84 per cent of goalies taller, almost 40 per cent fewer Canadians from 1999-2000

Tuukka Rask Boston Goalie

At 6'3" 169 pounds and hailing from Finland Tuukka Rask fits the trend.

How many times have you read or heard that goaltenders are getting bigger, and that there is a growing influence of Europeans in the National Hockey League?

InGoal Magazine decided to check the statistics to see if it was more than rhetoric.

It turns out there’s a lot of truth to both generalizations.

In 1999-2000 the average NHL goaltender was 6 feet tall and weighed 192 pounds. Today of the 62 goalies who had appeared in the league through early November, the average was 6-foot-2 and 198 pounds. A two-inch gain might not seem like much, but 84 per cent of today’s goalies are taller than the league average ten years ago.

NHL Goalies by the #s

Average height: 6-foot-2

Tallest: 6-foot-6 (Anders Lindback and Devan Dubnyk)

Shortest: 5-foot-10 (Chris Osgood)

Average weight: 198 pounds

Heaviest: 230 pounds (Jason Labarbera)

Lightest: 169 pounds (Tuukka Rask)

(Yes, the lightest and the heaviest goalies are both 6-foot-3)

Average age: 29

Oldest: 41 (Dwayne Roloson)
Youngest: 19 (Robin Lehner)

55 are traditional goalies, stick in the right hand

6 are “full right” holding the stick in the left hand.

Really useless stat of the night: Average Jersey #: 31.66
Max: 60 Min: 1

None of which comes as a shock to Detroit’s Chris Osgood, a three-time Stanley Cup winner who also happens to be the shortest goalie in the game today at 5-foot-10.

“I talk to my friends I used to play against that are scouts now in the league and they say that they can’t look at somebody that is under 6-foot-1 now,” Osgood told InGoal Magazine. “These guys are all big huge guys, but they are athletes and they train to be a goalie since they are 8, 10 years old and we were always just told to stop the puck.”

That combination of size and teaching, says Osgood, is the reason there are so many good young goaltenders coming into the league and having plenty of early success.

“The goalie has become the best athlete on the team and now they are big,” he added. “It’s not the equipment. It’s the guys are bigger and they are good athletes, whereas you used to have a big goalie but he couldn’t move. And now you have the 6-foot-5 guy that can move and play goal and that’s the biggest difference. That’s the bottom line.”

It’s equally true that more of those big, young goalies are coming from overseas now. Perhaps the best – and most extreme – example of both trends is in Nashville, where incumbent Finn Pekka Rinne and newcomer Swede Anders Lindback give the Predators almost 13 feet of goaltending.

A decade ago the idea of having two Scandinavian goalies on the same team would have been near impossible because there were only two in the entire NHL. In fact, in 1999-2000, an incredible 71 per cent of goalies in the NHL were Canadian. Fourteen per cent were from the USA, and there was only one Finn, one Swede, and one Russian.

Today, just 44 per cent are Canadian, 19 per cent American, and already we’ve seen seven from Finland, six from Sweden and four from Russia between NHL pipes. That’s more a third fewer goalies from Canada – and Nashville, San Jose and Calgary all have completely Scandinavian tandems.

Again, improved coaching is a big factor. Finland implemented position-specific goaltending coaches for all age groups more than a decade ago, and Sweden followed that lead over the last five years.

“In Finland, even if you are a junior, every goalie has a goalie coach,” Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom told InGoal. “My father was my first year and after that the team had a goalie coach and during the year you had goalie-specific practices on the ice and in the summers we had goalie workouts. So it was something when you get older, 13-, 14-years-old you get to have you your own goalie coach every practice and you do some special drills and that’s a good culture in Finland and it’s something that helps every goalie for sure. Sweden did it a couple of years ago and now look at all the good goalies that are coming from Sweden. It doesn’t take a long time.”

Evidently not. So what does the last decade mean for the future? Other then needing to be over 6-feet tall to have any shot of getting drafted as a goaltender, it’s hard to know. Will the league be loaded with 6-foot-5, 200-pound goalies? Will only 20 per cent of them be Canadian? Could the number of North American goalies shrink even further as long as their system continues to make the best goalie coaches available only to those who can afford pricey private lessons?

InGoal Magazine plans to investigate the nationality trends in the coming months, but for now we’ll leave it up to you, the reader, to decide – go hit the comments and let us know what you think.
This story was originally published exclusively in the InGoal Magazine weekly newsletter. Are you a subscriber?

