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Get to know the top goalies in the 2018 NHL Draft

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There aren’t many household names this year, not unless your household is in Quebec or the Czech Republic.

Canada v Czech Republic: Semifinals - 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images

There were reports from the NHL Scouting Combine, which was the last weekend in May, that the Leafs interviewed several goaltenders.

One thing about the Combine, is that there are no specific tests for goalies, and yet their body shapes and sizes, physical abilities, and necessary skills are dramatically different from skaters. It’s fairly common for a goalie or two to do surprisingly well at the bench press, since the weight lifted is based on body weight. The same holds true for the pull-ups, because there’s often a goalie with a slight frame he can lift more easily than the stronger skaters can haul up their, uh, assets.

To be honest, they’d be better off having a Fortnite tournament to see who has the best hand-eye coordination, grace under pressure, and concentration if they wanted to test goalies.

The Combine isn’t the only place where goalie evaluation is lacking. Last year, when I looked at the 2017 draft class for goaltenders, I covered the general lack of success in drafting for that position.

When it comes to goalies, late round picks pan out more often, and top round choices often never make it. There are only 30 or so starter’s jobs and 35 or so backup positions on any given day. This is a very tough job market to crack.

As usual, what we as fans have to go on is the NHL Central Scouting lists for North American and European goalies, and a couple of publicly available lists that go deep enough to be useful. Drafting a goalie is not usually a thing you do with your first-round pick, not unless he’s a star.

Marc-Andre Fleury was chosen first overall, and Braden Holtby was taken 93rd. Chet Pickard (Calvin’s brother) has the dubious distinction of being the highest ever total bust, but the rate of misses is very high, so it does make sense to spend a pick that will nearly for sure get you an NHL skater on one of those and gamble in later rounds for goalies.

Last year, the top goalie in the draft was Jake Oettinger, and the St. Louis Blues Dallas Stars traded up to get him. They gave their 29th overall and their 70th overall to Chicago to move up to 26th. The next goalie taken was Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen at 54th by the Sabres. The Canucks took the more famous Michael DiPietro at 64th.

Recognizing that development is where you find out what you have in net, goalies taken with picks deep in the draft are often signed right away. Dylan Ferguson, the second last goalie taken last year at 194th overall, has signed an ELC.

This year there are no goalies as famous as Oettinger or DiPietro, or ranked as high. Bob McKenzie’s early consensus list does not have a goalie on it, and it goes to number 80. He lists the goalies separately as:

  1. Jakub Skarek
  2. Alexis Gravel
  3. Olivier Rodrigue
  4. Kevin Mandolese
  5. Lukas Dostal

One and five come from the Czech league, and the middle trio are all in the QMJHL. This is the story of this draft for goalies — Czechs and guys from the Q. There’s only one Finn in the NHL CS top five Europeans.

One question that will never be answered to everyone’s satisfaction is: Does height matter with goalies? Obviously it does in some extreme way, no one five feet tall is going to be an NHL goalie, but once you leave that absurdity behind, how short is too short? And are some goalies too big? Too tall and muscular to move as well as they should?

Frederik Andersen has talked about losing some pounds and focusing on athleticism to improve. Curtis McElhinney would never be an NHL backup if he was smaller. But in both cases, they need a base level of skill and ability that is totally divorced from their body type to succeed.

That said, the Combine shows over and over that top goalies are often long limbed, not just tall. Reach matters. Leg length matters, but what happens if the day dawns when the nets are made wider? Do you want the tallest goalie or the fastest goalie?

NHL Central Scouting Top Five N.A. Goalies

Final Rank Midterm Rank Name Height Weight Team League
Final Rank Midterm Rank Name Height Weight Team League
1 2 RODRIGUE, OLIVIER 6' 1" 159 DRUMMONDVILLE QMJHL
2 4 MANDOLESE, KEVIN 6' 4" 180 CAPE BRETON QMJHL
3 1 GRAVEL, ALEXIS 6' 3" 219 HALIFAX QMJHL
4 11 THIESSEN, MATTHEW 6' 2" 192 STEINBACH MJHL
5 7 KARKI, KEEGAN 6' 4" 216 MUSKEGON USHL

NHL Central Scouting Top Five European Goalies

Final Rank Midterm Rank Name Height Weight Team League
Final Rank Midterm Rank Name Height Weight Team League
1 3 DOSTAL, LUKAS 6' 1" 158 TREBIC CZREP-2
2 1 SKAREK, JAKUB 6' 3" 196 JIHLAVA CZREP
3 2 MIFTAKHOV, AMIR 6' 0" 158 IRBIS KAZAN RUSSIA-JR.
4 5 ANNUNEN, JUSTUS 6' 4" 217 KARPAT JR. FINLAND-JR.
5 4 LINDBOM, OLOF 6' 0" 173 DJURGARDEN JR. SWEDEN-JR.

Unfortunately the NHL hasn’t updated their website yet with Combine numbers, so these heights and weights are out of date, but a quick check of the new numbers shows some small changes in weight only. One note on a man few scouts have likely seen: Amir Miftakhov. He plays for the same club as Vladislav Kara, so it’s very possible Leafs scouts are very, very familiar with him.

We see that NHL CS like Lukas Dostal over Jakub Skarek, unlike McKenzie’s list. This is an interesting difference because Skarek played a mixed season, with 21 games in the top league and 10 in the second level Czech league. He has signed to a team in Finland next year, and the idea that a Czech goalie is going to now get Finnish coaching and bridge what many see as a divide between Russian/Czech style and Finnish style is very interesting. Dostal played his entire season in the second-level Czech league and is returning there next year.

Skarek has more buzz, he’s got a tougher job for next season, and he just makes it onto Future Considerations’ list at 95th. Dostal isn’t there, and yet CS just flipped them on their list.

InGoal Magazine covers these two in a very comprehensive way, and notes a lot of similarities. But the differences could be what’s driving the differences of opinion on them:

Skarek also seems to have the better vision between the two goaltenders. His tracking is generally very good. His skill is especially noticeable when screens are involved, as he battles well for sightlines and has very good hand discipline which allows him to not only stop screen shots – but control rebounds as well. Dostal, on the other hand, still has some work to do in this area.

Skarek is taller, more positionally sound, but Dostal is faster and more aggressive and explosive in his movement.

While InGoal thinks these two could be the top two in the draft, Future Considerations has a very different view.

They have Alexis Gravel at 51st, the top goalie on their list. Jacob Ingham is second at 82nd, and as you can see, he never made McKenzie’s list and CS has him at 13th, although he was third in their midterm ranking. Ingham plays for the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL. At 93rd, Future Considerations has Justus Annunen, out of the goalie factory in Kärpät in the Liiga. The aforementioned Skarek is the last goalie to place on their list.

An interesting point about the formerly high-ranked Ingham is that his fall was matched by the rise in Matthew Thiessen. Thiessen played in the MJHL, and that’s part of the CJHL discussed in this article:

Thiessen is going to the University of Maine next year to play NCAA hockey, and if a defenceman in the CJHL is hard to rate, how about a goalie?

When it comes to N.A. goalies, however, the question seems to be which one of the three from the Q do you like best? As seems to happen with this sort of thing, opinions change just because people react against early consensus with second guessing.

Gravel is falling on many lists, not just the CS list, but it’s not very clear why. One bad reason could be that Olivier Rodrigue’s team went deeper in the playoffs. Many, many people can’t help but judge goalies by their win-loss record. One other reason might be that Gravel is very big at 222 lbs, and there might be a fear he’s too Ben Bishop and not Marc-Andre Fleury enough. After all, whoever is popular and winning right now, is who the right sort of goalie is.

The forecast for this draft is that one of the Czechs or one of the Q trio might go in the second round, but it’s more likely you can wait until round three or later if you want to see many of these goalies drafted. The Leafs have one third round pick at 83, one fourth at 118 and a fifth at 149 as well as two seventh rounders, one of which they got for Jhonas Enroth. Given those options, they could get a good goalie, they could get a bust, but given the necessity to keep trying in order to keep the net full, they should at least try.

For all you goalies are voodoo believers: