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NHL Draft Preview 2018: Top 10 Eligible Goaltenders

NHL Draft Preview 2018: Top 10 Eligible Goaltenders

#1 – Jakub Skarek

Jihlava, Czech Republic – HC Dukla Jihlava (Czech) – GP: 21 – SV%: .913

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In what many are calling a down year for goaltenders in the NHL draft, Jakub Skarek is as close to a complete package as you are going to find. He checks a lot of boxes for both old school and new age scouts. Size? At 6-foot-3, 200 lbs, he’s got that. Pedigree? He has made an abundance of international appearances for the Czech Republic, with mostly positive results. He posted well above-average numbers playing against men in the Czech top division, and has signed a contract to play for the Lahti Pelicans of the SM-liiga next season.

On the ice, Skarek is intimidating. He gives off an intense vibe and confidence that a lot of goaltenders seem to lack at a young age. To go along with his size, he employs a very wide stance that allows him to hold his edges for a much longer time than expected. Just when the shooter thinks he’s stretched out to a point where a quick cut-back move could catch him moving in the wrong direction, he is able to find an edge and pushes into the save with ease. It’s almost Vasilevskiy-esque in a way.

Flexibility isn’t something that is normally talked about in scouting reports. It is almost taken for granted how well-trained goaltenders are in this area today. Skarek takes it to another level.  Sealing the ice is a big priority in his game plan, and he is able to take away the bottom portion of the net so skillfully because of his flexibility. Whether it’s being able to keep a foot on each post while the puck is being worked behind the net, or sprawling out into the full splits during a jam attempt – it really is noteworthy how he is able to accomplish it with such a big frame.

Also part of Skarek’s game plan is a rigid “angle before depth” mentality, which differs from fellow Czech goaltending prospect Lukas Dostal. In situations that Dostal is likely to come at a shooter with an aggressive move, you will see Skarek retreat to his post first before making any type of bold attempt. He’s able to accomplish this not only with his size, but also his hand discipline – which ranks high. He may play deeper in his net, but his excellent hands help him get to pucks simply through positioning.

He battles well for sight lines on screen attempts, which should also endear himself to the old-school minded scouts. His post-integration is also quite advanced. His transitions are clean, and he gives himself a very good chance on low-to-high plays from below the goal line with how he moves off his post. He’s a tad slower than some of the other prospects available – Dostal, Olivier Rodrigue, and Amir Miftakhov all rank higher than him in the skating area – but that’s not a major red flag and is an area that can steadily improve over time.

If you’re looking for a goaltender with a combination of size and skills that should transfer over well to the North American professional game, Skarek is the top candidate. There is a chance that a team will value one of the other goalies higher than him, possibly due to a lacklustre appearance at the most recent World Juniors, but he should still be snapped up quickly whenever goaltenders start coming off the board at this year’s draft.

You can read a direct comparison of Skarek and fellow Czech Lukas Dostal by clicking here.

#2 – Olivier Rodrigue

Chicoutimi, Quebec – Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL) – GP: 53 – SV%: .903

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Despite producing quality goaltenders at a decently high rate, Canada has been seen as underachieving in this area for over a decade now. The country’s best hope this year rests on the shoulders of Drummondville’s Olivier Rodrigue. He’s a Hockey Canada goaltender through and through, receiving opportunities at the U16, U17 and U18 levels. Barring disaster, expect to see his name tossed around for the World Juniors in a couple of years as well. His father Sylvain is a well-respected goaltending coach that has spent the last five years as part of the Edmonton Oilers organization. His head coach in Drummondville was also Dominique Ducharme, who is very involved with Hockey Canada – winning a gold medal as the head coach at the World Juniors this past year. Don’t think for one second that these opportunities were handed to Rodrigue. Of the draft-eligible-or-younger starting goalies in the QMJHL, his save percentage was only bested by Rimouski’s Colten Ellis, who will be a top end prospect in the 2019 entry draft in Vancouver.

At 6-foot-1, Rodrigue isn’t the most imposing figure between the pipes. He’s in the category of elite puck-trackers who are able to cut pucks off before they have a chance to rise over his shoulder. His hand discipline is very consistent, which is why you just don’t see him get beaten on clean shots all that often. Rodrigue’s other great strength is his sublime edgework while down in the butterfly. His east/west movement is lightning fast due to his ability to quickly grab an edge and push back in the opposite direction. Most of his “highlight reel” saves are of that variety. He doesn’t have a tendency to overuse it as well, which is commonly seen in younger goalies with a similar skill set. A more old-school goaltending coach would likely want to see him play more aggressively because of his size, but that may not be a great idea for Rodrigue. His net awareness is quite good, and that’s mainly because he doesn’t like to stray far out of position often. If he was forced to drastically change that part of the game, it could throw off the structure of his game. The good news is that his skating ability should be good enough for him to be able to adapt to any type of defensive structure that is placed in front of him.

What’s keeping Rodrigue out of the number one spot is the fact that he isn’t really the best in any particular category of this year’s draft class. He excels in a lot of different areas and is one of the most technically sound and complete draft-eligible goaltender this year – but what is his ceiling? The question marks surrounding just how good he can possibly become is what some teams have on their mind. If certain scouts are put off by his frame, it could force him back into a later draft spot than expected.

#3 – Lukas Dostal

Brno, Czech Republic – SK Horacka Slavia Trebic (Czech2) – GP: 20 – SV%: .921

Going by NHL Central Scouting rankings, Lukas Dostal is the best European goaltending prospect available in this year’s draft. He surprisingly leapfrogged Jakub Skarek at the last minute in the final ranking, despite Skarek having a much better pedigree leading up to that point. Skarek had a notably lacklustre finish at the World Juniors and Dostal was solid at the U18s, which was apparently enough of a combination for central scouting to sour on Skarek.

Dostal is the smaller of the two Czech netminders, but at 6-foot-1, size shouldn’t be a major concern. It does, however, force him to play a more aggressive style. He forces shooters when he can, and shows a pretty good grasp of situational awareness for a young goalie. He’s able to reach back door plays because of his explosiveness – both from a standing position and while in the butterfly. This skill also shines through in his post integration. Some of his greatest saves come while moving across and pushing from his post while in the reverse-VH position.

While he is very adept at closing off the lower portion of the net, this can sometimes become an issue because of a tendency to seal the ice instead of remaining on his feet. Plays through the middle of the ice can be a challenge for any goaltender, but Dostal especially struggles in this area. It is even more noticeable when a screen is involved, which seems to really throw off his ability to track the puck. He’s a good skater, but developing more confidence in his skating and ability to hold his edges will be a crucial area to keep an eye on as he makes his way up the ranks in the hockey world. With his size, it is an absolute necessity that he becomes a top-tier goaltender in this regard.

When comparing Dostal directly to Skarek, which happens often due to their nationality, Dostal comes out on top in terms of quickness and the “athleticism” tag that scouts enjoy throwing around. Skarek is certainly more polished and excels in areas that usually transfer over better to the professional game. The potential deal breaker is that Dostal has one of the higher ceilings of this draft class. That alone should fuel a lot of interest come draft time.

You can read a direct comparison of Dostal and fellow Czech Jakub Skarek by clicking here.

#4 – Alexis Gravel

Asbestos, Quebec – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) – GP: 39 – SV%: .890

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Alexis Gravel (pronounced gra-VELL) may have seen a dip in playing time this season for the Halifax Mooseheads, but it was still a positive year in terms of development for the young goaltender. Splitting time with the much older Blade Mann-Dixon, Gravel ended up taking the reigns during the playoffs and did not disappoint. His regular season save percentage took a hit at .890, but his .917 in 8 playoff games restored a lot of faith in a goalie that was once seen as the consensus number one North American in this age group.

Gravel’s bread and butter is his ability to stay patient on his feet. He very rarely gives up his edges, even on odd-man rushes or back door plays where other goaltenders may sell out completely. Sticking to that game plan may be what decides his fate as a pro goaltender. If he gives up that patience because of a lack of confidence in his skating ability, he will begin to struggle when he makes the jump to the next level.