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16 Responses to NHL Goalies have grown a lot over the last decade

  1. Greg Gries says:

    There has been a lot of recent discussion about goalies playing deeper in the crease than in the past. I believe this trend has been plays a role in the preference for larger goalies.

  2. Fredo says:

    interesting article but its been a few years now since Kipper Nabokov and Lunkqvist made their entrance into the league, all these guys are high caliber net minders even though im glad the sport is growing like it should be worldwide, i find it hard to believe that canada and the us are not implementing the same methods for training our young goalies. on a separate note, im glad Timmy Thomas is back on fire, i really enjoy watching him play his age has not slowed him down and i love how inspite all the adversity hes still going strong, best of luck Timmy

    Alfredo C
    Dallas TX

  3. ShogiBear says:

    Interesting! I am 5-10, and I can’t imagine that adding an extra 2 inches to my height would drastically improve my game. It may mean I could add another inch or two on my leg pads, but I hate to think a scout would pass up a guy strictly on height alone! I hope there is always a sub-6-foot North American out there in the NHL making everyone say “how is he so good, yet so short?”

    I also like the idea of the goalie being the best athlete on the team. traditionally we are looked at as the least athletic, maybe the stigma will change!

  4. Dan Anderson says:

    What are the things that every scout and GM says about his young prospect goalie? “He is good positionally and he takes up a lot of net” What do all the play by play announcers and color commentators say about the modern goalie “He made himself look big” Unfortunately, lateral movement, reflexes and athleticism is not nearly as desired as finding someone who can just block the entire net in the butterfly.

  5. Rhiley says:

    I’m a 6’8″ goalie and it is extremely stressful on the knees and back play in higher intensity hockey. just saying

  6. KJ Crosby says:

    5’3″ goalie. I have no problem stopping the puck. My past seasons were 12 goals in 20 games and 16 goals in 26 games (and not for a lack of shots). Too bad I’d get laughed at before they even saw me play…

  7. paul szabo says:

    Hey Dave!
    I take issue with your title. Goalies being 84% bigger is not the same as saying that 84% of goalies are bigger than 10 years ago i.e. if goalies were 100% bigger (using your analogy), then they would be 12 feet tall! While it is true that in the NHL draft, fewer goalies under 6 feet are being drafted, it can also be statistically proven that the over size goalie i.e 6 foot 5, is not being drafted strictly on size. As others have pointed out, these big guys are also outstanding athletes.

    Having said that, I often fear that hockey will go the way of basketball, where there is 0% chance of guys under a certain height playing certain positions (i.e any of the forward positions). I think it is rather unfortunate that the entrenchment of the butterfly technique in the last 10 years has made it necessary to be big i.e you spend so much time on your knees. Guys like Brodeur and Hasek have been successful with their size by using a more varied technique. The reason why we don’t see this is that it is harder to teach than the robotic butterfly style. Just like it is easier to win by teaching the trap than teaching creative, flowing offense. At some level it represents a dumbing down of the game, in my opinion.

  8. Tomas Hertz,MD,BA says:

    If you have ten excellent professional prospects and all else is equal then you cannot ignore the reality of size. If you are of short stature you can still be successful but you have to compensate for your lack of size. I recently obtained the goaltender scouting form for the Edmonton Oilers from their head OHL scout. Guess what the first evaluation factor is on the form ? (SIZE!!)

    Development is a different issue all together.It may be a statisitical coincidence that the percentage of Canadian goaltenders is dropping. it could be due to the every improving global availability of goaltenders or mererly that (as in Northern Europe) the development is taken much more seriously than in past generations ? The percentage of Canadians has also progressively decreased in the NHL in total so this is not some revolutionary goaltender development program that is resulting in the Canadian numbers declining. Since I am at the grassroots level I can however sincerely convey the fact that most goalies are not receiving a lot of attention during team practices and obviously that adversely affects developmental progress. In professional hockey, whether tall or short, there is only one goaltending expression that matters -> “Win and your in!”

