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Top 25 Under 25: The case for Ian Scott and Joseph Woll

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The Leafs two older goalie prospects got one vote each. Why might they be worthy of more consideration?

Prince Albert Raiders v Kelowna Rockets

Neither goalie made our Top 25 Under 25 list, and both only got one vote each, possibly because voters often feel like they want at least one goalie on their list. Is this fair? Or are they being underrated?

Woll and Scott

Joseph Woll was born on July 12, 1998, making him just 20. Ian Scott was born on January 11, 1999, making him 19, but only six months younger than Woll. Scott has played in the WHL as a starter for two years, following one year at age 16 where he played 26 games as the backup. Woll has two years behind him as the uncontested starter at Boston College, after two years on the US National Team Development Program, which plays in a junior league.

The most dramatic difference between these two players is the volume of their workload. Woll, who plays almost all the BC games, has 30-35 starts a year. Scott has 50 a year as a starter in the WHL.

The WHL vs the NCAA

The most touted difference between the NCAA and the WHL is the age of the players, and the assumption is that the older NCAA players provide tougher competition. In the most recent season, the vast majority of the WHL skaters were U20 (20 or younger) players. There is a cap on the number of overage players in the WHL, so this is to be expected. Meanwhile, the NCAA was only about 10 per cent U20 skaters. However, half of the NCAA skaters are U22. So it’s not like the teams are overwhelmed with fourth and fifth year players.

The other thing to consider is an unkind truth. Very few of the older NCAA players are actually all that good. If they were, they’d be in the NHL already. The same is true of the WHL. The number of future NHLers with elite-level, or even very good, offensive games on the ice at any one time is very small.

Variation in skill from one team to the other or from one line to the other can be massive.

Teams in the NCAA have won the Frozen Four with one capable forward line. (Ask Trevor Moore. Oh, and top players in the NCAA might be Trevor Moore.)

The Acadie-Bathurst Titan won the Memorial Cup this year. They had Noah Dobson at number two for points (whenever a defender is that high in points, you need to start asking questions). Number one was the 60th overall pick Antoine Morand, and number three was Jeffrey Truchon-Viel. Qui? you ask. And well you should. He’s a 21 year old who was their captain and is now a member of the San Jose AHL team on an AHL deal.

That’s who plays on the winning team in the CHL. (Oh, and Evan Fitzpatrick, who laid down a .925 save percentage in the playoffs.)

So you’re totally going to compare one goalie to the other across those two very different leagues and say, “Ah-ha! I have discovered who is best.” Try it, if you like, but I’m not sure how you go about it.

If you believe in NHLe as a reasonable broad spectrum comparison of the strength of leagues, the various NCAA divisions and the three CHL leagues are all mixed in the tier below the AHL with very similar multiplication factors. The difference is small enough, that if you take into account that individual cases won’t conform to the average translation factor, you’re forced to admit you’ve got an essential equivalence of quality of competition from one league to the other. The age difference between these two leagues doesn’t really make much difference to goalie evaluation, likely because most of the players in all of these leagues aren’t really very good, but also because small differences in quality of competition also mean small differences in quality of teammates.

The Stats

Which brings me to goals against average. I love this stat. No, really, I do. It has one good use: You go and look at the GAA for your goalie and see where it sits on the league rankings, and now you know why people who are fans of that league feel the way they do about that goalie. It’s an excellent feel stat, and don’t discount those. How coaches feel affects usage, and how players are used affects their results.

What GAA doesn’t tell you is if the goalie is good, bad, indifferent or is an alien using a force field generator to stop pucks.

Obviously, that’s what all-situations save percentage is for. Because, as everyone knows, this is a goalie-only stat and has nothing to do with the team play the way GAA does.

When we’re talking NHL goalies, I will not talk save percentage on its own. But outside of the NHL, where there are no useful things like expected save percentage to compare to actual, one can’t afford to be a snob. You can’t buy good wine in the grocery store, but you can still drink what they do sell.

All-situations save percentage can give us a very broad idea of where the goalie ranks in his own league, and how he does year over year. But we should not throw out all of our NHL-derived knowledge here. You need a large number of minutes to know if what you’re looking at is fluctuating performance or something more like the goalie’s true average save percentage. Scott has decent numbers of games to judge from, albeit only over two years, but Woll does not.

Woll had a .918 all-situations save percentage his last year in the USNTDP, followed by .913 and .915 in the NCAA. He had two good games in the round robin in his first WJC, and as the tandem starter in his second WJC last January, he was one of the worst, if not the worst, regular starter in the tournament with a .886. Anyone can have a crappy five games. Neither set of results is very meaningful, but any characterization that Woll was good in the last WJC is incorrect.

I’m not complaining about Woll’s lack of minutes, the NCAA season is much more rational for young goaltenders than the 50-game seasons Scott has been putting down.

Scott has gone from .892 in his backup year at 16, to .895 and .897 in his two seasons as a starter.

Our Guys vs Their Peers

In their most recent seasons, Woll was 29th by save percentage in the NCAA, with only four goalies ahead of him who played less than 15 games. Scott was 22nd in the WHL with seven goalies ahead of him playing less than 25 games. Sufice it to say, neither of these guys is Colton Point or Carter Hart with their league-leading .944 and .947.

There are over 60 NCAA goalies worse than Woll and over 25 WHL goalies worse than Scott. Or there were last year. If you want to make Woll look better, than look only at U20 goalies in the NCAA, and he rockets up to sixth. He’s still no Colton Point. To make Scott look better, just restrict the list to U19 goalies and he’s suddenly 10th, and the great Hart is gone off the list.

Now here’s a funny thing, Hart led the WHL in GAA, and Point was second in the NCAA. It’s easier to have the sexiest save percentage going on a good team, particularly a defensively gifted team.

Both Scott and Woll have okay GAA stats relative to their leagues, which says their teams are not utterly horrible, but they aren’t great either. And while Woll has had two stints at the WJC, that might say as much about the overall goalie depth in America as it does their relative abilities. Carter Hart — him again — dominated at the WJC, and Scott is a ways from the top ranks of Canadian goalies because of guys like Hart at the top. And let’s be real here, even the most ardent fan of Woll can’t make the claim he’s in Hart’s class right now.

Pick One!

So, who is better, Scott or Woll? That’s a good question.

We’re not here to answer that question, however. We’re here to do something much more difficult. We’re here to figure out if either or both of these goalies likely has a future in hockey bright enough to have deserved more votes than some of the skaters that dominate the T25.

Both players have been given a long look by the Leafs, Woll last summer and Scott this spring where he even got in a game with the Marlies. Neither of these players should be in pro hockey yet. And that’s the single biggest factor limiting anyone voting for them. It’s really hard to judge them from a distance.

You need to have a good scouting report of how they play and how they’ve progressed and what they need to accomplish to progress further to really judge them accurately. Short of that, we’re left with one pretty inescapable fact: neither of them showed progress this season over last.

Last year, I was pretty sure I thought Scott was the better goalie but that neither of them had great chances. I think I based a lot of that opinion on the way they play the game, which could be more my preference for style than a really good differentiation. But the WJC didn’t make me like Woll any more, ignoring the save percentage and going by how he played his games. I’m not sure I can even choose between them now. For whatever reason, Woll has been getting buzz, but maybe that’s because, the one game aside, Scott’s work with the Marlies went largely unremarked upon.

It sure looks like Scott is getting more attention from the Leafs brass, but Woll is strict about not overworking during the offseason, and he’s had some injuries so he’s right to be cautious. He’s also not eligible to play on an ATO with the Marlies.

One way to look at both goalies’ careers so far is that they aren’t elite, it seems, but they are very good in a field that is very small. Neither are at the bottom of any list of U20 goalies, nor the top, but the number of prospect goaltenders their age is not large, even if you toss in the Europeans.

Low Vacancy Rate

But that’s a two-edged sword. In the NHL last year, even with an expansion team on hand with a goalie carousel and lots of injuries, the closest thing to new guys breaking in are Malcolm Subban and David Rittich. They played around 20 games each. The AHL is hard to make as a goalie, with a lot of goaltenders having to do some time in the ECHL first. The NHL is killer.

So relative to all those skaters we all had to vote on, it’s hard to see either Woll or Scott cracking the NHL. Most NHL teams have 40-45 skaters out of 50 SPCs, and there are 2-6 or so NHL gigs going per team for goalies. And most of those NHL contracts will go to players like Kasimir Kaskisuo who don’t look like NHL goalies, but who might play as a backup for a few games somewhere at some point in the future.

The turnover league-wide for goalies is vanishingly small, and the anecdotes abound to tell us that GMs and coaches prefer the devil they know over the new guy, no matter how hot his AHL stats were.

Are They Good Enough?

If you want a reality check: While Frederik Andersen was still in Denmark at 19 and 20, his first SHL season at age 22 led the league for save percentage, and he broke a couple of Henrik Lundqvist’s team records. Or try looking at the goalie rankings in any feeder league 10 years ago and count the NHL starters you see.

So my case for Woll and Scott is that they’re way too young to be sure about, and while they don’t look like top-rank goalie prospects now, they have time to take a leap forward in performance because they are both in the middle tier of goalies their age.

My case for the voters not ranking them is that the probabilities aren’t in their favour even if they do take a leap.

It’s almost unfair to have goalies in this list. And I could make a convincing case to raise the age limit — mostly because goalies often break in to the NHL later than they likely should. But there is some convincing evidence that they don’t actually peak in ability any later than a skater.

For both Woll and Scott, like most prospects of their age, they need to take the big development step you expect for 19 and 20 year olds this season to justify seeing them rise up the ranks next summer.

For now, it’s not wrong to rank either of them, but their case isn’t airtight.