Top 5 Eligible Goaltenders for 2015 NHL Draft
Weight: 215 lbs
1. Mackenzie Blackwood
Blackwood is the consensus top ranked North American goaltender heading into the 2015 draft. He carried his Barrie Colts to the second round of the OHL playoffs, but they were eliminated by the North Bay Battalion for the second straight year. The young netminder made tremendous strides over the course of the season and developed into a very dependable starter.
He has fantastic size at 6-foot-4, and long, long legs that he uses to seal the ice very effectively. He’s still learning to play into his size a bit more, having recently grown quite a bit (as much as 3 inches in the past year, by some reports), but he’s surprisingly quick. Even though he’s capable, he doesn’t usually make a lot of flashy cross-crease saves because his positioning is solid.
Considering balance and strength naturally improve over time, what really sets Blackwood apart from the rest of the group is his calm demeanor and confidence in each of the save selections in his tool box. He didn’t start playing goal until he was 12 years old, which makes that confidence even more remarkable.
Another thing that Blackwood does exceptionally well is recover to a standing position, or stay on his skates when the situation calls for it. With a frame that large, he’s an intimidating figure for shooters to come down on when he’s standing up. He’s not a typical “blocking” goaltender. He’s very smart about when he goes down into the butterfly, and it gives his positioning a sense of maturity beyond his years.
Other than letting out a few confusing rebounds, there are no major red flags in Blackwood’s game. His ability to read plays has also been described as advanced by some scouts, so it’s very easy to get excited by his potential. Combine all of that with a very projectable frame, and Blackwood is the surest bet in this draft class of goaltenders.
Weight: 201 lbs
2. Ilya Samsonov
One of the most intriguing goaltending prospects heading into the draft is the Russian Ilya Samsonov. He is under contract for the next three years with Magnitogorsk of the KHL, and that may be the reason that he doesn’t get drafted as high as he is projected to go. If a team does draft him in the first round, but fails to sign him after two years, they would receive a compensatory draft pick. Still, the risk may simply be too high for some teams.
The doubt stems from the argument about whether he is worth a first round pick or not. Some scouts believe that he could easily be placed somewhere in the 20-25 range, but others aren’t as confident. It’s the same type of high-risk, high-reward situation that landed the St. Louis Blues Vladimir Tarasenko at 16th overall in 2010 – and everyone knows how that worked out for them.
Samsonov has very good size, but plays a style that is more expected of a goaltender that is much smaller. He’s just so athletic and acrobatic that he chooses to play more aggressively. He knows he can recover quicker than most goalies of that size, so he loves to challenge shooters and play at the top of his crease.
His glove hand may be the best out of the entire draft class in 2015, and he regularly breaks out flashy windmill saves during games. His ability to successfully play an aggressive style is what puts him at the top of the class this year. He could be taught to reel his game back a bit, but that explosiveness will always be there – and that is what teams are excited about.
Like most rhythm-based goaltenders, Samsonov does have his struggles with consistency. There are times when that aggressiveness can go awry, and he’ll be caught scrambling out of position. His exceptional reactive ability makes up for it on most nights, but not always.
Another knock against him is the fact that he didn’t play a ton of games this past season with the Magnitogorsk minor team. The quality of the competition he faced has also been scrutinized. Strong international tournament showings have quelled most of those concerns, so expect a lot of teams to be very high on Samsonov heading into draft day. He could end up being the first goaltender taken in the draft, but the pick certainly comes with some risk attached.
Weight: 185 lbs
3. Daniel Vladar
The Czech Republic isn’t exactly seen as a hub for talented young goaltenders, but they are on the verge of producing a very high draft pick for the second straight year. Last year Vitek Vanecek was taken 39th overall by the Washington Capitals, and this year’s surprise could be Daniel Vladar.
Vladar is very tall and wirey, but still manages to be a humongous figure in the net. His movements look almost Pekka Rinne-like, as a tall figure with a lot of movement in the crease. Just when it looks like he’s being too aggressive, he’ll make a save only because he plays that way. He is very strong and effective with his movements and can seal the ice quickly for a big guy, but he’s not very economical. A lot of holes appear when he moves laterally, which will hopefully subside once he fills out a little bit.