  9. That Guy says:

    This new trend in drafting big goalies is really interesting. At the same time I believe there is a very high level of ignorance when it comes to drafting now. This new trend makes me laugh it’s almost as if the NHL is some women lusting after some guy, the bigger the better (laughs). In my opinion size has no advantage for any goaltender. Look who’s playing amazing in the Stanley Cup finals right now, Tim Thomas. Oh wait a second, he’s not 6 foot is he? Oh yea that’s right he’s only 5’10. Sure smaller goalies have to play a more aggressive style but it’s not stopping them from getting the job done. How about Michigan State’s Jeff Lerg? The guy was only 5’6 and won a national championship. The NHL thinks that they can draft goalies who are somewhat good and have potential to get better. Looks like size has become more important than talent alone. I think it’s a big joke. You can’t just bring a guy up and say,”Well this guy who is 6’4 is pretty good, not quite NHL material, but I’m sure that if we put him through our program he will progress at a highly consistent rate. Why do you think there is so much pressure on these young goalies these days? It’s because they know they don’t belong where the are at, and if they don’t live up to all these expectations then they’re going to get dropped right back down to the AHL. There’s now better example for this than Carey Price. Don’t get me wrong, the kid is playing amazing now days, but look what happened to him right when Montreal brought him up at 18. I don’t see this trend sticking around for that long, I’ll give it a couple years. Look how much the game changes every 10 years

  10. Daniel says:

    I think it’s pretty funny that scouts will look at a bigger/less talented goalie over a smaller/more talented goalie. God given ability is indisputable and the NHL should at least give smaller guys a shot. After all, if the point is for dynamic, entertaining hockey, why not throw in an amazingly athletic goalie who’s 5’10 and can be really fun to watch, as opposed to a bigger guy who isn’t as entertaining to watch. Pisses me off narrow minded these people making tons of money can be.

  11. Dan Black says:

    I’m a 5’7 goalie 16 years old and it doesn’t look like ill be growing much more. People told me I couldn’t play AAA hockey. I did that. People said I couldn’t play junior, and I’m currently playing junior level hockey… who’s to say I won’t go all the way? who’s to say anyone wont go all the way, any shape or size. The way I see it is my job is simple, I just got to stop that puck. However way I do it I don’t think should matter, nor should a team pick a smaller goalie like myself based on the way I get the job done. In my mind if you stop the puck who cares how big you are, you’re doing your job and that’s all that matters. I remember watching an interview with one of the Canucks forwards. His only comment on Tim Thomas was “I saw an open net, and next thing you know there was a goalie there”. That sounds fine with me…

  12. Dan Black says:

    if you agree with me feel free to contact me on my comment above

  13. Gord Jones says:

    I’m an older, 5’7″ goalie and I’m slowly getting back into the position after a 37 year hiatus. During that time when I watched hockey I would (naturally) key on the goaltender. I’ve seen excellent goalies that range in size from Darren Pang and Chris Osgoode to Ken Dryden and Ben Bishop. I’ve also seen a lot of dogs in the position, big and small. I truly believe that the position is one where skill trumps size every time. Maybe the new goaltenders are bigger, but they are also better. And they have to be. The game is faster than it ever was. With the invention of the composite stick more shooters are shooting in the 95 to 100 mph range than ever. A larger goaltender is more likely to just get hit as opposed to actually making a “save”. Professional goalies are far more flexible than their predecessors were. Jonathan Quick is (I’m sure) made of rubber the way that he can spread out. I never saw goalies like Plante, Dryden, Esposito, Vernon, Cheevers, or even Roy or Belfour covering the lower part of the net the way that they do now. It’s really quite impressive the way that the position has evolved.

    To Dan Black, don’t ever give up. Like I said, skill trumps size every time. If you can keep the puck out of the net more often than the other guy, you’ll be the one that they want. I look forward to seeing you play on TV some day.

  14. Gord Vorauer says:

    Being a smaller goalie 5 10 and playing for over 30 years, I was around for the typical 5 10 – 6 ft goalie in the late 80′s onwards to the new 6ft plus era. I teach goaltending toy minor hockey association, here in BC The biggest issue North American minor system is the “goalie for profit” teachers, The families of these little “prodagy” to be are faces with thousands of dollars in league fees extra expences in goalie equipemt, that thes kids are outnod in inder two years,…. and then 100.00 plus and hr goalie coaching. This is a fundamental issue with the North American systems as a whole. As a player your kids are coached by x NHL, Ahl , Echl , NCAA all over the place, but find one association with a pro or semi pro goalie coach who is not getting paid a boat load?…. Not going to happen. Some real issues for the North American system to fix. Europe and SCandanavian countries are on the right page. Hence why us Canadians have lost almost half the share of NHL tending duties.

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