After going through some rough years in terms of drafting goalies, Toronto overhauled their goalie department from top to bottom. They changed what they looked for, how they scouted, how they developed and supported their prospects, and how they worked with their NHL goalies as well. After drafting Tuukka Rask in 2005 and James Reimer in 2006, Toronto's draft record for goalies includes:
- Grant Rollheiser (2008)
- Garrett Sparks (2011)
- Antoine Bibeau (2013)
- Joseph Woll (2016)
- Ian Scott (2017)
- Zachary Bouthillier (2018)
- Artur Akthyamov (2020)
- Vyacheslav Peksa (2021)
- Dennis Hildeby (2022)
Jury's still out on the more recent goalies, but you can see they had a real dry spell between 2006 and 2018. They never drafted a goalie in two consecutive drafts, going two years without drafting any at all in two different stretches. And those they did draft were largely misses, often bad misses. Woll has been the best of the bunch, though we do have a "what might have been?" with Ian Scott if his body didn't just completely fall apart after he turned pro.
But you can see a very distinct switch in Kyle Dubas' time here, where they took all North American goalies to suddenly only taking Europeans. There's some logic to that, as I found when I looked at the origins of most NHL goalies. Under conclusion #6, with the sub-heading: "If you want more certainty, draft goalies who played in European pro leagues", I mentioned this:
European goalies are likely very underrated. They account for 67 fewer drafted and undrafted free agent goalies as the major junior leagues in Canada and the USA, but they turned into the exact same number of successes AND elite goalies. Their success rate is simply better. What this is telling me is that there’s roughly an equal amount of good goalies to be had in Europe as there is in North America.
This trend still largely holds. If you want to find undervalued goalies, especially with later round draft picks, you're far more likely to hit on someone if you swing on a European goalie. But that doesn't mean you can't find a good goalie from North America, especially those playing in the NCAA programs. It's just that those goalies tend to be drafted higher, where Toronto hasn't had a lot of higher picks in the Dubas era.
That said, I've made it my annual mission to list all of the goalies that actually interest me as prospects, regardless of their age. If they're eligible for the draft and I think there's something there, I'll include them here.
This year isn't as bad for goalie prospects as last year, but there's no clear-cut "elite" goalie you can't miss either. But there is a group of three to five interesting goalies who seem like they could have #1 starting goalie upside who will all likely be taken between the second and third rounds. One may even sneak into the first round, but I doubt it – this year's draft is too deep among skaters.
My favourite goalie in this year's draft is Fowler. He's a 6'2" goalie that played in the USHL, and is committed to Boston College next year – a program that has churned out Thatcher Demko, Spencer Knight, and Joseph Woll in recent years. Last season he played for the USHL Championship winning Youngstown Phantoms, and he was a big reason why.
Jacob Fowler with the absolute ROBBERY to end the second period! pic.twitter.com/REQJdMwZ6V— Youngstown Phantoms (@YtownPhantoms) January 22, 2023
Fowler was the winner for USHL goalie of the year, after he had a .921 sv% in 40 games during the regular season. He also won the playoff MVP award after posting a .952 sv% in 9 playoff games. He isn't the biggest goalie, which is something a lot of NHL teams want, but he's by no means small either – not even for a goalie. He gets rave reviews for his positioning and quick movements, and I just happen to like goalies who show they can stop pucks at a high level everywhere they play. After doing it in AAA, he's now done it as a USHL rookie, and is off to a top NCAA program that will be getting a trio of top American prospects next season as well.
Fowler wound up at 92nd on Bob McKenzie's final rankings, so he would be available with a trade down.
DENIED by Jacob Fowler pic.twitter.com/OMTG8nFccY— Youngstown Phantoms (@YtownPhantoms) January 29, 2023
While Fowler is my favourite, Michael Hrabal seems to have a very slight edge as the top goalie prospect in this year's draft. He's a 6'8" Czech goalie who also played in the USHL last season, on the Omaha Lancers. They were the second worst team in the league, with a healthy 11 point margin between them and the third worst. Despite that, they were a middle of the pack team for goals against, and Hrabal was likely at least one reason why. Even though he has a worse-looking .908 sv% in 31 games, their other goalie who played in more games had a much worse .895 sv%.
# 2 is Michael Hrabal (Omaha, USHL)— Shaun Richardson (@SDRscouting) April 19, 2023
The 1st thing you notice is size. He's a mountain in the net. He's tough to beat on a shot from distance, especially if he can get to the top of the crease, and in this clip he faces an impromptu 3-on-1 and holds onto the rebound. #2023NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/jMYFpgoBlD
Hrabal is committed to UMass in the NCAA next season, who have churned out Matt Murray (the other one, not the Toronto one), and Jonathan Quick quite a while ago. Hrabal is the scouts' favourite goalie prospect not just because he had a good performance in the USHL on a bad team, but also has had very strong performances for Team Czechia in various international tournaments for the past few years. He gets good reviews for his mechanics and movement, and finished as one of the better prospects in the Aerobic Fitness test duration at the Draft Combine. Plus, he has that whole 6'6" thing going for him.
Hrabal landed at 39th on Bob McKenzie's final rankings, definitely the highest ranked goalie this year and by a pretty healthy margin.
Augustine is the guy who may be competing with Fowler for top American goalie out of this draft. He's a bit smaller than Fowler at 6'1", but he has been the top goalie on the US NTDP team – and therefore their #1 goalie for most of Team USA's international tournaments. He had a .927 sv% in 47 games between the USHL, and the US NTDP program games. He had a .934 sv% in 6 games to help the USA win gold at the World U18s. He even wound up being Team USA's main goalie at the World Juniors despite being a 17 year old.
# 3 is Trey Augustine (USNTDP U18)— Shaun Richardson (@SDRscouting) April 19, 2023
This guy is athletic, reads the attack extremely well and will aggressively challenge the shooter. In this clip he telescopes beyond the top of the crease and shows a great deal of patience and terrific glove placement. #2023NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/kTsqCEFIqE
Augustine is committed to join Michigan State University in the NCAA next season, a program which has not had an NHL goalie come through their doors since Ryan Miller. Augustine gets good marks from goalie scouts for being very technically sound, both in terms of his skating but also in terms of his body positioning and mechanics. Like I said about Fowler, I like goalies that simply stop pucks a lot wherever they go – and that is as true about Augustine as it is about Fowler.
Augustine was 63rd on Bob's final rankings, just behind but in the same range as the two goalies below...
Bjarnason is the top Canadian goalie in this year's draft, by a pretty large margin I'd say – Canada hasn't had great success with their goalie prospects in a while. He's 6'3" and change according to the Draft Combine measurements, so he has some of the size that NHL teams like. He played on Brandon in the WHL, who were a bottom five team in the league and missed the playoffs. Like Hrabal, Bjarnason may be a reason why despite their overall record, they were a middle of the pack team for goals against instead of terrible.
He was Canada's main goalie at the World U18s, which was a pretty bad team compared to what they could normally ice since most of their top prospects were competing in the CHL and NCAA playoffs. They were mostly carried by their offense, but had real poor defense and Bjarnason had an .849 sv% in six games. The bet on Bjarnason is that his size combined with his good positioning will make him better than his numbers would indicate. But there's a not so great track record for CHL goalie prospects, especially Canadian ones, in recent years. So it will be interesting to see how he develops over the next couple of years. Bjarnason was ranked 59th on McKenzie's final rankings, which... is probably too early for me. I'm just scared of Canadian goalies in the CHL.
Gajan is a D+1 overager from Slovakia, and he exploded onto the draft scene this year after stealing the show at the World Juniors. He led all goalies in terms of (manually tracked) saves above expected for Slovakia, putting up a .936 sv% in four games. He got a small taste of the USHL with a .906 sv% in just six games, and largely played in the NAHL – one of the bigger junior A leagues in the States – where he had a .917 sv% in 34 games. Gajan is committed to join Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA next year, which Maple Leafs fans may remember as the school that Leafs Legend Kasimir Kaskisuo played for. Their other alumni include Alex Stalock, and... that's it for the past few decades.
Gajan is a 6'3" goalie so he has some size, and it works well with his raw athleticism and flexibility. He's quick on his feet, but can be aggressive with how quick he moves and can get caught out of position a bit. When he's on, he can look unbeatable, and as he refines his game he may gain a measure of control so he's not just pure chaos when he's not on his game. Between Gajan and the above four goalie prospects, they are the clear top 5 for goalies in this draft from what I can tell. Everyone else are just the occasional scout's favourites for one reason or another. None of them are likely to fall to the later rounds, so if you want one of them you'd better hope Toronto trades down from 28 or gets some other middle round pick another way. He landed at 60th on McKenzie's final rankings.
Suchánek is one of my favourites from the past couple of drafts. He's another Czech goalie that's only 6'0", and his numbers don't leap out from the page at you at first glance. But he's played on a bad Tri-City team in the WHL the past two seasons, who got better this year mainly through offense and Suchanek while having terrible, awful, no good defense. Ask me about how overrated I think Dragicevic is as a prospect this year to find out a big reason why that is.
But I've seen Suchanek stand on his head, including this year for Czechia in various international tournaments. He was their main goalie at the World Juniors where he helped lead the Czechs to a silver medal loss against Canada, putting up a .934 sv% in 7 games. He had a .924 sv% in another 8 games for various other small tournaments and games for Czechia. In the WHL, he's had a .912 sv% in 46 games this year and a .901 sv% in 42 games last year – both as an overager. But he also faced some of the highest shot volumes in the league for each of the past two seasons, and they weren't all floaters from the point. He'd be a late round goalie I'd swing on, if any.
Zavragin is a goalie that got on my radar last year, when he was just 16 years old. While researching goalies playing in Russia, he kept coming up as one of the best goalies in the MHL by save percentage (.930 in 30 games) despite being the youngest of all the other leaders. He also has an August 23rd birthday, making him one of the youngest (maybe the youngest) goalie prospects in this year's draft. This year, his save percentage dropped a bit (.920 in 21 games) but was still very good for a draft eligible goalie.
Zavragin is 6'2", so about an average size for a goalie for the NHL's standards. He gets good reviews for his athleticism and movement, plus good puck tracking and anticipation. He's not getting a lot of draft hype despite his age and numbers, maybe because of the extra caution around Russia, maybe because of the dip in his numbers, maybe because the MHL is generally under scouted already, or maybe a mix of all three! It's a testament to the latter point that I cannot find a single posted highlight or clip of him online, at all. I've just watched his MHL games and highlights to get a feel for him – as much as I can with goalies anyway. If there really is no interest in him, I'd be interested in using a late round swing on him. You'd have him parked and developing in Russia for a few years at least, making him an interesting long term project.
As far as I can tell, Damian Clara is Dennis Hildeby's Italian cousin. They're both 6'6" goalies and came through the Färjestad junior program. Clara played in the Austrian league before this season, and has played for Team Italy at various lower division World Junior tournaments. And in 2021, as a 15 year old, he became the youngest goalie in the history of the World Men's Championship tournament to dress up for his country.
Outside of international play, Clara had a .903 sv% in 35 games for Färjestad's U20 team this year, and a .936 sv% in 2 games in Sweden's second tier pro league – the Allsvenskan – after being loaned to BIK Karlskoga. If Clara's EP page is to be believed, he will be loaned for next season to Brynäs IF in the Allsvenskan league, where he may be getting more playing time in a more difficult league than Sweden's junior league.
But Clara isn't just a big goalie. He gets strong reviews from scouts for his quick movements and skating ability despite his size, plus good mechanics and reads of the play. By the sounds of it, Clara will likely be drafted this year but not as high as the first five mentioned above. If he is chosen, he will be the first ever Italian born player to be drafted to the NHL. He landed at 83rd on McKenzie's final ranking, so he is almost assuredly going to be taken by someone and it will be a great story.
I'm going to throw in a real dark horse, who I am guessing will not at all be drafted this year but is someone I want to track beyond this season after Will Scouch pointed him out to me. Johnny Hicks is a 5'11" goalie, so quite small for NHL standards, but he is also very young – he has a September 11th birthday, so you can maybe hope he still has a mini-growth spurt in him to bring him to maybe average.
So here's why he's interesting. Hicks plays in the BCHL, which admittedly is not a great league in general and isn't really a feeder league to the NHL. Hicks was the 1A goalie on arguably the worst team in the league. I say arguably because they did not have the worst record, only the second worst – but they had the worst goal differential by around 60 goals.
The 1B goalie behind Hicks played only three fewer games (24), but his sv% was significantly worse. Hicks finished 9th in the league with a .917 sv%, while their main backup had an .858 sv%... and a 6.70 goals against average. Hicks for his part had a 3.53 GAA. Do you know how many shots you have to face to be a top 10 goalie with a respectable sv% and still allow 3.5 goals per game? 40, if you round up. That's the average amount of shots per game he faced.
But it's something that Hicks is used to. Just for fun, I noticed that he had a season in high school where he had an .898 sv% but a GAA of 6.42. If you do the math, that's about 64 shots per game he faced. He's just always played on awful teams but done well in spite of it. I am guessing he will return to the BCHL next year, and hopefully he plays on a better team. I suspect he might (no guarantee) go the NCAA route if he gets the opportunity. Improving on last season and maybe growing an inch or two may put him on some NCAA schools' radars, and maybe on NHL team's radars for future drafts.
Thanks for reading!
I put a lot of work into my prospect articles here, both for the draft and Toronto's prospects. I do it as a fun hobby for me, and I'd probably do it in some capacity even if PPP completely ceased to exist. But if you like reading my work, some support would go a long way! I pay for a few streaming services (CHL, some NCAA, some USHL, the occasional TSN options for international tournaments that are broadcast) to be able to reliably watch these prospects in good quality streams. I also pay for some prospect-specific resources, such as tracking data and scouting reports from outlets like Elite Prospects, Future Considerations, McKeen's Hockey, and The Athletic.
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