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NHL Draft Preview 2016: Top 10 Eligible Goaltenders

Flag_of_Canada.svg1. Carter Hart

Everett Silvertips (WHL) – 6’1″ – 170 lbs – 63 GP – .918 SV% – 2.14 GAA

Carter Hart of the Everett Silvertips is the second-ranked North American goaltender by NHL Central Scouting, but he takes the top spot on our list. Hart’s save percentage has been steadily rising throughout his junior career, and he set a career-high in 2015-16 at .918. His wonderful season was highlighted by an appearance in the CHL top prospects game in Vancouver. Although Everett didn’t take home any team hardware, as Hart would have preferred, he racked up the individual achievements. He was awarded the Del Wilson Trophy as the WHL Goaltender of the Year and was also named the CHL’s top Goaltender. Hart was the top-ranked goaltender by NHL central scouting for the majority of the year, but was bumped out in the final ranking by Evan Fitzpatrick of the Sherbrooke Phoenix.

Concerns surrounding Hart include the fact that he played behind a very tight defensive group under head coach Kevin Constantine, and, most notably, his size. He checks in at 6-foot-1, which isn’t exceptionally short, but is below the NHL league-average of 6-foot-2. Those concerns are unfounded, as Hart has proven himself to be an exceptional puck-tracker. He is a student of both Shane Clifford and Dustin Schwartz, who have honed and emphasized that area of his game. His ability to track, not just on the release of shots, but also for the purpose of movements around his crease, is one of the best to come out of the CHL in recent years. This ability to track is illustrated by his world-class patience. Hart rarely over-commits, holds his edges extremely well, and tracks down on top of every shot. That allows him to manage his size effectively, which should eliminate any worries. While Hart does read plays well, he still tends to over-rely on the reverse-VH technique. He transitions in and out of the position smoothly, but as shooters become faster and smarter, he’ll need to adapt his toolbox in certain situations to achieve success. He is an average puckhandler at best.

While some may continue to tout this draft year as “weak” for goaltenders, teams should not hesitate to grab Hart in the late first round (if he fills a void) or early in the second round. Leave the stigma of his 6-foot-1 frame behind, and understand that he possesses the puck-tracking skills that are necessary to succeed at the next level. He is exactly what you should be looking for in a goaltending prospect.

Flag_of_Canada.svg2. Evan Fitzpatrick

Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL) – 6’4″ – 206 lbs – 54 GP – .896 SV% – 3.42 GAA

Evan Fitzpatrick has seen his stock steadily rise over the course of the past calendar year, and he eventually overtook Carter Hart for the title of top-ranked North American goaltender by NHL Central Scouting. With an excellent frame and tantalizing skill set, it’s easy to see why he appeals to scouts so much. His first season in the QMJHL was filled with ups and downs, which is expected of such a young goaltender, but he really put it all together in 2015-16. For his efforts, he also received an invitation to the CHL top prospects game in Vancouver.

It’s not just Fitzpatrick’s size that appeals to scouts; He has also become incredibly efficient at using it to his advantage. Similar to Mackenzie Blackwood (last year’s top-ranked North American goaltender), Fitzpatrick has a calmness to his game that will make you question the legitimacy of his birth certificate. That calmness is provided by his intelligent positioning. He plays deeper in his crease than most goaltenders, due to his size, but he has also worked at being more aggressive in certain scenarios. He accomplishes this with a very strong hockey IQ, and some excellent edgework while in the butterfly. That allows him to find his net much quicker than most bigger goaltenders are able to. When he does make an aggressive move, he’s able to get back into the net and in position quickly, without having to scramble. Although his skating in general could use some work, and he does have a few delays in his movements caused by counter-rotation of his upper-body – those are fixable issues. He doesn’t have any major red flags, which is a great sign for a goaltender who could have one of the highest ceilings of the draft class.

Fitzpatrick could be the first goaltender taken in the 2016 draft. His size and poise makes him very attractive to scouts – and rightly so. He has an excellent makeup, and should continue to develop at an impressive rate. The statistical crowd may have some issues with his .896 save percentage, but the QMJHL is too unpredictable to draw any conclusion from that. The fact is, because of his ceiling, goalie coaches everywhere will be begging for the opportunity to work with him.