One area he definitely struggles with is navigating through crowds in front of the net. Finding lanes is not his strength, and his ability to read plays has come into question as a result. Although he has been seen as a top prospect for a few years now, he did not take the huge leap in development this year that some scouts were hoping for.
Vladar needs to decide whether he wants to be an active goalie that can recover when positioned aggressively, or tone it back because he’s huge. The raw skill that he possesses is tantalizing, but questions about his puck tracking and ability to fill out his massive frame could turn a few teams away – or at least push his draft position further back than first expected.
Even with his flaws, Vladar is still the type of goalie that coaches love to get their hands on. Cutting down on some of the wasted movement in his game is essential for him to take the next step. He is expected to play for the Chicago Steel of the USHL in 2015-2016 which could significantly impact his development, but don’t expect him to mature quickly. If the team that selects him is patient enough, the reward could be something very special.
Weight: 192 lbs
4. Felix Sandström
There’s always at least one major enigma heading into any draft, and Felix Sandström takes that honour in 2015. He missed a lot of the season due to various ailments including mononucleosis, so many scouts never had a real chance to see Sandström in action.
He appeared in 30 regular season games and six playoff games with various teams in the Brynäs organization, plus six international games – and that was it.
Luckily, the young Swede played some of his best hockey when it mattered most, including during a stint with the Brynäs big club in which he posted a 1.09 goals against average and .963 save percentage in two games. The official stance on Sandström remains divided amongst talent evaluators, but it is apparent that his raw skills alone earn him a spot in the top five of this year’s goalie draft class.
He’s an average sized goalie, but he fills the net well. He knows how to stay within himself, and it keeps him from being out of position very often. It’s rare to see an erratic movement from Sandström. He’s smooth, moves well, reads the play tremendously, and doesn’t have very many noticeable areas of concern. He does everything so well for a goaltender his age that it almost makes him harder to gauge because of it.
The only thing that can really be said about Sandström is that he needs to continue his focus on getting stronger and faster. He has a two year contract with Brynäs, and is expected to make the jump to North America after that expires. The big test will be to see how he adjusts to the North American game. It’s unfortunate that his recent injuries stopped him from increasing his draft status, but it means that some team could end up with a late steal if he drops down.
Weight: 196 lbs
5. Callum Booth
Although Callum Booth began the year as the starter for the Memorial Cup-hosting Quebec Remparts, his season quickly changed when Zach Fucale was acquired from the Halifax Mooseheads shortly before the World Junior Championships. Fucale had previously won the Memorial Cup as a 17 year old, but it appeared that Booth, who turned 18 during the tournament, was not about to get an opportunity to do the same.
Fucale would struggle at times and Booth did regain a few starts, including four in the playoffs, but the team decided to go with Fucale for the big tournament. By all reports, Booth took it as a learning experience and gained as much knowledge from his goaltending partner as possible.
Booth is listed at 6-foot-3, but doesn’t look like it on the ice. He has a lean body and doesn’t quite fill the net the way a goaltender with those measurements should. Instead of playing into his size, he chooses to play a smart positional game. He always seems to understand where he needs to be, and is adept at finding the puck through screens, as well as on scrambles. It looks as if he’s always thinking one step ahead, and is consistently in the right position to make second and third saves in a sequence.
He takes a straightforward and conservative approach, so it’s easy to tell when he is off his game. Sloppy (possibly lazy) movements tend to creep in, and he is often caught swimming when things are going poorly. There can be a spiral effect on his game when he is forced out of his comfort zone. He begins to have trouble tracking even the simplest of shots at that point, which is a notable concern. It could just be chalked up to his inexperience and young age, but there is no way to tell until he develops and matures.
The combination of Booth’s smart approach and a projectable frame is more than enough to make him a top goaltending prospect for this upcoming draft. Unfortunately there was a high expectation placed on him this season, and he fell short of a lot of the goals that had been placed. The bad taste left in his mouth could inspire him to work even harder next season. At least that’s what the team that drafts him will be hoping.