Photo Courtesy of TSN
Goalies are Voodoo. Or are they? Scouting goaltenders has always been one of the more difficult tasks in the world of evaluating prospects. It is a position that is furthest from any other in terms of evaluation. The position itself is unique in a game that already requires a unique skill set. While you can easily identify whether a forward or defenseman is a good skater by watching them track up and down the ice a few times, it takes more patience and a keen eye to identify whether a goaltender uses his skating at a high level or not. The movements are smaller, quicker, and often times, away from the puck which is where your eyes naturally follow.
Evaluating and understanding the goaltender position is a difficult task, one that takes experience, practice and deep knowledge of the position. To get a view inside the position, I reached out to former NHL and AHL goaltender Mike McKenna. Currently, a studio analyst for the Vegas Golden Knights, Mike McKenna also hosts of ‘6 Degrees with Mike McKenna’, a podcast where he does wide-ranging and uncensored interviews with a variety of guests from former NHLers including Marty Biron and Ron Tugnutt to IndyCar drivers James Hinchcliffe and Marcus Ericsson. The former professional netminder is slowly building a reputation as one of the best analysts in hockey as well as an excellent personality around the game. Mike was kind enough to give me a bit of his time, answering some of the questions that I have had or that have been asked of me.
Tony Ferrari: There’s a common phrase that people use when trying to evaluate goaltenders, “Goalies are Voodoo”. Do you think that’s true and if so, to what extent?
Mike McKenna: It depends on the age, but also on the experience of the person evaluating the goaltender. If you’re trying to predict the future of a 14-year old goalie, yes it’s very difficult, but that can be said for any hockey player, regardless of position. An 18-year old goaltender is relatively mature and should be easier to evaluate. But there’s the problem: most scouts aren’t goaltenders; they do not possess the positional knowledge to properly make an assessment. They rely on old tropes and cliches to evaluate, and they skew very heavily towards goaltenders on winning teams. If more NHL teams were to have goalie-specific scouts on their staff, I think the results would be much easier to predict. Goalies today aren’t self-taught. They’ve had position-specific training from a young age: by 18, the product is very close to the end of the assembly line.
TF: What is the biggest tool a goalie can have in order to be successful at the professional level?