From Ontario minor hockey to the Ontario Hockey League and beyond: An 11-year Retrospective Analysis
Steve Mason is the only Canadian goaltender drafted into the OHL in the last eleven years to have played more than 20 NHL games. David Hutchison photo
The purpose of this study was to determine what the actual chances are that a boy, developed through the Ontario minor hockey system, will reach and play in the National Hockey league as a goaltender. People constantly converse at the local arena about how great a prospect their child is, and that one-day he will play professionally. Confidence and optimism are good things, but comments should be based on facts and not local arena myth. The study results are not meant to discourage anyone but to provide the reader with knowledge and insight.
The data were obtained from the Ontario Hockey League Minor Midget Priority Selection draft and were limited to the period from 2001 through 2011. The International Hockey Database was used to determine the playing history of the goaltenders selected.
Numerous questions for each draft needed to be answered, including the following: (1) Total number of goaltenders selected (2) Percentage of entire draft class being goaltenders (3) Highest round and overall selection number (4) Lowest round and overall selection number (5) Average selection round for a goaltender (6) Tallest height (7) Shortest height (8) Average goaltender height (9) Percentage of the goalie draftees being either 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th quarter births (10) Number of goaltenders selected from each of the different minor hockey associations that make up the Ontario Hockey Federation: GTHL (Greater Toronto Hockey League); OMHA (Ontario Minor hockey Association); Alliance Hockey; EOMHA (Eastern Ontario Minor Hockey Association); NOHA (Northern Ontario Hockey Association); HNO (Hockey Northern Ontario) and US-based Hockey clubs. The CISAA (Conference of Independent School’s Athletic Association) may also have players drafted (11). The percentage of draftees playing at least one regular season OHL game (12) The percentage of draftees playing twenty or more regular season games (13) Number of OHL draftees subsequently selected in the NHL entry draft (14) Number of NHL draftees playing one regular season NHL game (14) Number of NHL draftees playing twenty or more regular season NHL games.
The table shows that approximately 30 goaltenders or ten percent are chosen annually. Most people familiar with the OHL draft history generally know these statistics.
The data reveal that although the majority of goaltenders are not taken in the early rounds, a first round select for a worthy goaltender occurs. Over the 11-year period, five goaltenders have been first round selections. The highest selection at 4th overall, and the only one to play in the NHL to date, is Dan Lacosta with four regular season NHL games (Columbus Blue Jackets) to his credit. A first round selection is by no means indicative of future progression to professional employment. Conversely, being a late round selection may still provide you with a chance to progress through the system. Both Adam Dennis (14th round) and Tyler Beskorowany (14th round) were drafted to National League clubs and are presently playing professionally.
With the present NHL trend of drafting goaltenders of significant height, physical stature is assessed. The data reveal goaltenders of all sizes are selected. There are goaltenders at 5’11” to 6’1” who play in the O.H.L and are successful. Being of short stature may make it difficult to move to the next level, but the goaltender may still have an opportunity to play major junior hockey if he is good enough!
The long-standing debate how an early birth date potentially affects player selection and development, is given more power on the basis of this study. The majority of goaltenders selected in each draft were born either during the 1st or 2nd quarter of the year. The selection of 4th quarter births is consistently quite low and faired best in 2008 at 21% (six draftees). Furthermore, the combination of 1st and 2nd quarter birth selections is consistently over 60% and ranges from a high of 78% (greater than 3/4th) in 2011 and 2001 to a low of 63% (almost 2/3rd of all goaltender selections) in 2002. Whether these goaltenders are better at stopping the puck or whether there is a bias purely based on physical stature and perceived athletic maturity is unknown. Nevertheless, these kids are consistently selected with much higher frequency than their 3rd and 4th quarter birth counterparts.
Another question relates to the distribution of goaltender draftees amongst the numerous associations in this province. Parents and coaches repeatedly preach that the league in which their child plays is the most competitive and that hence their child, by association, must be a better player. The league, or association, from which the majority of goaltender draftees are selected, is consistently a contest between the Greater Toronto Hockey League and the Ontario Minor Hockey Association. Over the course of eleven years the O.M.H.A had the majority of selections on seven occasions. The GTHL had most selections in both 2011 and 2010, and on three occasions selections were equal between the two leagues. The GTHL had the most first goaltender selections with four. It is very difficult to interpret these numbers in some respects. The OMHA is by far the largest OHF association with teams divided between the eastern ‘AAA’ and south-central ‘AAA’ leagues. The GTHL is a league to which many players are recruited for their draft year. The degree to which GTHL recruitment affects goaltenders is unknown to the author. This would be entirely speculation, since draft information lists only the hockey club from which a goalie is drafted, but not the hometown or grassroots association from where the prospect may have originated.
The concern, however, relates to the low frequency with which goaltenders are selected from the leagues of northern Ontario. Is this because these goalies have relocated to a larger centre in southeastern Ontario for greater exposure? Is it related to lack of solid developmental opportunities, competition of less quality or something entirely different? The data shows that on numerous occasions not a single goaltender may be selected from either the NOHA or HNO!
Goaltenders selected from US-based hockey clubs are generally a small yet consistent number. The majority of these goaltenders do not report to the OHL initially or at all. Some goaltenders pursue opportunities in prep schools, NAHL or USHL. The best goalies usually advance to the US U-18 National development squad and, if drafted to the NHL, may then enter the OHL at a later date. Two examples of this include Jack Campbell (Windsor Spitfires/Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds) and John Gibson (Kitchener Rangers).
Goaltenders and parents need also consider that only a fraction of draftees actually play in the Ontario Hockey League. Of the 335 draftees 128 (38%) have appeared in at least one regular season game. According to the author’s definition, merely appearing in one game, or part of a game, did not make someone a legitimate OHLer. The value of twenty games was arbitrarily selected to legitimize someone as an OHL goaltender. He discussed with others whether it would be better to look at games played over one, two or three seasons to determine if the goaltender had longevity in the league. In the end, the twenty games played (GP-20) remained. It is fully recognized this may be point of contention.
Despite being a developmental league, the OHL is first and foremost a business. It is a buyer’s market and the window for a goaltender to prove he belongs is not infrequently a narrow one. If not successful you will be replaced within a short period of time. Of the 335 OHL drafted goalies, 90 (27%) have played twenty or more games to date; however, the classes of 2010 and 2011 are early in their major junior careers, and this skews the results.
From a percentage perspective, the class of ‘08 was the best with respect to number of draftees that actually suited up for an OHL club at 55% (11/20); however, it is realistically the ’09 class that is strongest at 50% (18/36) due to a larger number of goaltenders being drafted.
As the goaltender continues that Everest-Like climb towards professional status he reaches the NHL entry draft. The number of OHL goaltenders drafted annually is low. Of the 271 OHL drafted goalies whose NHL draft date has come, 37 (13.7%) have been drafted to the National Hockey League in a 9-year period. The average is 4.1 goalies per year from a twenty-team league. The ’01 class is supreme with 8 of 32 (25%) having been drafted including Gary Coleman, Al Montoya, Mike Brown, Dan Turple, Ryan Munce, Jeff Weber, Adam Dennis and David Brown. The numbers are misleading in that both Al Montoya and David Brown never played in the OHL. Both goaltenders were drafted via the NCAA. Also, it is anything but common for these draftees to make an immediate post-draft jump to professional hockey and hence they almost always return to their junior clubs for more experience.
The study’s endpoint is well defined and numbers continue to diminish. Only 7/37 (19%) NHL drafted goaltenders have participated in an NHL game. This includes Al Montoya, Dan Lacosta, Danny Taylor, Justin Peters, Steve Mason, Matt Hackett and Mike Murphy. The percentages are once again slightly misleading. Dan Taylor played 20 minutes for the Los Angeles Kings in 2007-2008, as did Mike Murphy (2x OHL goaltender of the year and 1x CHL goaltender of the year) for the Carolina Hurricanes this past season. Twenty minutes does not legitimize someone as an NHLer but statistically a GP value of one must be given. If we eliminate Murphy and Taylor from the discussion then you are down to only five legitimate NHL goalies. Al Montoya must be removed from the study since he is an American citizen and never played in the OHL. The remaining three goaltenders (3/37=8%) are Steve Mason, Matt Hackett and Justin Peters. Steve Mason, a former Calder Trophy winner, is the only goalie to date that has played more than 20 games (1/37=2.7%). Therefore, of the 271 OHL goaltenders, either having been drafted or being NHL draft eligible, only one (0.4%) has played more than 20 games in the National Hockey League.
The study doesn’t include OHL European import goaltenders drafted, and potentially advancing, to the NHL. There have been 26 goaltender imports of which ten (38%) have been drafted to the NHL; however, it is important to note that many of these goalies where drafted to the NHL prior to playing in the OHL. Upon being drafted they move to Canada for a better development opportunity and competition, as the Canadian Hockey League remains the most direct route to the professional ranks with strong competition. Two of the ten draftees, Michal Neuvirth and Robin Lehner, have played in the show.
The study also doesn’t include active or previous OHL goaltenders (drafted or free agent signings) having received a professional contract through free agency including J.P. Anderson, Andrew Engelage or former OHL goaltender of the year Michael Ouzas; however, none of them have advanced to the NHL.
One consideration to which an answer was not found is the ratio of draftees based on the win-loss record of their minor midget club. Everyone understands the importance of goaltending to team success and winning championships; however, the author does not automatically believe winning clubs have the best goaltender or that someone is poor by virtue of playing for a losing club. Also, a goalie facing 15 shots per game is not a poor goalie and one that faces 45 shots is not automatically great. This grossly over-simplifies what goaltending and team play is all about! Furthermore, most scouts are not goaltenders and may therefore not be assessing prospects in the proper fashion.
Minor midget ‘AAA’ clubs are ranked (www.myhockeyrankings.com) with year-end rankings and team records being available in April. They are not available retrospectively for 2001 – 2011. The information was however reviewed for the class of 2012. A total of 30 goaltenders were selected on April 7th, 2012 with a total of 57 Ontario-based clubs listed in the ’96 ‘AAA’ category. The top goaltender was selected in the first round, 21st overall. His team had an impressive 57-14-3 record and completed the season with a provincial ranking of 2nd. The club with the worst record (and ranked) to have a goalie selected had a record 7-34-8 and provincial ranking of 52nd. 26 of 30 goaltenders were selected from Ontario-based clubs with seven (27%) coming from losing clubs. Goaltenders with permanent Ontario residence but playing out of province or in the United States still remain the property of the Ontario Hockey League and may be selected. This did not occur in 2012.
The question of sample size may be a criticism of this study. The OHL draft review is available well beyond 2001 retrospectively; however, it is important to note that before 2001 the draft was not purely based on selection of minor midget players. Player selection was a combination of minor hockey and junior players of different age and calibre and for this reason 2001 was selected as the starting point. When one considers that all Ontario-based goalies begin in house league and the number of goaltenders at house league, ‘AE’, ‘A’, ‘AA’ and ‘AAA’ level, the odds of an Ontario boy making it to the National Hockey League are quite poor.
In conclusion, the purpose of this retrospective analysis was not to debate the reasons why Canada is not regularly producing more goaltenders at the National Hockey League level. It is nevertheless reasonable to state that as relative globalization of our great game progresses, other nations with strong athletes and developmental programs will produce professional goaltenders. Were this not true, the percentage of Canadian hockey players in the NHL, in general, would not be declining. This argument is furthermore supported with respect to goaltenders by the data regarding imports. A boy developed through grass roots Ontario minor hockey can make it to the National Hockey League; however, it is a profession that only employs 60 men at any given time and the odds are greatly stacked against you!
NB: Please note that for the 2004 OHL draft no information was provided regarding height, weight or date of birth.
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