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Top Goaltending Prospects Eric Comrie, Jon Gillies Make NHL Debuts

One of the biggest joys about following the junior/college ranks of hockey is being able to eventually see your favourite prospects rise to glory in the professional ranks. Thursday night was like Christmas for goalie fans, as two of the most notable goaltending prospects in the game today made their NHL debuts. Eric Comrie suited up for the Winnipeg Jets in Columbus, and Jon Gillies tended the goal for the Calgary Flames in Los Angeles.

Both of the young goaltenders had their nervous struggles early on, each surrendering a goal within the first ten minutes, but settled down as the game wore on – picking up the win in both contests.

Comrie: 35 saves, 5-4 win

Eric Comrie is only 21 years old, but has had a tough road to get to the NHL. Already in his second full professional season, he finally was able to make his big league debut on the heels of another disappointing season for both the Manitoba Moose, and the Jets. Ondrej Pavelec is out for the remainder of the season, and they are mathematically eliminated – so they decided to give the youngster a chance.

Now, Comrie has always been dealt a tough hand. He dragged a very weak Tri-City Americans squad to the WHL playoffs in his final junior season, and made 66 saves in his final playoff game – just to give you a taste. Jumping into the pro ranks has turned out to be just as challenging. The Moose are coming off a season in which they allowed the most shots against of any team in the AHL, and followed it up by becoming the most penalized team. Couple all of that with the fact that he underwent major hip surgery in his draft year (which is why some say he fell to the Jets in the second round) and you can see that he had to overcome a fair amount before even getting to this point.

Luckily for Comrie, the Jets offense was on display against Joonas Korpisalo and the Blue Jackets on Thursday night. This was good, because he was shelled with 39 shots against from one of the top teams in the juggernaut Metropolitan division, and was beat four times – twice by Brandon Saad.

Jets fans were treated to a little taste of the future, like they have all season with the Patrik Laine show. Comrie should compete with Connor Hellebuyck for the starting job very soon, and that was evident at times throughout the game.

One of Comrie’s best strengths is his ability to read and react to low-to-high passing plays, which is aided by his excellent post integration. There were some questions after his hip surgery if his flexibility would return, but with explosive moves off the post all throughout the game – he put those worries to rest.

One of Comrie’s best strengths is his ability to read and react to low-to-high passing plays, which is aided by his excellent post integration.

Although he was a step behind at times (understandable for a goalie playing his fist NHL game), he was able to also display some of his trademark patience. His ability to hold his edges, rather than dropping into the butterfly, is a foundation of his game because of the advantage it gives him over other similar-sized goaltenders that struggle to beat passes on their feet.

His ability to hold his edges, rather than dropping into the butterfly, is a foundation of his game because of the advantage it gives him over other similar-sized goaltenders that struggle to beat passes on their feet.

GILLIES: 27 SAVES, 4-1 WIN

Despite only playing 45 career AHL games in two years due to season-ending knee surgery last season, the Calgary Flames decided that it was time to give Jon Gillies his first taste of NHL action. With Chad Johnson on the shelf with an undisclosed injury, and Brian Elliott needing one final rest before the playoffs begin – it was Gillies time in Los Angeles. Considering he has spent most of the year in California with Stockton, the decision just made sense.

Gillies’ road has been somewhat smoother than Comrie’s up to this point. He turned pro after winning the 2015 NCAA Championship with Providence, and was also named the most outstanding player. The large 6-foot-6 netminder quickly turned into a possible steal as a third-round pick in 2012.

It was also very exciting for Gillies to be making his NHL debut in Los Angeles, because as they mentioned on the Flames broadcast, he grew up a fan of Jonathan Quick. As a fellow American-born goaltender from the east coast, Quick easily became his favourite goaltender once Patrick Roy retired. It’s actually the reason he wears the number 32.

With his larger frame, Gillies doesn’t exactly need to play like Quick, but he does have the ability to pull a rabbit out of his hat when neccessary. Flames fans found that out late in the second period at the tail end of a penalty kill. Gillies didn’t pick up a cross-ice pass and was late coming across, but he threw out his glove and made a semi-windmill save. Totally improv and a totally awesome way to introduce yourself to your new team.

Gillies game is usually more calm than what was seen on that play. The real Gillies was on display throughout the rest of the game. He pre-sets early on the post, and uses his long legs to sprawl from post-to-post with the greatest of ease. He was efficient and confident, and looked very comfortable on the NHL ice surface. The Kings’ struggling offense didn’t have a chance.

Overall, it was an extremely exciting night for fans of two Canadian teams with goalies on the rise. Both teams are trending upward, and have a lot to look forward to between the pipes.

About The Author

Greg Balloch

Greg Balloch is a Vancouver-based writer, broadcaster, 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 for CISL 650. 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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