In last year's National Hockey League entry draft, scouts hummed and hawed over whether Russian native Andrei Vasilevski, Swedish native Oscar Dansk, or the Belleville Bulls' Malcolm Subban was the top goaltender.
In the end, the Tampa Bay Lightning felt Vasilevski was the best puck stopper, drafting him 19th overall as the first goalie selected in 2012. Subban was later chosen with the 24th pick by the Boston Bruins and the Columbus Blue Jackets drafted Dansk 31st overall.
Unlike last year, there isn’t much debate in the 2013 draft class on who is the strongest between the pipes with the Halifax Mooseheads’ Zachary Fucale separating himself from the rest of the pack. After a strong regular-season, the 6-foot-1, 176-pounder has raised his game to an even higher level in the playoffs, posting a .82 average, a .950 save percentage and two shutouts throughout eight contests.
Scout’s take: “Not only has Zach been perceived as the top goalie available all season long, but he's playing better for Halifax as the QMJHL playoffs roll along,” says the director of goalie scouting for McKeen's Hockey, Justin Goldman. “He allowed just one goal in each of the first four games against the Saint John Sea Dogs, and then posted back-to-back shutouts in the first two games of the series against Gatineau. He is not facing a ton of shots or scoring chances, but his ability to make a few timely saves each game is a testament to his focus and mental preparation. In my mind, there is no question he'll be the first goalie selected in this summer's draft.”
As the second-ranked North American goaltender by NHL’s Central Scouting Service, it seems the Tri-City Americans’ Eric Comrie is one of the next in line behind Fucale. The Newport Beach, CA., native has gained hype in the blue paint since he joined Montreal Canadiens star Carey Price in 2010 as the only two goaltenders the Americans have selected in the first round of the WHL bantam draft. This year, before undergoing season-ending knee surgery to repair a hip injury in January, Comrie didn’t disappoint as a major junior sophomore, maintaining a 2.62 average and a .915 save percentage in 37 games.
Scout’s take: “I believe he'll be drafted third or fourth overall (among goalies), but it's really tough to say if his injury has hurt his draft stock,” says Goldman. “I think most NHL teams interested in drafting him will do their homework and realize the surgery he had won't slow him down in the long run. From what I've learned about his hip injury, I'm very confident he'll come back stronger, and anywhere from 5-10 percent more flexible than before. The key for Comrie will be educating scouts and teams on exactly what the surgery entailed and how the surgery he had clears up those issues and possibly makes him even more flexible. Once they learn this, while the general perception may lead us to believe his draft value is waning, I don't think you'll see him slip past the second round.”
Although Laurent Brossoit did play 22 more regular-season games this year, Tristan Jarry did the unthinkable by posting better numbers than the Calgary Flames prospect for the Edmonton Oil Kings. In 27 contests, the 6-foot-2, 181-pounder, who is ranked the third best North American goalie by NHL’s Central Scouting Service, maintained a 1.61 average, a .936 save percentage and racked up six shutouts. This alone has scouts talking about Jarry. But as Goldman goes on to say, there is a lot more to like about him than just his numbers.
Scout’s take: “I love his ability to compete,” says Goldman. “I like that he's a non-robotic butterfly goalie in a world where bigger goalies are more robotic than ever before. I like that he can make dynamic saves, like reaching a leg pad along the goal line, catching pucks by his ear and just over his shoulder, or getting pieces of elevated shots with his stick paddle. He has good natural athleticism and flexibility to go along with a solid frame. Furthermore, his ability to post such good stats as a backup is a testament to his mental game. He is a sponge; he wants to learn as much as he possibly can because he knows his playing time is limited behind Brossoit. He has strong practice habits and treats them with a serious undertone, like a game. I'd say he's easily a top-5 goaltender and could rise depending on how he's weighed by teams and scouts.”
The USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks have two goaltenders ranked in Central Scouting Service’s top-10 mid-term ranking: Calvin Petersen and Eamon McAdam. It appears neither goalie has a clear-cut edge on the other, but NHL's Central Scouting Service and Goldman believe Petersen has somewhat of the upper hand.
Scout’s take: "Both goalies are really well-coached by Waterloo goalie coach Chris Economou,” says Goldman. “They're fundamentally sound for their age and fairly consistent with their technical game. McAdam is a bit bigger, while Petersen has the edge in stats and games played. They are gracious teammates and publicly support one another, which is a trait all goalies must have if they expect to succeed at the pro level. This could go either way, but I'd personally draft Petersen over McAdam. He was a bit more impressive than McAdam during the All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo. And he's 6-0-1 in his last seven games for Waterloo, while McAdam has just two wins in his last nine games (2-5-2). Stats don't tell the whole story, but Petersen seems to have the edge in terms of draft value.”
As for International goaltenders, no one stands out as a top-30 pick as Vasilevski and Dansk did last year; however, there are a handful of overseas puck stoppers that seem to have the potential to be late-round steals down the road. Juuse Saros, Central Scouting Service’s top ranked International goaltender, garnered scouts’ interest at U18 tournaments for Finland, maintaining a 2.45 average and a .921 save percentage throughout nine games. Swedish natives Ebbe Sionas and Marcus Hogberg, ranked second and third by Central Scouting in that respective order, seem to be the next in line.
Although Goldman is high on Saros and Hogberg, he believes Fredrik Bergvik could end up being one of the top International goaltenders of the draft.
Scout’s take: “Saros is at the top of my list, as well as Marcus Hogberg,” says Goldman. “One goalie I would like people to keep an eye on is Fredrik Bergvik. He was not ranked by Central Scouting in the mid-term release, but I won't be surprised to see him listed in their final rankings. One NHL goalie coach recently told me he moves very well, and is structured and powerful down low. He's not the biggest guy out there, but he's considered a smooth skater with a calming presence in the crease. He plays for Frolunda's J-20 program and posted a .950 save percentage in 14 games. There's always a few surprises from Europe in every draft, so I'm keeping an eye on him for sure.”
All in all, with the lack of grade-A talent and size, it seems this isn’t a great year for NHL teams to look for their goaltender of the future. But then again, since only seven starters in The Show were selected in the first round, one has to keep in mind precedents clearly show how tough it is to predict a 18-year-old goaltender’s future.
Scout’s take: “I'd say this is on the mediocre-to-weak side, mainly due to the fact most pro scouts aren't projecting any goalies (aside from maybe Fucale) to go in the first round,” says Goldman. “One of the top goalies available suffered a tough injury (Tri-City Americans’ Eric Comrie), another did not impress in the key month of March (Mississauga Steelheads’ Spencer Martin), and the other did not have the luxury of a large sample size (Edmonton Oil Kings’ Tristan Jarry)."
"But what really sticks out to me is the lack of size in the top-30 goalies available. If you look down the list, so many are listed at 6-feet, 6-foot-1, or 6-foot-2. There are very few goalies listed at 6-foot-3 or above, which is a significant advantage for the likes of (Witcha Falls Wildcats’) Evan Cowley, (Portland Winterhawks’) Brendan Burke, (Windsor Spitfires’) Jordan DeKort, and (Salmon Arm Silverbacks’) Adam Clark. Taking nothing away from the smaller goalies, there will always be a place for them at the pro ranks, but since "optimal size" is at somewhat of a premium, that may lend a hand to this being a bit of a weaker draft for goalies.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen