If the NHL has taught us anything about goalies over the past few seasons, it’s that being an NHL number one goalie is tough. You can probably count on one hand, if you are being generous, the number of goalies you know will be bonafide number one’s next year. By that, I mean that their job is totally safe, they will get the lion’s share of their starts and do well in them. Off the top of my head, I’d say Andrei Vasilevskiy, Connor Hellebuyck, Igor Shestyorkin, Philip Grubauer, Carter Hart (yes, I expect him to do well next year) and I’d say you could put Jusse Saros and Tristian Jarry in that category right now. This is not to say that Marc-Andre Fleury, Robin Lehner, Semyon Varlamov, Ilya Sorokin, Tuuka Rask, Jordan Binnington, and Carey Price or not as talented or more than some in that first category but they all have competition in their crease. The average age of the goalies in the first category I named was also 25, NHL GMs are clearly not afraid to throw a goalie the keys early on in their career and NHL goalie prospects are making the leap at a young age.
We’ve seen starting jobs long-held like Carey Price, potentially going the way of Jake Allen for stretches of the season, or Jack Campbell stealing the crease from Freddy Andersen. We’ve also seen goalies fresh off a long-term contract commitment such as Sergei Bobrovsky and Jordan Binnington fall off the wagon at points to open up opportunities for Chris Dreiger, Spencer Knight, and Ville Husso. We see tandems that can go either way such as Alex Nedjelkovic and Petr Mrazek or Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo. We’ve seen cases of creases as crowded as Dallas, where they have Jake Oettinger, Anton Khudobin, and Ben Bishop. Finally, we have the Oprah Winfrey “you get a start” approach in Buffalo, where we have seen starts from Carter Hutton, Linus Ullmark, Dustin Tokarski, Stefanos Lekkas, Philip Houser, and Ukko Pekka Lukkonen. All of this rambling and I haven’t even mentioned the fact that a crease with Ilya Samsonov and Henrik Lundqvist was mostly tended by Vitak Vanicek and most recently Craig Anderson.
All of this goalie uncertainty makes it difficult to approach goaltending in your hockey pool. If you don’t have one of the guys in the first category I mentioned (and really only truly Hellebuyck and Vasilevskiy) it’s hard to feel 100% about your goalie categories. This is why I love goalie categories because it’s a great conundrum: Investing in high-probability goalie prospects is imperative (imagine drafting Vasilevskiy as a prospect) but also very volatile.
No goalie is can’t miss (hello Andrew Raycroft and Rick DiPietro) but with the help of our trusty friend Byron Bader, let’s take a look at the goalies who have yet to appear in the NHL and bode the highest NHL probability to help you try and mine the next Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The way the goalie tool works: “Goalie Equivalency: Save percentage standardized by average save percentage by era multiplied by the league translation. Used as a gauge of how significant the goalie’s current season is towards making the NHL. These numbers won’t mean much to the common eye but they fuel the predictive model”
Let’s start with the top-rated goalie prospect, not in the NHL, the one who is constantly compared to Vasilevskiy despite stylistic differences in their play: Yaroslav Askarov.
I mean, that’s pretty good, right? A lot of people began to doubt Askarov because he was a bit shaky in the World Juniors, which is the largest stage and brings the most casual viewers from a prospect standpoint. The funny thing is, in two World Junior appearances he boasts a better GAA than Vasilevskiy in the tournament, with 2.71 and 2.50 in consecutive years compared to Vasilevskiy’s 3.29. Vasilevskiy carried the better save percentage but both were above .900 so I’ll chalk the GAA up to the teams in front of them and their commitment to defense. The resurgence of 25-year-old Saros this season after a shaky start to the season should slow his roll into the NHL, but Nashville did give Saros 19 starts as a 21-year-old in 2016-2017. Askarov will be 19 in a few weeks and has been a starter in the KHL already, don’t be shocked if he is starting games as early as next season. I wouldn’t expect a full-on take over that quickly but it could happen earlier than some think.
The second highest comes in Edmonton, another Russian. Ilya Konovalov is a 22-year-old and former KHL rookie of the year in 2019-2019. In sports, those who thrive not only have talent but they need opportunity too. Edmonton currently sits down 2-0 in the playoffs so it might be reasonable to think that they will be looking for more of a win now approach but with the way McDavid is going they are a top goalie away. Konovalov could be that answer at a 88% NHL probability. In 19 games for Lokomotiv in the KHL, he went 9-7-2 with a .923 SV%
Slightly lower at 84% resides in San Jose with Alexei Melnichuk, who is (shocker) another Russian. Before I get going here let’s just acknowledge that if Vasilevskiy, Samsonov, or Sorokin don’t work out they own the three highest according to this metric with Askarov, Konovalov, and Melnichuk. I think this is by and large due to the Russian goalie development path requiring starting games from a young age in one of the top leagues in the world against men, which also factors well into this model. However, to succeed in that scenario is no easy task, the Russians clearly dominate the field of goalie development. Back to Melnichuk… he featured a SV% above .900 every season of his KHL career but struggled this season in 17 games for the Barracuda, posting a .868 SV% and .864% in three starts with the Sharks. San Jose’ organization clearly doesn’t put their immediate emphasis on the defense part of the whole “defenceman” they employ, with a track record of Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Ryan Merkley. Still, the numbers are the numbers but I still like his opportunity in San Jose with only Martin Jones and Devan Dubnyk ahead of him.
Finally, we have Ivan Nalimov in Chicago who is of course another Russian. Chicago is at a funny crossroads with Patrick Kane and Alex Debrincat shining, Dylan Strome, and Jonathan Toews hoping for bounce-back seasons next year and then a lot of bright spots like Connor Murphy, Adam Boqvist, and of course Dominik Kubalik. All in all, there are worse teams to play in front of you as a goaltender, the only caveat here being Kevin Lankinen. Lankinen was getting Calder buzz early on but a lot of that was off the success of beating up on Detroit.
Nalimov, meanwhile, is a sixth-round pick who, like Melnichuk, posted nothing but SV% of .900 plus through his seasons in Russia but posted just a .885% through five games in the AHL this season. Next season he may get more time in the American Hockey League so it might be a development to watch with Lankinen being far from cemented as “the guy”
For reference, here are a few goalies who get a bit more love and are highly touted but yielded lower than expected results:
Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen – 25%
Michael DiPietro – 28%
For further reference here are those that have already appeared in a 1A or 1B role this year:
Adin Hill – 76%
Jake Oettinger – 70%
Kaapo Kahkonen – 43%
Ilya Sorokin – 98%
Igor Shesterkin – 94%
Thatcher Demko – 60%
Ilya Samsonov – 92%
For any and all comparisons of these goalies and how a prospect may stack up and compare to other players Bryon has a great goalie comparison tool (pictured below) It’s a feature you wouldn’t regret subscribing to pair beautifully with the DobberProspects Guide.
Thanks for reading.