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Dennis Hildeby turns 22 before we name the top 15 in the T25 this year. On August 19, to be exact. Joe Woll, born in July, turned 22 in the middle of the pandemic, and in the version of the T25 we did in that summer of 2020, Woll was tied with the other goalie prospect Ian Scott just outside the top 25. He'd done better in the prior year, but a dreadful first season on the Marlies cooled all enthusiasm for him.
Hildeby is about to embark on his first Marlies season and is starting out a year behind Woll's trajectory.
|Age as of July 1
Woll came to the Marlies from Boston College, Hildeby as a just-drafted overage player from Färjestad in the SHL, so he already has pro hockey experience. He actually played the full season in Sweden last year, and appeared in one playoff game before joining the Marlies, where he played three games in total. His 11 minutes of playoff shutout where he faced two shots is the only memorable AHL moment so far.
Hildeby was drafted out of junior hockey in Sweden. While he played seven games for Färjestad's SHL team, he'd spent the bulk of his season on their junior team, where he had lovely numbers, and was obviously very good in his last year of eligibility at that age.
Overlooked in multiple drafts prior, he was a good use of a late-round pick, but the difference in early career between him and Woll is marked. Woll, part of the UNTDP and a member of Team USA since the U17 team in 2015, was on everyone's radar as a prospect, and Hildeby never was.
And, frankly, short of that one junior season pre-draft, there's nothing in his record to argue against his invisibility to the Swedish National teams or to anyone else. If he hadn't been drafted by the Leafs, it's hard to imagine there'd be a clamour to sign him as a free agent.
He is six-foot-six all day long, though.
His full SHL season post-draft showed good results, but is hard to draw conclusions from. He was not his team's starter and played only one playoff game. Färjestad chose Canadian Matt Tomkins, a drafted player who was never signed and had played in Sweden the year before, to be the starter. He played most of the regular season and all but the one playoff game. Tampa signed Tomkins, now 29, to play in the AHL for them this year.
Hildeby's results in all-situations save % were a small amount better than Tomkins' were, but in only 21 games. To contextualize the role of an SHL starter, Jhonas Enroth was 11th in save % at age 34. The stars in the league are usually goalies who failed to even get an NHL backup job and another name some might remember as not enough for the NHL – Mantas Armalis – was tops in the league as well.
Färjestad were expecting Hildeby to become their starter, and have been scrambling since he left them to replace him in their system. He was their prospect they had poached from Timrå, and were developing, and even they didn't think he had starter-level ability in the SHL last season. That casts a shadow on that save %, even if two goalies getting nearly identical numbers on the same team didn't already make you pause before crediting the goalie for the results. All European pro experience is not equal, and that's more true for goalies than for skaters.
His small trial on the Marlies means nothing, and it will be the next couple of years of his play that will really tell the tale, but there's nothing in his history that says this is a guy who is even a lock for an AHL job, far less anything more in the future. I will be very surprised if he's the best goalie on the Marlies. I'll be fairly surprised if he even plays on the Marlies all year.
I didn't rank him, and I didn't because I don't see anything to pin any hopes on beyond how tall he is. As many have said, it's hard to measure goalie prospects against skaters. But within just the goalies, he's very far removed from the experienced pro Akhtyamov, who we learned about yesterday, and who deserves to be ranked over Hildeby by a considerable margin. Hildeby's record doesn't even touch Vyacheslav Peksa's, a goalie a year younger, who already has an excellent pro season behind him.
You have to pin a lot of your hope for Hildeby on a belief he's a late-bloomer and an exception to the usual run of SHL goalies. Uncertainty can't always be the reason to believe in every prospect, and I don't believe in this one much at all.
Other opinions on Hildeby are much more positive than mine:
Brian: He’s in that awkward spot between where he played during his draft years (Sweden) and the real litmus test for prospects… the AHL. Watching him in Sweden, he always looked strong and had the numbers to back it up. Playing as a 1B goalie, he had better numbers and was overall one of the better goalies in the SHL with one of the heavier shot volumes. He has good size, reads, and quickness in the crease, his biggest weaknesses I saw was his high glove and blocker. While you couldn’t beat him down low, he could occasionally get beat high. I’ll be watching his AHL season this year to see if the coaches work with him on that, and if he can run away with the main starter’s job.
dhammm: Of the Leafs' distant goalie prospects, there's two things going for Hildeby to make him the best of the bunch right now: he saw active SHL duty this season and he's come over to the AHL, bringing him one step closer to someday contributing at the NHL level.
Zone Entry: Hildeby actually wound up being #11 on my list, partly due to all the goalies benefiting from the “goalies are precious” factor, but also my sense he could genuinely wind up contributing to the Leafs someday, and the fact he’s made his way to the AHL gave him a tie-breaking edge over some other prospects. It looks like there’s a fairly clear path for him to become the Marlies’ 1A during this upcoming season which, though far from guaranteed, would be welcome news for the organization. Plus, “Hildebeast” is such a great nickname.
The Bag: Hildeby is 21 and had one decent SHL season last year, where he put up the 5th best save percentage of goalies with regular-ish starts. He had two not great games with the Marlies. His results are good enough, I think, to warrant a T25 spot—nothing here suggests “definitely can’t play in the NHL” and he has some success in a pro league. Why did I have him so far behind Akhtyamov? Because Hildeby doesn’t appear to have the same history of strong play.
Species: I've been burned ranking goalies so many times. Goalies are very much have that high risk/high return profile that sucks you in and makes you think each win is proof of excellence, but then you have that risk blow up and and each loss is proof of failure. The Leafs goalie prospects always seem to average out to the latter, but I still always rank at least one goalie anyway and slot them somewhere near the end of the list because the prospect of "maybe this time" always keeps my hope alive. I ranked Hildeby at #21 in those terms, but it's like that famous poster in Fox Mulder's office in the X-Files: "I want to believe." I can do that using the magic of how when he stepped into the Marlies net this season it was behind a team in circumstances where they seemed to have simply stopped caring and given up on their coach. I did like what I saw when he played, even though that was very little because he came over to Toronto from Sweden so late in the season, but I do think he performed well given the circumstances. Maybe that's a bit too much "wanting to believe" that our very tall Swedish goalie will succeed, but that being said I still ranked 20 players above him in this list.
I always hedge my bets on goalies.
Your turn to weigh in on the big goalie from Sweden. Did you rank him and where did you have him on your list of just the goalies?
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