There has been some level of disdain expressed for his ability to move around the crease, but the system that he plays doesn’t necessarily require a ton of movement. It gives his game a bit of a rigid look, which a handful of scouts aren’t very keen on. Generally, that rigidity tends to clear up over time. His balance issues are a bit concerning, which could turn some teams off, but with the type of build that he has at such a young age, it could just be a case of a youngster who is taking a bit of time adjusting to his size.

As an 18-year-old who is still learning that game, it will take many more reps and even more game experience to become the smooth and refined goaltender that we are used to seeing in the pros. As long as he sticks to the structure that he has in place, with his size and ability to stay on top of pucks, Gravel is a fairly safe bet to keep trending upward. Olivier Rodrigue is likely to be the first Canadian goaltender taken off the board, but don’t be surprised to see Gravel right there behind him as number two.

#5 – Amir Miftakhov

Kazan, Russia – Irbis Kazan (MHL) – GP: 26 – SV%: .934

It seems like every year, at least in recent memory, there is one goaltender in each draft that gets overlooked due to size concerns. The 6 foot tall Amir Miftakhov is that goalie in a lot of minds this year. This goalie absolutely tore up the MHL in the regular season last year for Kazan’s junior club, but unfortunately hit a bit of a road block in the playoffs.

For any smaller goaltender to be successful, most will tell you that skating is the most important aspect of their game. Miftakhov certainly has that going for him, but where he falters is his ability to use his skating to his advantage. He likes to drop into the butterfly early on pass attempts, which, as a result, takes his edges off the ice and reduces the impact of his greatest asset. He is also hindered by excess movement, mainly in his upper body, which results in a lot of counter-rotating. That makes his job more difficult than it has to be.

Miftakhov also is not as refined technically as some of the other goalies available in this year’s draft. His issues with balance and over-rotating make it difficult to achieve a truly tight seal when attempting to pre-set in reverse-VH on the post. This also affects his movement coming off the post, which seems like it should be more explosive than it is because of how good of a skater he is. This could just be a case of a young goalie that needs to be exposed to a wider variety of coaching options and experiences, or he could have a slower learning curve than other goaltenders of his age.

So why are so many people high on Miftakhov? The reason is that a lot of his issues are correctable. He excels in the “intangible” areas that are more difficult to train, like his previously mentioned skating ability, but also his tracking. Yes, his issues are noteworthy, but they aren’t part of the major red flags that you look for in a young goaltender. He has natural ability. One guarantee is that there will be some heavy coaching necessary to ensure his success at the next level. Combine that with the general uncertainty surrounding Russian hockey players, and his less-than-desirable frame – Miftakhov could be a talent that slips later in the draft than he probably should.

6. Olof Lindbom – Djurgårdens IF J20 (SuperElit)
About as “new school” technical as a goaltender can come. Anticipates well and has shown the ability to read plays at the junior level, but will that carry over? A lack of overall explosiveness and balance issues could cause him to slip.

7. Kevin Mandolese – Cape Breton (QMJHL)
Isn’t nearly as fast as some of the other goalies in the prospect pool this year, but has the frame that many teams crave. Patience on his edges is his other best attribute which works well with his size. Puckhandling can be an adventure.

8. Keegan Karki – Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
An absolute tank at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. The North Dakota commit isn’t as conservative in the crease as you’d think, and isn’t shy about making aggressive movements. Above average post integration helps him seal off nicely on bad-angle shots.

9. David Tendeck – Vancouver Giants (WHL)
A read-and-react type of goaltender with excellent play-reading ability and superb edgework in the butterfly. Some inconsistent play throughout the season has a few scouts worried, but he has high-end potential. Read more about Tendeck by clicking here.

10. Justus Annunen – Kärpät U20 (Jr. A SM-liiga)
One of the more visually unappealing prospects in this year’s class, in terms of his technical capabilities, but finds a way to stop the puck on most nights. Has tantalizing athleticism – unfortunately putting it all together could take a lot of work.

About The Author

Greg Balloch

Greg Balloch is a Vancouver-based writer for InGoal Magazine, broadcaster for Sportsnet 650, and goaltending coach. His career began in Hamilton, Ontario with the Junior 'A' Hamilton Red Wings, before moving to Vancouver to cover the Canucks on the radio and work with the Surrey Eagles of the BCHL. A lifelong goaltender, he has been teaching the position for over a decade.