Flag_of_Sweden.svg3. Filip Gustavsson

Luleå HF (J20 SuperElit) – 6’2″ – 185 lbs – 20 GP – .893 SV% – 3.22 GAA

Filip Gustavsson is the first European goaltender to appear on the list, and is also NHL Central Scouting’s top-ranked European goaltender. He plays for Luleå’s under-20 junior squad, where he showed encouraging flashes of brilliance. Gustavsson’s appearance at the U-18 World Junior Championship was an up-and-down experience. He posted a .906 save percentage in five games, but that included a 6-1 pounding at the hands of Finland in the gold medal game.

Luleå has had major issues throughout the organization when it comes to keeping their goaltenders healthy. At least three goaltenders in their system, including Gustavsson, missed some time this past season due to complications from hip and groin injuries. Gustavsson himself was limited to only 26 regular season games – 20 with the junior club, and 6 with the SHL squad. His style of play definitely benefited from the structure at the SHL level, as his numbers actually saw an increase in the higher league. He likes to play a simple game, by taking short routes throughout his crease. His post-integration is phenomenal, but due to some blocking tendencies, he does get caught being inactive while in the reverse-VH position. Quick-developing, low-to-high plays tend to be a challenge for him. However, he does battle well for sight lines on screen attempts. He generally tracks well, but if he doesn’t, his hands automatically drift back and seal up into a blocking position. That will need to be rectified as he tries to make the jump to the SHL full-time.

While some scouts have fallen completely in love with Gustavsson’s game, a handful do not share that opinion. Some have even suggested that fellow Swedes Daniel Marmenlind and Tim Hulstrand are better options. Despite that divide, it’s clear that Gustavsson possesses a fantastic skill set that should allow him to have continued success as he develops. Assuming that he irons out his hip injury struggles, the team that drafts him may get a steal – especially if he somehow slips into the third round.

Flag_of_Canada.svg4. Colton Point

Carleton Place Canadians (CCHL) – 6’4″ – 220 lbs – 33 GP – .915 SV% – 2.16 GAA

Out of the ten goaltenders on this list, nobody saw their stock rise as quickly as Colton Point. The North Bay, Ontario native appeared out of relative obscurity to dominate the CCHL. He would eventually lead the Carleton Place Canadians to their third straight league title and RBC Cup appearance, picking up the playoff MVP award along the way. He was also one of the two goaltenders selected to represent “Team East” at the CJHL prospects game, which pulls players from every single junior ‘A’ league across Canada. The East successfully kept potential first rounders Tyson Jost and Dante Fabbro of Team West at bay, en route to a 3-1 victory. He originally earned a commitment to Colgate University for 2017-18, but that timeline was sped up after his fantastic season. He is now scheduled to suit up for the Raiders next year.

Point’s size immediately jumps off the page to scouts. In a pool of smaller-than-average goaltenders, an even higher premium has been placed on his 6-foot-4 frame. The extra height is an asset, but that’s not what makes him such an appealing prospect. Although still raw, Point has shown signs of being an elite puck-tracker. When things are going well, it’s because his hands are active and disciplined. His lower stance allows him to cut pucks off extremely early, very much like the similarly-sized Connor Hellebuyck. Sometimes he tracks so well to the blocker side, he actually ends up pushing pucks out to the middle of the ice. That’s a better alternative than poorly tracking a shot, but it means that he requires an aware defence in front of him. He almost exclusively uses the skate-on-post variation of the reverse-VH technique. He occasionally gives up goals due to a poor seal on the post, so it is clear that his post-integration is a work in progress. He has made incredible developmental strides in the past year, so there’s no reason to believe that he won’t be able to iron out these issues as he embarks on his collegiate career.

Expect Point to be taken earlier in the draft than expected. While some teams may be scared away by the unpredictability of a junior ‘A’ goaltender, his mixture of raw skills and natural size will be enough to win others over. He will be seen as an excellent long-term project, and that’s exactly what he is. Don’t expect him to jump in and immediately become the top goaltending prospect in any system. He’s still at least a handful of years away from even thinking about turning pro. If he continues to develop, he could potentially walk away as the goaltender from this draft class with the most successful pro career.

