clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Leafs draftee Joseph Woll a student of the game, budding young star

New, comments

The Toronto Maple Leafs' 2016 NHL Draft will be remembered for Auston Matthews, but goaltending was its focus.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

When the Leafs moved a 2016 first round pick and 2017 second round pick to acquire the right to Anaheim Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen -- and signed him to a five-year extension worth $25 million -- they made it clear that they needed to improve their depth between the pipes.

Jonathan Bernier was fresh off the worst year of his career, and all three of their top goaltending prospects (Antoine Bibeau, Garret Sparks and Kasimir Kaskisuo) don't project to be starting goalies at the NHL.

"What we've tried to do is stay within the framework, but we're not going to get off course, if there's an opportunity to get better without interrupting that, we're going to do that," Lamoriello said after the first round. "That's what transpired earlier in the week (with Andersen) and for us not to do that we would not be doing what is the right thing for this franchise. We're not going to get off track no matter what."

Andersen didn't mark the end of the search to improve the organization's depth in net, either.

On Saturday, with the first pick of the third round, the Leafs moved to continue to make goaltending their focus when they selected United States National Training Development program goaltender Joseph Woll. And it wasn't as if there weren't other options available. All of Vitalii Abramov, Adam Fox, Cam Dineen, Will Bitten, Frederic Allard, and Luke Green were ranked considerably higher by Future Considerations and were all still on the board.

The Leafs made a choice, one that spoke to the organization's lack of high-end goalie talent but also to their impression of Woll.

Leafs goaltending scout and consultant Brian Daccord, a longtime former pro goaltender and goaltending coach in Europe who also worked as the Boston Bruins' goaltending coach for a couple of years pushed for Woll.

Currently, while working with the Leafs, Daccord runs a goalie training service called Stop It Goaltending. Stop It Goaltending is the official goaltending development company of the NCAA's Hockey East division and has worked to train top NHL goalie Cory Schneider since he was in high school.

"He (Daccord) really loved this kid," Hunter said of Woll, who is committed to Boston College for next season. "We really believe he's on an upwards swing."

Daccord wasn't the only one who has been left with a positive outlook on the young goaltender, though.

Woll, who has spent the last two season with USA Hockey's U17 and U18 programs, has been challenged by some of the NHL's top talent (in practice and in games against USHL and NCAA opponents).

But before that, he was developed by former NHL players-turned St. Louis minor hockey coaches Jeff Brown (father to newly-drafted Ottawa Senators prospect Logan) and Keith Tkachuk (father to Calgary Flames top prospect Matthew). Woll comes from a remarkable born-and-bred St. Louis crop of 2016 draft talent, which saw five players from the same AAA team taken in the first round before he went to the Leafs to start the third.

And there's a familiarity with the Leafs organization, already. Woll's goalie coach, Bruce Racine, spent two years within the Leafs organization in the 90s after being drafted at almost the same spot (58th overall). He runs the Racine Goalie Academy out of St. Louis, and works with the likes of St. Louis Blues goalie prospect Luke Opilka among others.

And he speaks glowingly of Woll, not only as a gifted goaltender but as a person. Racine started working with Woll when he was just eight years old, just after he'd retired from pro hockey. Woll was one of his first students. He has known him for his entire goalie career.

"He's just a wonderful kid," Racine said fondly in a phone interview on the morning after the draft. "He's a first class kid, great family, very respectful."

Racine describes Woll as "very, very passionate" about the position, a student of the game.

"He has always loved goalie and was essentially really easy to coach just because of the passionate he has and the work ethic," Racine, who spent three years in college before a 15-year professional career, said.

He credits Woll's flexibility as what separates him from other high-end goalies.

"He has the ability to make that second and third save that other goalies can't get to just because of his flexibility," Racine said, adding that Woll doesn't sacrifice staying square to pucks positionally to do it.

Hunter also likes the tools Woll has as a big but also athletic goalie.

"He's big, he's 6-3, he's going to a good program to play in Boston and we like him," the Leafs director of player development said. "We think he's athletic and he's very strong mentally."

Racine credits Woll as a true competitor, someone who works as hard as anyone to make saves but also off the ice.

Once, when Racine gave Woll a handout on mental toughness, his mother Shelley came back to tell the longtime goalie coach that Joseph had been keeping it on his bedside table.

"That was when I knew right away on Joseph that this kid definitely understands what it's going to take to get there," Racine remembered.

Racine has no doubt that if Woll gets experience and continues to play games that he'll become an NHL goalie. He believes his experience can help Woll blossom and fill that void that he has at a young age.

"Like he has such a huge upside," he said plainly.

As a coach, Racine places huge emphasis on mobility, flexibility, footwork, and skating.

"That's no. 1, some say to a fault but I don't believe so," he said with a laugh. "I'm very demanding technically. At a young age I want them to recover correctly, even if the play's over I want them to recover correctly. I want them to engrain really good habits."

Woll is a student that, "hung at every word" Racine said.

"He (Woll) would listen, he would want to know why I would want him to do certain things," he said.

Woll was the fifth goalie taken, and ranked fifth by Future Considerations, in the class. He always saw the Leafs as a perfect fit.

"They've got a lot of really good young players and a bright young future and I'm excited to be apart of that," he said. "I'm so excited to be a part of the organization."

Drafted by the OHL's Oshawa Generals in 2014, Woll will instead attend Boston College and hopes to play a lot of games early on in his collegiate career. He describes his game as a blend of an athletic and positional goaltender, someone who can play angles but make a stretch save when he has to.

He's buying in to the hope and the hype too.

"I'm a very passionate kid," Woll said. "I'm going to do everything I possibly can to make the Maple Leafs and hopefully help them win a Stanley Cup."

He points to being under pressure and making big saves as his favourite part of being a goaltender.

His nickname?

"The Brick Woll."

And Racine thinks the Leafs got a wall.

"I'm very proud but man, I'm just so happy for his family and Toronto because I know what a great organization it is and he's a great kid and Toronto got a great player there's no doubt about it," he said. "He's young, but the upside is huge."