Belleville Bulls goalie Malcolm SubbanOnly eight of the National Hockey League's 30 No. 1 goaltenders are former first-round draft choices. In addition, four of the top-5 goaltenders among save percentage this year were drafted in the third round or later. This is a testament to how tough it is to look into the crystal ball of young 18-year-old puck-stoppers in the junior ranks.
Nevertheless, this does not mean drafting a goaltender with a top-30 pick doesn't always pay off. The New Jersey Devils selected Martin Brodeur with the 20th pick in 1990. Three Stanley Cups later, the Devils definitely don't regret taking a chance on the NHL's all-time leader in regular-season wins.
Last year the first goaltender selected in the draft wasn't chosen till the 39th pick, when the Anaheim Ducks selected John Gibson, who now tends the net for the Kitchener Rangers.
This year it seems quite unlikely that a netminder's name won't be called in the first round. Belleville Bulls' Malcolm Subban, Russian native Andrei Vasilevski, and Swedish native Oscar Dansk have separated themselves as the top talents in the crease of the 2012 draft class. All three youngsters are regarded as possible top-30 draft choices.
Although there isn't a clear-cut consensus, Subban seems to get the most votes as the top puck-stopper of this year's draft class. He was the top-ranked North American goaltender by NHL's Central Scouting Service.
The 6-foot-1, 188-pounder, who is the younger brother of Canadiens star P.K Subban, finished tied for fifth in the Ontario Hockey League in save percentage this year, averaging an impressive .923 average. He also posted 25 wins in 39 games and maintained a 2.50 goals-against average.
Scout's take: "I think Subban is the top goalie available, and I think most scouts agree with this due to his tremendous butterfly foundation," says Justin Goldman, founder and head scout of The Goalie Guide, an independent goalie scouting service. "His technique and style is quite refined and "sound" for his age. And even though he's not considered a bigger goalie, he's not robotic. So he knows how to challenge shooters. But most importantly, his mechanics are fairly consistent. That allows him to play a more relaxed and controlled game compared to other draft-eligible goalies. I'd have to think he's a dream for most NHL goalie coaches because they don't have to teach him as much as they have to simply guide and hone the well-rounded skills he already has."
Even though he was pulled in Russia's semi-final matchup against Canada at the U-20 world junior tourney, Vasilevski turned heads with his impressive showing in the blue paint. He finished the tournament with an outstanding 2.01 save percentage and .953 goals-against average, not bad for a 17-year-old.
Scout's take: "On the surface, I feel strongly that Vasilevski is a first-round talent," says Goldman. "While watching him perform during the 2012 World Juniors, I was really impressed with his ability to move so fluidly, while also displaying compatibility. Furthermore, he has a "quiet confidence" about him that is rare to see in a goalie his age, and his size only makes him even more valuable in the long run."
Out of the three standouts, Vasilevski has the best chance of dropping at the draft because of his Russian birth certificate. There is a real risk that the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder may decide to spend his hockey career playing in the KHL. He is already under contract next season with Salavat Yulaev Ufa. This is just speculation for the time being that Vasilevski could snub the NHL. Nonetheless, there are too many precedents for one to rule out this risk.
"I do think many teams will be afraid to draft him," adds Goldman about NHL's Central Scouting Service's No. 1 ranked European goaltender. "Not only does the lack of a transfer agreement with Russia hurt, but sometimes a 17-year-old doesn't know what he truly wants, even when they are set on taking a certain path."
Dansk stole the show at international tournaments for Sweden this year. The 6-foot-2, 187-pounder became snipers worst nightmare, posting an incredible 1.87 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage throughout 10 showings.
Depending on who one talks to, Dansk is either the best or second-best European netminder in this year's draft. NHL's Central Scouting Service ranked him second behind Vasilevski. Meanwhile, International Scouting Services ranked him No. 1.
Scout's take: "I think Dansk is definitely a top three or four goaltender," says Goldman. "He won't be as highly touted as Subban since he plays in Sweden, but the coaching he receives over there from Per Alcen, one of the top goalie coaches in Sweden, is going to take Dansk's game a very long way. Elite coaching is one of his advantages, but his time spent playing for Shattuck's is another. He was able to get comfortable with the North American style of play, and of course the smaller ice surface. Beyond those two advantages, like Subban, he's also a very well-rounded and a consistent goaltender."
Outside the big three, Victoriaville Tigers' Brandon Whitney has garnered a lot of attention, partially because of his appealing 6-foot-5, 191-pound frame.
This year was Whitney's first full season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. As expected, he endured ups and downs throughout his rookie year, posting a .896 save percentage and a 2.74 goals-against average throughout 36 games.
Scout's take: "I had the pleasure of writing a profile on Whitney for NHL.com last month, and I was really impressed with his attitude and demeanor," says Goldman about NHL Central Scouting Service's No. 2 ranked North American goaltender. "He's very soft-spoken and quiet, but on the ice, he's much more animated and athletic. He's a good mix, he gets the job done quietly, and he certainly made the most of his rookie season with Victoriaville. Playing behind a strong team definitely helps his cause, but hey, he still has to make the saves needed to win the games. "Matt Murray
The biggest wildcard in this year's draft is Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds' Matt Murray. His draft stock has tumbled greatly, falling from second among North American goaltenders by Central Scouting in their midterm rankings to 18th in their final rankings.
Murray failed to find consistency in his game with the Greyhounds. This was evident in a pair of back-to-back games in December. The 6-foot-4, 159-pounder stood on his head in a game against the Kitchener Rangers, stopping 46 of 48 shots. His high was short lived, though. He let seven pucks get past him the following night against the Guelph Storm in a 7-3 loss.
Scout's take: "He impressed some scouts during the CHL Top Prospects Game," says Goldman. "But he struggled in the second half with the Greyhounds. And this is what really changed scouts' impression of him for their final rankings."
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen