I know you all hate the idea of drafting goaltenders, but hey, too bad. It’s about that time again.
For all the promise that both Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer bring, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltending depth is thin at best. There’s certainly NHL talent at the top – two relatively young netminders that are worthy of a big league job – but after that things get real complicated.
Ideally, hockey teams have goaltending prospects in several different age brackets developing all at once, spread out among different leagues so as not to create a logjam. For example, this past season the Calgary Flames had Joni Ortio developing in the AHL, Jon Gillies in the NCAA, and Mason McDonald in the QMJHL. It’s not always easy to stagger out your prospects in such a way, but it’s important that each netminder gets a healthy amount of ice time and opportunity.
Christopher Gibson (22), Garret Sparks (21) and Antoine Bibeau (21) represent the next wave of goaltending in Toronto – and they’re all competing for one AHL starter’s job. This year, Gibson and Bibeau shared the Marlies’ crease and both played relatively well when called upon. This meant that Sparks was unfortunately stuck in the ECHL. To his credit though, Sparks dominated. He was easily one of the league’s best goaltenders.
Besides none of the Marlies goaltenders being ready for any kind of NHL action, the issue here is two-fold. Not only is their not enough quality opportunity to go around for Gibson, Bibeau and Sparks, but if none of them pan out into legitimate goaltenders, there’s quite literally no one behind them.
So, yeah – it’s time for the Leafs to draft another goaltender.
That’s not to say they need to use a first round pick on one – they don’t. At some point though, likely in the third round or later, it might make some sense to go and actively look for goalie.
I know, I know. Always draft the best available blah blah blah.
Still, adding a goaltender that has another two-plus years of Junior, College or European hockey before pushing for an AHL or NHL job would be ideal. Hell, adding a few over the next two or three years would be ideal. You don’t necessarily have to go way off the board for one, but if you’re looking a group of skaters and goaltenders that you think may have similar impacts on an NHL roster, you are allowed to take organizational need into consideration. If there’s no fit, fine – try again next year. At the very least, you have to be aware of your need for a young goaltender (or more).
The 2015 draft class isn’t particularly deep with goaltending talent, but that’s ok. Toronto is, at this point, better off looking for hidden gems in the later rounds, not using high picks to take the top ranked netminder. Goalies, as we know, are very difficult to project, and it’s better to swing and miss on one in the sixth round as opposed to the first.
Metallurg’s Ilya Samsanov and Barrie’s Mackenzie Blackwood headline this year’s goaltending talent, and neither are expected to be selected in the first round. Instead, you’ll likely see this year’s top goaltending prospects start going sometime in the second, with a good number still available all throughout the mid and late rounds.
Maybe consider Callum Booth, the Quebec Remparts netminder who spent much of this season and the playoffs stuck behind 2013 second round pick and Montreal prospect Zach Fucale. Or maybe 6’3 Slovakian netminder Matej Tomek, who spent the past year playing junior hockey in Topeka, Kansas – he’s off to University of North Dakota in the fall. There’s also Brynas Jr.’s Felix Sandstrom, the 18-year old has actually already made his professional hockey debut, posting a .963 SV% and 1.09 GAA in two SHL games.
Point is, there will be plenty of goalies still kicking around after the early rounds. Toronto currently owns a third round pick, two fourth rounders, a fifth, a sixth, and a seventh. It wouldn’t be the worst idea to spend one of those on a long term goaltending project and keep that pipeline full.