The Player

Joseph Woll, drafted in the Auston Matthews draft, was the first of the goalies to be added via draft to the team as the new Maple Leafs management took over. Prior to 2016, goalies were infrequently chosen by the Leafs, and the recognition by the new management that they had to look deep into the future and plan to have quality goaltending prospects in numbers was one of the signs the Leafs were becoming a professionally run organization with an eye to long-term outcomes. By drafting three goalie prospects over the next three years, the team recognized that scouting goalies as teenagers is difficult, so you can’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Top 25 Under 25: Ian Scott has a breakout season and makes the list at #17

Woll, still in the US National Team program when he was drafted, went on to do three years at Boston College. He’s serious about school, and he said in the spring that he almost has enough courses completed for his degree. He was signed to an ELC at that time, a move that instantly burned a year of his contract. That contract will not slide if he’s in the minors (he’s too old), so he will be up for an extension in two years, one pro season short of arbitration rights.

For Team USA, Woll had an excellent three-game performance in the U18 WJC, another excellent two-game performance at his first WJC, and a very poor performance as one of a tandem of starters in five games at his second WJC in 2018.

His Boston College results have been consistent year-to-year, with no big signs of change. Given that, it’s perhaps surprising that he not only went from unranked to #16, but he passed Ian Scott in the voting too.

The Votes - Joseph Woll

Average rank18.75
Lowest Rank24
Highest Rank14
Spread in Rank10
Total Votes16

What Changed?

Last summer, I wrote The case for Ian Scott and Joseph Woll because neither was ranked in the Top 25, although both got a few votes. The consensus of the rankers that summer was that they both just fell off the bottom of the top 25. The rankers this year nearly unanimously ranked both over 25, most well over.

Woll’s season

Last summer I noted this:

In [his] most recent season, Woll was 29th by save percentage in the NCAA, with only four goalies ahead of him who played less than 15 games.

Woll’s final season in the NCAA with Boston College was little different from the two that came before it when judged by the broad strokes of all-situations save percentage. He played 34, 30 and 37 games in his three years there and had a save percentage of .913, .915 and .919. He was 28th in the NCAA in save percentage last year, and only moves up a few spots if you remove goalies who played fewer than half the games available. So exactly the same relative to his peers and the previous year.

His team got into their conference championship game, which they lost, a result the same as 2017 and an improvement over 2018, where they lost in the semifinal. Woll never played in the Frozen Four.

There’s absolutely nothing about his most recent results that says he’s better than we all thought he was a year ago. The most you can say is that he’s one year removed from a fairly disappointing WJC appearance in 2018.

Vacancy Rate

One thing I talked about last summer was the low vacancy rate in the NHL for goalies.

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.

One year on, Rittich is establishing himself in Calgary with 45 games played, and Subban spluttered a little in Vegas getting in 21 games. But the vacancy rate is so dependant on injuries and random chance that sometimes a year comes along like last season and we had:

  • Casey DeSmith played 36 games for the Penguins after 14 the year before
  • Alexandar Georgiyev (Leafs killer, extraordinaire) played 33 games for the Rangers
  • Carter Hart played 31 games for the Flyers as a total rookie
  • Jack Campbell (who had once been written off as a bust) played 31 games for the Kings
  • Pheonix Copley played 27 games for the Capitals/

Anything less than that, and you get into new guy as a backup playing very limited games, such as Garret Sparks.

Of course, I left out one name. One rookie goalie played 32 NHL games last season, and then he played 26 playoff games and strolled off with the Stanley Cup.

I think the Jordan Binnington effect might explain a little of the sudden rise in Woll’s ranking, and maybe it should be. Maybe playing goalies in the NHL younger is better, but you need to recognize that this is easier for rebuilding teams than it is for someone trying to contend.

But just because a young rookie could be Binnington, doesn’t mean he is or that finding a path to the NHL as a goalie is suddenly easy.

Signing that ELC

Of course, both Woll and Scott signed ELCs and that stamp of approval from the Leafs adds to their perceived value. And it’s not like we think the Leafs are stupid, on the contrary, generally we all think Dubas is a smart guy, so seeing some lustre added by these ELCs is reasonable.

Woll was also brought onto the Leafs roster after his signing last spring, although he never  played. He got in practices with the Leafs, watched some playoff games in the press box in Boston where he was finishing up college, and has been given the usual sort of PR treatment the team bestows on their serious prospects.

The assumption going into the coming season, as reported by Kristen Shilton and others, is that one of Woll and Scott will start for the Marlies and the other will start for the Growlers. The logical way that should work out is the older Woll will get the Marlies gig, but that will be determined in training camp, so beware assuming in advance.

The Marlies have some other goalies, but none of them are serious prospects, so they are on the roster to deal with the schedule that includes a lot of three games in three days in the AHL. Look for both of Woll and Scott to start in excess of 30 games on whatever team they end up helming.

The prospect pool is shrinking

Some rankers might simply be expressing more pessimism about the rest of the bottom half of the Leafs prospect pool by moving these two goalies up. That doesn’t really explain though, why the one with the really good year is behind and Woll is ahead for most people:

Fulemin: I ranked Woll because he was too good not to rank him. I ranked him above Scott because everyone else was doing it.

Brigstew: He had a pretty great season last year, he improved his stats for the third straight year despite his team being worse (or so I recall reading). The Leafs seem to have earmarked him ahead of Scott on the goalie depth chart at least so far, so with the nothing I know about comparing goalies between the NCAA and WHL that’s what has convinced me to rank him ahead of Scott.

Daniel: The Leafs have two very promising goalie prospects, I just like Scott ever so slightly more than Woll. Woll has been tremendously consistent though in his NCAA career, with his SV% climbing each year but almost imperceptibly. He had a tremendous finish to his 17-18 season that seemed like it might point to a huge leap coming, but didn’t follow that up in 18-19, only edging up to a good-but-not-great .919 SV% for the year. Doesn’t have the upside I think Scott has, but is still a quality prospect for a team in need of goaltending depth.

Imaginary time travel

This ranking stuff would be much easier if those two minor league seasons for Woll and Scott had already happened. So let’s pretend it’s next year, and the results are in the books.

First let’s imagine that Woll’s season is an abject failure. We’ll write an article sometime next summer after the Marlies season is over discussing the Woll disaster:

What was supposed to be his first big step in the pro leagues went horribly wrong for Joe Woll. He took the starter’s chair on the Marlies out of camp, but a slow start and a ballooning goals against led coach Sheldon Keefe to keep returning to Kasimir Kaskisuo and Michael Hutchinson to take more starts.

Meanwhile, in St. John’s, Ian Scott was handling the easier job of helming the Growlers with little difficulty. A switch seemed inevitable, and when it finally happened a lot later than most of us wanted, the hoped for improvement in Woll’s results didn’t materialize in the ECHL. Much as been made about the youth and inexperience of the Marlies defence corps impacting Woll’s results, but once on the Growlers, full of ECHL veterans, nothing got better. Defender quality seems like an excuse now, not an explanation.

Woll isn’t even 22 yet, however, and after an NCAA career marked by total consistency, one bad season might be more of a lesson than a dire sign of things to come. Write it off and get ready for next year.

Or what if his season is great?

Joseph Woll backstopped the Marlies to one of their best seasons ever. The oddball mix of young defence and veteran forwards and a rookie starter turned the Marlies back into a playoff contender and a really tough team to beat.

While it’s true that Woll had two first-round picks playing defence in front of him, we should remember he’s older than both of them, so it’s not fair to claim it was all the Sandin and Liljegren show. The Marlies were helped along noticeably by the breakout pro season of power forward Justin Brazeau, but it was the work of Woll that won them the first round of the playoffs.

It pays to remember though, that the last jaw-dropping Marlies season in net belonged to Garret Sparks, so the AHL isn’t the NHL, and Woll has a lot to prove yet.

Obviously which of those futures occurs, or more properly, which version of the unexamined middle between those extremes occurs, will influence our rankings next year to a large degree. The first one would likely drop Woll right out of the top 25, and the second would shoot him up to the top 10.

Anyone who tells you which is going to happen for sure is guessing, as are we all, and in the aggregate this year, we guessed Woll will land about in the middle of those two possible futures. I’m a pessimist who sees him closer to the first than the second (and Scott as well), but enough of our voters were more optimistic, that it’s possible we got the exactly correct ranking through the miracle of averaging.

Which thing is true?

Last year’s ranking was wrong, and this year’s is a correction.221
Last year’s ranking was right, and this year’s is overly optimistic.97
Both rankings are too high.67
Both rankings are too low.33