NHL Draft 2011: Few Goalies, Fewer Canadians in Early Rounds
Another NHL Draft weekend wrapped up, another down year for goaltenders overall – particularly North American puck stoppers.
No goalies were picked in the first round for the third time in the last five seasons, and only eight went in the first five rounds, before a late rally over the final two pushed the total to a respectable 19. A goaltender even got the Mr. Irrelevant honors when Chicago used the very last pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft to choose Swedish stopper Johan Mattsson.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there was a lack of talent by any means, just that NHL teams are wary of wasting high picks on a position with so many free agent options and late blooming Europeans available, especially given there has been no shortage of top goaltenders to emerged from the late rounds to NHL stardom. The list is long and includes Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe and two-time Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas (ninth round, 217th overall, in 1994), and his Vezina runner up this season, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne (eighth round, 258th in 2004), who were both chosen in rounds that no longer exist in today’s more abbreviated draft.
It will take years to know if that trend continues, but a couple of other ones did during this season’s selection process:
– Only one Canadian and one American goalie was chosen in the first five rounds, before a half-dozen from North America went in the sixth round alone, balancing out somewhat a draft predictably heavy on European targets, especially from Scandinavia.
– The other trend – and again, hardly a new one in the NHL – saw only one goalie under 6-feet tall selected, while nine were at least 6-foot-3, and 16 of the 19 selected were at least 6-foot-2.
InGoal Magazine will break down these trends more in-depth – and in particular why Canadian goaltending appears to be falling behind its Finnish and Swedish counterparts – with a couple of NHL goalie coaches, including Nashville’s Mitch Korn, in this week’s FREE issue. So if you haven’t already signed up, make sure you do now.
In the meantime, here is an overview of the 19 goalies that joined the NHL – or at least their rights did – over the weekend, with a closer look at the top six picked over the first three rounds:
38: Magnus Hellberg, chosen by the Nashville Predators
Weight: 185 pounds
Hellberg wasn’t even the highest ranked European goalie according to a variety pre-draft scouting reports, but the Predators saw something they liked – mostly similarities in stature and style to incumbents Pekka Rinne, a 6-foot-5 Finn who finished second in Vezina voting and fourth on the NHL MVP ballot, and Anders Lindback, a 6-foot-6 fellow Swede – and weren’t about to wait too long and miss the chance to grab him, General Manager David Poile:
“When you talk to him, you’ll think you’re talking to a combination of Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback,” Poile said. “If the similarities carry to the ice, we’ll have made a terrific pick.”
It was probably a good move, since at least two other teams InGoal has talked to since the draft had an already technically sound, but still athletic Hellberg ranked higher than his puck-stopping prospect peers, and the action on top-end goalies picked up right after he was selected. Mostly, though, Predators goalie coach Mitch Korn has a proven track record with oversized Scandinavian goalies, and should be able to help Hellberg, who by one scouting account still has to improve his play in traffic and ability to read the play. And after playing last season in the Allsvenskan, a level below the Swedish Elite League, he is signed to play for hometown Frolunda in the top-level SEL the next two seasons, and won’t need to rush across the Atlantic. That leaves the Predators plenty of time to figure out what to do with Rinne, Lindback, Mark Dekanich, Chet Pickard, Jeremy Smith and Atte Engren.
39: John Gibson, chosen by the Anaheim Ducks
Country: USA (Pittsburgh native)
Weight: 205 pounds
Gibson was the No.1-ranked North American goaltender heading into the draft, and by a lot of accounts the top target available, so it’s no surprise the US under-18 National Development Team standout was claimed right after Hellberg by the Ducks, who traded down from the 22nd pick in the draft in exchange for a pair of second round picks with an eye towards adding a goalie. Gibson, who doesn’t turn 18 until July 14, posted a 24-11-3 record and .921 save percentage against competition from the NCAA and USHL last season, but really jumped up the draft charts with a 6-0 run and .926 save percentage while leading the Americans to a third straight gold medal ay the under-18 World Championships. He is committed to the University of Michigan, so there is no rush to find a spot for him in the Ducks organization while he adds to a game described by several observers as calm, controlled and focused on using his size effectively first, but with explosive power and the ability to make more dynamic athletic stops when needed.
49: Christopher Gibson, chosen by the Los Angeles Kings
Country: Finland (but played in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League)
Weight: 191 pounds
Like Hellberg, a couple of goalie coaches InGoal talked to had this Finnish native ranked ahead of his namesake. The Kings certainly seemed to share that opinion (though try and find a team that admits they didn’t get the guy they wanted) after selecting Gibson 49th overall despite already having one of the league’s deepest pools of young puck-stopping talent.
“There’s some depth with the two guys in Los Angeles and we’ve got some young ones coming but this was a guy we had rated as a starting, elite goaltender,” Michael Futa, the Kings’ co-director of amateur scouting, told the Los Angeles Times. “He’s going to push the guys on the totem pole.”
Gibson has a unique background. His father, a martial arts instructor, is from England, but he grew up in Finland and played in the Espoo Blues system before coming to Canada at age 15 and backstopping the Notre Dame Hounds to the 2009 Canadian Midget championship with a 43-save shutout in the final game. He was very good behind a not-so-good Chicoutimi team in the QMJHL last season, and credited his goalie coach there, former Columbus and Tampa Bay target Marc Denis, who was last spotted as an in-arena host at the 2010 Olympics, with helping him make the transition to Major Junior hockey.
62: Samu Perhonen, chosen by the Edmonton Oilers
Weight: 172 pounds
In addition to size, Perhonen has the perfect last name to be a goaltender – it translates to “butterfly.” Whether his skills will be enough to translate to the NHL remains to be seen, but he backstopped his team in Finland’s Junior A SM-liiga to a championship last season with a .930 save percentage, and by most accounts has a shot to be his country’s starter at this year’s World Junior Championships in Edmonton and Calgary. The Oilers, who also have junior goalie Tyler Bunz and likely AHL-bound Olivier Roy in the system also added Finn Frans Tuohimaa, who is 19 and expected to play for Jokerit in the SM-liiga this season, in the seventh round.
“Our goaltender coach Fred Chabot is very excited about them,” General Manager Steve Tambellini told the Edmonton Journal. “We’ve accomplished our goal of depth overall.”
71: David Honzik, chosen by the Vancouver Canucks
Country: Czech Republic (played in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League)
Weight: 209 pounds
A “sleeper” on the Red Line Report draft list, Honzik struggled to adjust the first half of last season after coming over to play Major Junior in Quebec, but excelled after getting more comfortable in the second half of the season, making his .884 save percentage overall a misleading statistic. As he got more comfortable with some of the technical adjustments he was asked to make, including deeper initial positioning, his natural athleticism and a quick glove (see video clip below) began to re-emerge as a trademark. He was chosen to take part in the Canadian Hockey League’s top prospects game, and then led Victoriaville to a first-round playoff upset of heavily-favoured Acadie-Bathurst and averaged 39 saves before bowing out in five games to the eventual Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs.
88: Jordan Binnington, chosen by the St. Louis Blues
Weight: 156 pounds
The only Canadian picked in the first five rounds, Binnington was actually part of a three-goalie rotation with Owen Sound in the Ontario Hockey League before emerging as the Most Outstanding Goaltender of the 2011 Memorial Cup after posting a 1-2 record with a tournament-best goals-against-average of 1.42 and save percentage of .951 and the only shutout.
117: Steffen Soburg, chosen by the Washington Capitals
Weight: 165 pounds
A surprise, of not shocking, pick because of both his size and origin, Soburg was selected on the strength of an incredible solo effort at the under-18 World Championships, where he stopped 295 of 317 shots (.930 SV %) in just six games, including a 5-0 loss to Canada in which he made 58 saves behind the overmatched Norwegians. Expected to come over to play in the CHL next season after playing against men in Norway’s top league last year, the Capitals believe his battle level will help him overcome a lack of size.
“He’s a very athletic goaltender,” Dave Prior, who has resumed his role as goaltending coach (with assistance from Olaf Kolzig) after Arturs Irbe left, told Caps365. “I like that type of goaltender. He has instinctive qualities to battle to keep the puck out of the net. Has good mobility, quickness, reacts to the situation. He’s not a big goaltender. In some teams’ eyes, he’d be undersized in what they look for. But, for me, that’s not an issue.”
132: Niklas Lundstrom, chosen by the St. Louis Blues
Weight: 187 pounds
157: Jason Kasdorf, chosen by the Winnipeg Jets: 6-foot-3, 178 pounds excelled in tier-2 Manitoba Junior, heading to NCAA
161: Stephen Michalek, chosen by Minnesota Wild: 6-foot-2, 196 pound Hartford, CT native is going to Harvard
163: Matt Mahalak, chosen by Carolina Hurricanes: 6-foot-2, 182 pound Ohio native had a .908 with Plymouth in the OHL
164: Laurent Brossoit, chosen by Calgary Flames: 6-foot-3, 200-pound B.C. native got into 34 games with Edmonton in WHL
167: Nathan Lieuwen, chosen by Buffalo Sabres: 6-foot-5, 185 pound B.C. native was the top feel-good goalie story after being passed over last two NHL drafts before leading Kootenay to the Memorial Cup while playing through two hernias this season.
178: Adam Wilcox, chosen by Tampa Bay: 6-foot, 171-pound Minnesota native played well for Green Bay in the USHL
181: Lars Volden, chosen by Boston Bruins: 6-foot-3, 198-pound Norwegian was playing in Finland’s top junior league
182: Frans Tuohimaa, chosen by Edmonton Oilers: 6-foot-2, 178-pound Finn was could be in top Finnish league next season
188: Anton Forsberg, chosen by Columbus Blue Jackets: 6-foot-2, 176-pound Swede was playing for Modo Jr. and almost certainly comes at recommendation of new Columbus goalie coach Ian Clark, who worked with Modo’s SEL team last season.
190: Garret Sparks, chosen by Toronto Maple Leafs: 6-foot-2, 200-pound American played in OHL last season with Guelph.
211: Johan Mattsson, chosen by Chicago Blackhawks: 6-foot-3, 200-pound Swede had a .929 SV % with Sodertalje Jr. last season