Recent history of the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltending has made one topic very common in our conversations; goaltending and save percentage. At this point, we have pretty well-defined what level of goaltending is required to be considered a competent NHL goaltender, how to correct for fluctuations over time to understand the true talent level of a goaltender, and what sort of progression you would need through the minor leagues. We could probably teach a master class on goaltending statistical analysis.
With limited opportunities to sign a marquee goaltender through free agency, with post-traumatic stress disorder from the last times the Lefas tried to trade for goaltending, and with a long development curve needed for virtually all goaltenders drafted today, the Leafs have taken to acquiring highly rated free agents from Europe and the NCAA to plug them in to the system towards the end of their developmental system. In just over a calendar year the team acquired Jonas Gustavsson, Jussi Rynnas and Ben Scrivens, to varying degrees of success.
Leaf fans now understand that good goalies can be found via this method, but the lack of significant development time (all three goalies above were acquired at or around the age of 24/25) the chances of finding a goalie with enough time to develop into a key player is low.
Last summer the Leafs acquired yet another young goalie via this method. On the surface the transaction was no different than the others that preceded it. But halfway through his rookie season in North America, Mark ("Awful Nickname") Owuya has been able to match or exceed the combined ECHL/AHL stats that got us excited about Ben Scrivens last year, with a key caveat that Owuya is three years younger at the age of 22.
With that extra time to develop, Owuya is our pick at #18 on the list of the Top 25 Under 25.
Owuya was signed by the Maple Leafs this past summer after his strong season for Djurgarden of the SEL, where he posted a 2.18 GAA and a .926 SV% in 32 games. Those numbers were comparable to what Jonas Gustavsson posted for Farjestad prior to his signing with the Leafs (1.96 GAA & .931 SV%). However, Gus was 24 years old; Owuya was 21.
Owuya agreed to sign with Toronto despite knowing he would likely start the year as the fifth goaltender on the depth chart. But for the second summer in a row, a top free agent prospect accepted that risk in order to get the opportunity to work on a frequent basis with the best goaltending coach in the world in Francois Allaire.
In his first professional season in North America Owuya has split the year between the Reading Royals of the ECHL and the Toronto Marlies of the AHL, similar to Scrivens role last year. In 12 games in the ECHL Owuya has posted a 2.78 GAA and a .929 SV% and in 11 games in the AHL a 1.97 GAA and a .932 SV%, both good enough to be among the league leaders. They compare quite favourably to Scrivens' stats from last season, where he posted a 2.23 GAA and a .938 SV% in 34 ECHL games and a 2.33 GAA and a .924 SV% in 13 AHL games. Again the numbers are more impressive when considering that Scrivens was 24 years of age when posting those numbers and Owuya is currently 22.
Owuya pretty much fits the mold of an Allaire goalie; big at 6'2" and 198 lbs and with strong lateral movement, primarily a blocking goalie who plays a butterfly style, somewhat susceptible to high shots. Owuya has a strong self-confidence and worries more about stopping pucks than making it look pretty, but I guess confidence wold have to be in high supply to pull off a nickname "Mark In Da Park" (and that is the first and last time I will be referring to him by his nickname).
The best thing working in Owuya's favour is his age. At 22 he has the luxury of getting a few years in the Leafs' minor system to refine his game before being expected to push for an NHL job. Gustavsson was thrust into the NHL at 25 when he probably needed some time in the AHL to refine his game. At 25 Scrivens has shown flashes of NHL potential but remains raw. Rynnas turns 25 this spring and continues to need to make improvements in his game. As the youngest of the Leafs five pro goalies right now, Owuya will get the time to solidfy his status as an AHL goalie, and is currently in the process of wrestling the Marlies starting job away from Scrivens and Rynnas.
Owuya lands in our countdown right around his consensus placing, dragged down slightly by two rankings in the high 20s.