDonald could move ahead of Demko on the big board and be the first goalie taken this year.”
When it comes to mid-round steals, MacCharles is high on Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds 18-year-old Brandon Halverson. The Traverse City, MI., native thrived in a backup position behind Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Matt Murray in his rookie season of major junior puck, posting a 2.96 average and .904 save percentage in 19 games.
Scout’s take: “He's a big kid at 6-foot-4 who still has a lot of filling out to do in his slender frame, but he is positionally sound and takes up a lot of net with minimal effort,” says MacCharles. “He is a guy that got better as the season went on and he gained more confidence playing at that level. He hasn't seen a lot of action, but has had the good fortune to play behind an NHL-drafted goaltender in Matt Murray. Halverson also has the benefit of being tutored by Jon Elkin in Sault Ste. Marie, one of Canada's top goalie coaches, so I think he's in a great situation to develop his game.”
Finland native Ville Husso has solidified himself as the top European goalie as the topped the lists of NHL CSS and ISS. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound 19-year-old, who was passed over in last year’s draft, blossomed in his first year in the Ligga (Finnish Elite League) with a 1.99 average and .923 save percentage in 41 matches. He did, however, struggle in the world junior championship, maintaining a 4.68 average and a .854 save percentage in two games.
Scout’s take: “I would probably have Husso at the top of my board when it comes to European goaltenders,” says MacCharles. “He's a big body at 6-foot-2 and utilizes a strong blocking game in the butterfly to go along with traditional Finnish quickness and reactive capabilities. And he has a solid mental make-up: calm and cool under pressure and not prone to over-react. He's already had success playing against older players in Europe so I don't think it will be very long until he's ready to make the jump to the North American pro ranks.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen