To kick off the 2015 edition of Pension Plan Puppets' Top 25 Under 25 series, this week we're taking a look at a few players who were rated highly by one individual voter, but who didn't receive enough votes to make the final top 25 list. Yesterday, Clark Aitken explained why he thought Antoine Bibeau was under-rated by the other voters. Today, I'm here to talk about another goalie in the Leafs system: Garret Sparks.
I had Sparks rated 17th among young Leafs, tied for the highest vote that any goalie received (Clark also rated Bibeau 17th). Only three other voters included Sparks in their ranking at all, all in the 20s, so I'm clearly the outlier.
I think there's a reticence around here to rate goalies highly on this list because projecting their development is so much more difficult than any other position. In general I share that opinion, which is why the highest rated goalie on my list was behind sixteen other players. That said, I think Garret Sparks has made a pretty good case for himself to be included.
Let's start by comparing the three primary goalies in the Leafs system in each of the leagues they've played in. I've included shots against (SA) to give an idea of how large a sample size we're dealing with for each goalie, as well as their save percentage.
Sparks had by far the best statistics in junior, but that's a bit misleading because save percentages in the QMJHL (where Gibson and Bibeau played) are lower than in the OHL. All three goalies had one or more seasons near the top of their respective junior leagues in SV%. I'm a bit more skeptical of Gibson's numbers because his overall CHL SV% is raised by one outlier season, while the other two were more consistent.
The next level up is ECHL, where only Sparks played more than a handful of games. His numbers there are off-the-charts good, however.
Then there's the AHL. Gibson has faced more shots in the AHL and has a better SV% than the other two, but Sparks' numbers are also rather good. Bibeau definitely lags here.
While SV% in some form or other remains the best statistical tool we have to evaluate goalies, especially when we have such limited data for leagues like the OHL, it's still a statistic that's subject to heavy variation. While all three goalies faced a fair number of shots in the CHL, none of them has faced very many in any subsequent league, so we should be careful not to read too much into Bibeau's lower AHL SV% or Sparks' numbers in the ECHL.
With all of that said, why do I rank Sparks higher than the other two? Because unlike the other two, he has consistently put up good numbers in every league he's played in. His junior numbers were excellent, his AHL numbers are good, and he was lights-out in the ECHL.
So far, there's no test that's been put in front of Sparks that he hasn't come out on top of. His combined performance across all three levels of play is at a higher and more consistent level than the other goalies in Toronto's system. And that's why I think he's got the best shot of any of them of becoming a reliable NHLer.