Toronto’s Goaltending Prospects

One of the bright spots in Toronto’s organizational depth is likely their goaltending. Between James Reimer, Jussi Rynnas, Ben Scrivens and maybe Jonas Gustavsson 2.0 the Leafs were probably right in their decision to not sign a stopgap goaltender to a long deal this offseason.

HockeysFuture.com came out with their organizational ranking for the Leafs this weekend and a comment stuck out to me that I wanted to address. I’d also like to start by saying I don’t like their ranking system and don’t think it’s very easy to compare similar prospects across leagues. It’s easy to say a guy like Nazem Kadri will be better than a 7th round pick that never scored in juniors, but I think that’s where it ends unless you’re a pro scout who’s watched an awful lot of games.

James Reimer

Toronto’s number one. I’m not saying he’s destined to be a great goaltender long term at the NHL level; he didn’t play a ton of games last year and he tailed off at the end of the season. He played 7 games in January with a 0.932SV%. 11 games in February with a 0.926SV%. 14 games in March with a 0.913SV% and 4 in April with a 0.909SV%. It’s not a reassuring trend.

There’s a sort of bias at play here; if you have a bad first 10-15 games in the NHL you’ll likely never get a job again. If you have a good first 10-15 games (Steve Mason) a GM will keep you around in the hope that you return to form. We’ve heard all summer from numerous outlets that Reimer’s working hard to avoid a sophomore slump but I don’t think that’s in his control.

Due to factors outside of their control young players will have good years and bad years compared to their "true talent". Rookies having down years likely don’t win jobs in the NHL. They need a good year to crack the roster of a professional team full of grown men as kids. On a game by game basis the NHL sends young kids who aren’t producing down to the minor leagues.

A great rookie season is often built on an unsustainable run over 20 games or so. As we see with things regressing to the mean a long run of unsustainably good play is often followed up by a bad stretch: a sophomore slump. This season we’ll see how Reimer plays for a whole year. For me his target should be something around 60GP with a .915SV% though a 0.910SV% wouldn’t be terrible (and is about what the three year running league average is).

The bad news for Reimer is that in Toronto the defense will likely concede enough shots and the offense isn’t strong enough for him to post a .910SV% and the Leafs to sniff the playoffs. In a sports landscape where people evaluate goaltenders (and pitchers) on wins and not their underlying stats that could prove to be a big sports radio talking point for the young netminder.

Ben Scrivens

Ben Scrivens is found money. He played well in the ECHL last year (13GP 0.938SV%), and well in the AHL (33GP 0.924SV%). His AHL SV% was seventh overall, only 0.007 behind the leader Mark Dekanich. Of course that’s not terribly reassuring: Dekanich was signed as a free agent by Columbus this summer and between the Dexshow and Scrivens are goalies like: Eddie Lack (good prospect), Richard Bachman (who knows?), and then Curtis Sanford, Michael Leighton and Barry Brust.

It’s a good start for Scrivens though in his rookie campaign. I wouldn’t pencil him in as the heir apparent but he had a hopeful start in Toronto. I’d like to see Scrivens play about 40 games in the AHL and maybe a spot start or two due to injuries with the big squad. A 0.920SV% in the AHL over another full season would start to build a good case that Scrivens is a potential NHL goaltender.

Jussi Rynnas

Sweet moustache. Put up an 0.877 in November with the Marlies before posting a November that got everyone talking. 10GP and a 0.957SV% is enough to get him included in elite goalie prospect chat but it ignores the rest. From December through April Rynnas posted a 0.887 in 17GP. His November is likely good enough to keep him around on the Marlies next season, but remember what I was saying about a good start?

Had Jussi Rynnas played the entire year like he did in November, he would be talked about as one of the top goaltender prospects in the entire NHL. – HockeysFuture.com

Jussi Rynnas should split time with Scrivens in the AHL. I’d like to see him in the top 20 of goaltenders there with 40GP or I’d turn him loose after the season and look for more free agent goalies.

Jonas Gustavsson

His NHL career to date has seemed "generally competent" if only because he was compared against Vesa Toskala and J.S. Giguere. Nothing in the Leafs net besides James Reimer has been anything but a horror show since the lockout and I think that’s a fair label for Gustavsson so far. His career was derailed because of his heart problems and then his mother passing and his equally unproductive friend Rickard Wallin getting fired into the sun or whatever happened to him.

But in perspective Gustavsson took a trip to the AHL on the IR this season and posted a 0.955SV% in five starts down there before being forced to re-join the Leafs where he didn’t play but hopefully continued to be turned into some sort of robo-frankengoalie by Francois Allaire.

My best guess on Gustavsson is that his athletic style works better on AHL shooters. He’s fast enough to make up for his overcorrections down with the Marlies whereas NHL players pass the puck and play much better positionally and pick him apart.

Maybe Gustavsson had a nice five game run, he had a nice run with the Leafs at the start of the 09-10 season, maybe he’s a .955 SV% goalie in the AHL and it just doesn’t translate. The truth is we don’t know and will probably never get the necessary data to conclusively say "oh that’s it".

I’d cut Gustavsson loose if after 10GP he’s not over a .900 SV%. 10 starts sub .900 will cripple a weak team like Toronto and his past two seasons weren’t great. At the end of the season I’d keep Gustavsson if he plays 20GP at a .905 or higher, otherwise I’d look to a replacement on the free agency market unless Scrivens or Rynnas dazzle. Guys I would have targeted this year would be Ray Emery or Jose Theodore who will likely give their teams above .900 goaltending. Gustavsson’s got some upside and some raw tools, but it’s time for him to use them.

The Future

This season the Leafs will see Mark Owuya join their goaltending stable. If this article doesn’t seem positive don’t focus too much on individual goaltender’s rankings. Goalies are hard to project and we have a bunch of them who look decentish. I wouldn’t pencil any single one of them in as the next Felix Potvin but if Toronto keeps acquiring and developing quality goaltenders the Leafs are bound to end up with an NHL starter eventually.