Leon Draisaitl found it hard to answer the question of who's the best goaltender in the world.
“There's too many good guys,” the Edmonton superstar said.
Of course, he did mention one name: Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is considered the best by a wide margin. When NHL players were surveyed by their union for which goalie they'd want to win one game, Vasilevskiy was the choice for over than half of those who answered,. More than a half-dozen skaters asked last month came to the same conclusion.
“He's one of the best goalies to ever play the game — certainly one of the best athletes,” teammate Mikhail Sergachev said. “What is he capable of? Winning a Stanley Cup for us. He can do it by himself.”
One problem: Vasilevskiy is expected to miss the first two months of the season after undergoing back surgery. That's a major headache for Tampa Bay and could open the door for Nashville's Juuse Saros or one of the two goaltenders in New York — the Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin and Islanders’ Ilya Sorokin — to win the Vezina Trophy.
Last year, that honor went to Linus Ullmark of Boston, who put up a spectacular season with a 40-6-1 record along with a 1.89 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage, both league bests. He will get a chance this season to put his name among the goaltenders most often mentioned as elite.
Draisaitl was far from the only player to name drop Vasilevskiy, who backstopped the Lightning to the Cup in 2020 and '21 and earned playoff MVP honors for the second title run.
“You look him and you see no net,” Montreal forward Cole Caufield said. “That’s what makes him so special -- that he’s still able to move and be quick in that way, too. It’s frustrating as a shooter, but you’ve got to beat him off the pass almost every time.”
Vasilevskiy's size — 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds — makes the 29-year-old Russian a perfect example of modern goalies. But he doesn't just rely on that.
“Just how big he is and how he moves — his positioning as well,” Detroit captain Dylan Larkin said. “Pucks hit him when he can’t see it. You get him looking at the puck squared up to you, it’s hard to score on him.”
Larkin in particular marvels at Vasilevskiy in games in which the Lightning can eliminate an opponent and win a playoff series. Dating to 2020, Vasilevskiy is 11-0 in potential clinching situations with a 0.76 goals-against average and .973 save percentage.
The goalie who got the most love from players outside of Vasilevskiy is Saros, who comes in on the polar opposite end of the spectrum from a heigh standpoint. The 29-year-old Finn is listed at 5-11.
Buffalo center Tage Thompson, who scored 47 goals last season, said Saros has his number.
“He’s so athletic,” Thompson said. “He’s not a big guy. He’s pretty undersized, and just how much of the net he somehow takes up for being a little guy, and just the athleticism he has, is pretty amazing.”
Thompson likened Saros' ability to read plays to longtime NHL goalie Craig Anderson.
“I don’t know anything about goalies, so I’m not going to pretend I do,” Thompson said. “But from what I see, it looks like he’s really good at anticipating where the puck is going to be.”
Predators teammate Filip Forsberg, for all the praise he gave Vasilevskiy, believes Saros is the best right now. General managers aren't far off that assessment, as Saros finished fourth in Vezina voting last season.
“Some of the saves he made, he was pretty impressive,” Quinn Hughes said.
Even though New York lost that series, Shesterkin was not to blame. He stopped 189 of 203 shots and allowed under two goals a game.
The hockey community knew he was capable of that. Shesterkin won the Vezina in 2021-22 when he led the league with a 2.07 GAA and .935 save percentage.
Shesterkin's good friend and countryman who plays not far away, down the Long Island Expressway, is also in the discussion. He was the first name that came to Chicago defenseman Seth Jones' mind.
“Sorokin,” Jones said. “He’s pretty dialed in right now.”
Sorokin finished second in Vezina voting to Ullmark last season after leading the league with six shutouts. The Islanders made sure he's not going anywhere, either, signing him to a $66 million, eight-year extension that begins in 2024.
AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL
Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press