It’s critical to have quality netminders – both in real hockey and on your fantasy squad. For those in keeper leagues with large rosters, especially considering position scarcity, it’s wise to stock a promising goalie pool before prices skyrocket as prospects approach potential NHL starter gigs.
I’ve been paying lots of attention lately to the Blue Jackets while writing their prospect profiles, and Columbus’ backstop org chart is superb. From Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky to recent draftees and free agent signees they are supremely stacked. Are they the deepest NHL organization in goal? Let’s examine a few candidates.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Jackets have 2017’s decorated-as-best NHL goalie. Their number two is Joonas Korpisalo who, while maybe not the league’s top backup has a decent resume punctuated by his 16-11-4, 2.60, .920 campaign as a 21-year-old replacing Bobrovsky and his balky groin (as well as then primary backup Curtis McElhinney) during Columbus’ downtrodden 2015-16. Last year was dicier for him including long inactive stretches with Bob working 63 games. “Korp” got in just 14 NHL contests as second in command for the year’s final months with a 7-5-1, 2.88, .905 line.
Outside the NHL, their Latvian duo of Elvis Merzlikins and Matiss Kivlenieks, both from Riga, are studs. Elvis may have the highest ceiling of any emerging Blue Jacket goalie prospect. His recent work at the 2017 IIHF World Championships was stellar (.937 SV% in six contests) and he earned the 2016 Jacques Plante Trophy as Swiss National League A top goalie, adding a 2.32 goals against average and .937 save percentage during HC Lugano’s 15-game postseason run to the Finals.
Kivlenieks’ 2016-17 campaign was perhaps the USHL’s all-time greatest in net. At 20-years-old and a league rookie, he was named USHL Player and Goaltender of the Year leading the league in wins (with a 36-7-4-2 record), GAA (1.85), and SV% (.935) His year’s goals-against and save percentage were both second-best for a single campaign in USHL history. Playing 49 games in a 60-game USHL regular schedule, he led the Sioux City Musketeers to the Anderson Cup (USHL version of the Presidents Trophy) with a league-high 87 points. He was also named Best Goaltender at the 2015 and 2016 Division I Group A World Junior Championships leading Latvia to the bronze in 2015 with a 1.75 GAA and .928 SV% and the gold in 2016 finishing first in GAA (1.71) and SV% (.941).
But wait, there’s more. Third round 2017 draft selection Danill Tarasov emerged from 2015-16 as one of the world’s top goalie prospects yet developed a tumor in his shin, the recovery of which forced him to miss 2016-17. He should be back to begin the 2017-18 campaign. Daniil greatly impressed with a 2.11 GAA and .921 save percentage for Team Russia in the 2016 World Junior Championships and with Tolpar Ufa of the Maritime Hockey League, Russia’s juniors, sporting a .918 regular campaign save percentage and a postseason 1.56 goals-against with a .933 SV%.
Last year’s duo of Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth had some good streaks and bad ones. The same can be said for incoming Brian Elliott, who along with Neuvirth will likely serve as a bridge to the club’s deep and skilled group of goalie prospects.
Anthony Stolarz took up the slack briefly with Neuvirth and Mason hurt, and looked far from lost. At 6-06, the 23-year-old covered the net well in seven NHL contests (2-1-1, 2.07, .928). Should Elliott and/or Neuvirth falter, Stolarz is currently next in line to mind the crease. His 48-40-11-3, 2.87, .911 career line in 109 contests is not spectacular but respectable for the AHL. Fellow Flyer prospects Alex Lyon and Carter Hart likely have higher ceilings though and, as injuries forced Stolarz to miss AHL postseason play and offseason training thus far, both may gain ground soon.
Stolarz’ Lehigh Valley Phantom teammate Alex Lyon previously tended net for three Yale campaigns registering a 19-8-4, 1.64, .936 line in 2015-16, his final collegiate year, and was named a Hobey Baker finalist. His first professional work resulted in 27-14-5, 2.74, .912 totals in 47 AHL contests. Lyon’s a composed and mobile competitor with extremely quick reflexes and profiles as an eventual NHL starter. At age 24, he’s got a shot to surpass Stolarz in the pecking order during 2017-18.
The real Philly prize is Carter Hart. As an 18-year-old last year he registered the WHL’s lowest goals against average (1.99) and save percentage (.927) earning his second consecutive Del Wilson Trophy honoring the league’s best goalie. He also played admirably for Team Canada’s silver medal WJC squad last winter, with a 3-1, 2.38, .907 line, losing the championship game in a dramatic shootout to Team USA. He joined Lehigh Valley for their latest postseason run with Stolarz missing due to injury. Depending upon how things develop, the athletic, quick and focused Hart may garner a large role with the Phantoms next year.
Philadelphia’s third-round selection in 2015 Felix Sandstrom had an even more statistically impressive WJCs for Team Sweden with 4-2, 2.17, .915 totals. The 20-year-old earned the tournament’s Best Goaltender Award after his second full Swedish Hockey League campaign backstopping defensively-strong Brynas IF and posting a .908 save percentage and 2.25 goals-against in 22 contests. He’s a fundamentally sound goalie who also has NHL starter upside but will likely stay in Sweden for at least the next few campaigns.
While Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson form one of the lesser-regarded NHL net duos, their roles are likely semi-temporary as the Canucks have two of the top goalie prospects in the game waiting for their chances – Thatcher Demko and Rick DiPietro.
Demko finished his first professional campaign on a tear with a 13-4-0 record, 1.90 goals-against and .933 save percentage for AHL Utica prior to two disastrous games to end the year in which he allowed ten total goals. His overall record was 22-17-4 (with a 2.68 GAA and .907 SV%) under now Canucks’ Head Coach Travis Green. Widely considered the top NHL goalie prospect, the 6-04 Demko moves well in the net covering large amounts of it with quick reflexes. He regularly steps up to meet skaters at the top of the crease when they threaten. While some say otherwise, I’m thinking he’ll get in some NHL action during the second half of this year and strongly contend for the number one job in 2018-19 if not sooner.
At age 18 Michael DiPietro already has some of the fastest reflexes in hockey, which helps him control rebounds and cover the net masterfully. He’s an intense competitor, earning last year’s Memorial Cup Most Outstanding Goaltender Award with a 2.48 goals-against and .917 save percentage in seven Windsor Spitfire postseason contests, following a 30-12-4-2, 2.35 .917 regular campaign. At 6-0, his main knock has been his size, but it hasn’t caused any problems yet. DiPietro is never afraid to challenge skaters at the top of the crease, fight through screens, or position himself with authority in heavy traffic. He has all the skills and seemingly all the intangibles to star in the NHL eventually.
New York Islanders
The Islanders are in a somewhat similar situation as the Canucks. While their top two NHL goalies are considered better than Vancouver’s, neither Thomas Greiss nor Jaraslov Halak rank among the best. They also have two excellent prospects frequently considered among the top-five in the world waiting in the wings with big Swedish backstop Linus Soderstrom and KHL star Ilya Sorokin. Unlike DiPietro and Demko, neither currently plays on North American ice.
Sporting a 6-04, 198-pound frame, large Linus Soderstrom recently completed his first Swedish Hockey League campaign with champs HV71 registering an SHL-best 1.34 GAA and .943 SV% in 22 regular schedule games, and 2.11 GAA, .922 SV% in 16 postseason contests. He even more recently inked a three-year entry-level deal with the Islanders and should wrap up SHL play and make the trek to North America for the 2018-19 campaign.
Ilya Sorokin, 2015-16 KHL Goaltender of the Year with an astounding 1.06 GAA and .953 SV% in 28 contests (adding a 1.32 GAA and .935 SV% in 20 postseason tilts), again starred in 2016-17 with an impressive 1.61 goals-against and .929 save percentage over 39 games. Under contract with CSKA Moscow until 2020, the Islanders likely will not see him on home ice until then, if he decides to come over at all.
With 35-year-old Mike Smith moving north from Arizona and his career clock ticking, and 29-year-old career number two Eddie Lack serving in the same role, the Flames’ prospect trio of Jon Gillies, David Rittich and Tyler Parsons may have chances to move up soon.
GIllies is the closest. A big 6-06, 225-pound NCAA champ and Frozen Four MVP with the 2014-15 Providence Friars, he impressed in his NHL debut last year in a late season tilt defeating the Kings and stopping 27 of 28 shots. With a bit over a year under his belt in the AHL, the 23-year-old Gillies will be the first up to the bigs if needed, and might stick. He’s generally considered Calgary’s near-future starter.
Tyler Parsons is also a fantastic prospect that led Team USA to the gold in the 2017 WJCs, and the London Knights to the Memorial Cup championship in 2016, earning Most Outstanding Goaltender honors for his postseason efforts. The 19-year-old Parsons again excelled with London earning a 2.37 GAA and an OHL-best .925 SV% in 2016-17. He’ll most likely take his game to the AHL Stockton Heat next year with an eye on Calgary.
Under-heralded Czech league stalwart David RIttich spent his first North American campaign last year starring for AHL Stockton with a 15-11-4, 2.27 GAA and .924 SV% in 31 contests. That’s quite a margin over top-prospect Gillies who registered an 18-14-4 record, 2.93 GAA, and .910 SV%. Rittich also earned his first NHL action with a period of play in the last game of the regular schedule, stopping nine of ten shots against San Jose. A definite dark horse considering his high profile prospect competition, but an NHL future isn’t impossible.
Another franchise that is solid in goal starting at the top with Braden Holtby, one of the better backups in the game Phillip Grubauer, top prospect Ilya Samsonov and well-regarded AHL-vet Phoenix Copley.
Samsonov, at age 20 finished his second KHL campaign in 2016-17 with a 2.13 GAA and .936 SV% in 27 contests, including a 1.28 GAA and .949 SV% in three postseason games. With his Metallurg contract expiring after next season, Washington may be able to lure him to North America soon although their system is pretty full at the moment. Likely he’d play in the AHL unless the Caps can fetch a suitable return for Grubauer. He also greatly impressed at this year’s WJCs, leading Team Russia to the bronze with his 2.11 GAA and .930 SV%.
Copley has been a promising prospect for several years, coming over from St. Louis in Kevin Shattenkirk deadline deal. Now 25-years-old, the 6-04, 196-pound native of North Pole, Alaska has mainly toiled in the AHL as a pro with a 58-31-9, 2.42, .919 line over four campaigns. He doesn’t seem targeted for NHL starter duty, but moreso a possible quality number two role at some point.
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