Flag_of_Canada.svg5. Zach Sawchenko

Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL) – 6’1″ – 179 lbs – 51 GP – .916 SV% – 3.14 GAA

One of the more intriguing goaltending prospects at the 2016 NHL draft is Zach Sawchenko of the Moose Jaw Warriors. Already in his third season in the WHL, he saw his numbers take a meteoric rise in 2015-16. He boosted his save percentage from the previous season by .020, finishing at .916 – only .002 below top-ranked Carter Hart of Everett. He also saw much more action in Moose Jaw than most goaltenders around the league were faced with. His success did not go unnoticed, however. He was invited to the CHL Top Prospects game, alongside Hart, Evan Fitzpatrick, and Dylan Wells of the Peterborough Petes.

Sawchenko is yet another goaltender at this year’s draft who has been pushed down the rankings because of concerns about his size. He is listed at 6-foot-1, but that may be a slightly generous measurement. What separates him from the other goalies available is his knowledge of the position. A true student of the game, Sawchenko had a breakthrough in the offseason that allowed him to truly understand how to effectively manage his size. He worked to remove extra movement, which plagued his game in previous years. He could possibly have the best hands of the entire draft class, and understands the theories of head trajectory better than most goaltenders his age. He catches a ton of pucks. He may not have as high of a ceiling as Carolina Hurricanes prospect Alex Nedeljkovic, but is on a similar level in terms of athleticism. He doesn’t have the biggest frame, but he certainly tries to use every single inch of it to his advantage – which is fun to watch. His explosiveness transitioning out of the reverse-VH position is excellent, but he may be required to rely on it less as shooters become smarter and more accurate at higher levels. That adjustment process is what will scare some teams away. There simply isn’t a way to guarantee that he will be able to stop shooters at the next level at the same rate as he did last season with Moose Jaw.

If Sawchenko builds off this season, he may very well end up being the Nedeljkovic of this year’s draft. The team that selects him should understand the risk involved with the pick. Depending on where he goes, that risk could be easily worth the potential reward. Nobody else in the draft class truly understands the position as well as Sawchenko. He thinks the game at a different level. Will that be enough to make up for his lack of sheer size? Only time will tell.

US_flag_48_stars.svg6. Tyler Parsons

London Knights (OHL) – 6’1″ – 185 lbs – 49 GP – .921 SV% – 2.33 GAA

After a rocky start, really turned it on in the second half. Doesn’t have incredible size, but more than makes up for it with hockey IQ and athleticism. Won the Memorial Cup with the powerhouse London Knights. Has the skill set to develop into a dependable starter at the pro level.

flag7. Mikhail Berdin

Team Russia U18 (MHL) – 6’2″ – 163 lbs – 22 GP – .928 SV% – 2.07 GAA

Performed exceptionally well at the World Junior A Championships and in the Russian junior league, but being caught in the middle of the meldonium scandal at the U18 World Championships may hurt his stock. Is a good skater, and is efficient with his lanky frame. Plays with some added flash.

US_flag_48_stars.svg8. Joseph Woll

U.S. National U18 Team (USDP) – 6’3″ – 196 lbs – 33 GP – .918 SV% – 2.14 GAA

Technically raw student of the US National Team Development Program. Overshadowed at times by younger teammate Jake Oettinger, but is a talented prospect in his own right. Has an ‘ideal’ frame according to scouts. Committed to Boston College for next season.

Flag_of_Sweden.svg9. Daniel Marmenlind

Örebro HK (J20 SuperElit) – 6’1″ – 192 lbs – 33 GP – .920 SV% – 2.93 GAA

Had an excellent 2015-16 campaign, earning a call-up to the SHL at the end of the season. Extremely competitive. Is a physical specimen, with skills that should transfer smoothly to the professional game. Turned down a scholarship from an NCAA division I school to continue playing in Örebro.

finland10. Veini Vehvilainen

JYP (Liiga) – 6’1″ – 183 lbs – 28 GP – .925 SV% – 2.04 GAA

Passed over in last year’s draft, despite being on many different draft lists. Spent the majority of the season playing against men in the Finnish Liiga, and performed well. Won a gold medal at the World Juniors, but lost his starting job to Minnesota Wild prospect Kaapo Kahkonen in the process.

About The Author

Greg Balloch

Greg Balloch is a Vancouver-based writer for InGoal Magazine, broadcaster for Sportsnet 650, and goaltending coach. His career began in Hamilton, Ontario as the voice of the Junior 'A' Hamilton Red Wings, before moving to Vancouver to cover the Canucks on the radio. A lifelong goaltender, he has been teaching the position for over a decade. He is currently an instructor for Pro4 Sports, and is the goaltending consultant for the BCHL's Surrey Eagles.

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