This draft season brings a lot of questions for the Maple Leafs. With 12 draft selections at their disposal currently, and the potential to add more, there are a plethora of options for them at this draft.
It’s widely noted that one of the organization’s biggest areas of weakness is goaltending, both in terms of roster positions and in prospect depth. Our own Ryan Fancey wrote this piece on Carter Hart last week, and I thought it would be best to go a little deeper into the potential goaltender draftees. Scouring the CHL, Europe, Russia, and College hockey leagues, I’ve come up with several names that the Leafs might look at to bolster their prospect depth at goaltender.
The above-pictured Tyler Parsons kicks off this list. Parsons backstopped the London Knights to the Memorial Cup (undoubtedly with a fair amount of scoring help thanks to Mitch Marner and Co.). However, the final game between the Knights and the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies was quite the goaltender battle between Parsons and the Huskies’ netminder Chase Marchand.
Parsons led the OHL in save percentage this past season, in all of the regular season, playoffs and Memorial Cup. The biggest knock on him is the Zac Fucale argument, where it seems that the team carried the goalie. I don’t believe this is the case for Parsons. He regularly is a contributor and a compliment to the incredibly talented London Knights team, as opposed to a guy riding the coattails.
The additional fact that Parsons was able to put up a 90.7% save percentage in his rookie year leads me to believe Parsons is a legitimately exciting goalie for the Leafs to purse.
Plus, yanno, the whole Mark Hunter thing.
Coming out of Sweden and playing for the SHL’s Lulea (and their junior affiliate), Gustavsson is a pretty exciting prospect to follow. While Swedish goaltenders named Gustavsson certainly give Leafs fans PTSD-esque flashbacks, there’s no reason to believe that Filip will follow anything close to the path that Jonas did.
Gustavsson stands tall but not freakishly so at 6’2″. He won Best Goaltender at the most recent U18 World Junior Championships. He also posted 91% save percentage in his 6 game stint in the SHL, which while being a small sample size is a pretty impressive sample for an 18 year old goalie. The majority of his season was spent with Lulea’s J20 affiliate, playing 20 games with only an 89.8% save percentage.
Gustavsson’s performances on bigger stages are certainly promising, but they can’t take precedent over regular season performance. It’s important to balance the two, and Gustavsson’s J20 performance left a bit to be desired. Of the goalies available, Gustavsson would probably land 4th or 5th. If he’s available somewhere in the 4th round, and guys like Parsons and Hart are gone, I would certainly give him some consideration.
This is going to be a fun case where the stats and the eye test don’t line up with each other. NHL Central Scouting has Fitzpatrick listed as the #1 goalie in North America. Greg Balloch of In Goal Magazine posted his review of the 2016 draft class where he has Fitzpatrick ranked second after Carter Hart.
However, when you dig into his numbers you see he only had 89.6% save percentage in the regular season for the Sherbrooke Phoenix. His playoff performance was good overall, with a 92% in 5 games, but wasn’t enough to help his team surmount the eventual “silver medal” (lost in the championship game) Shawinigan Cataractes. He even got shelled for 7 goals against on 33 shots in Game 3 of that series. Not pretty.
Fitzpatrick is a big frame and has that “calm” play style that people seem to appreciate. It certainly seems a better approach to the game than Jonathon Quick-ing your way around the crease (but, then again, Dominik Hasek).
Overall I’m certain FItzpatrick is a talented goaltender, and most of the time save percentage isn’t repeatable (especially so when graduating leagues) so I wouldn’t be too concerned. However, the numbers concern me enough to say I’d be more inclined to take Parsons, and I’d definitely be more inclined to take Hart.
Now we head to Junior A to check out the Carleton Place Canadiens’ netminder Colton Point. Point stands at 6’4″, similar to Fitzpatrick, and is one of the top goaltenders in the Central Canadian Hockey League (go Bears!).
I had the chance to see Point live (just for one game) during the World Junior A Championship hosted in my hometown of Cobourg. He played for a pretty disappointing Canada East team and had a pretty moderate performance. However, his stats in the CCHL are much more intriguing. with a 91.5% save percentage in his 33 appearances for Carleton Place.
The CCHL is a hard league to judge, as there have only ever been a handful or two of goalies to graduate from this league to the NHL (some notables include Yann Danis, Jimmy Howard, Robert Esche, Darren Pang, Fred Brathwaite and others). The majority of these players will go to college and play in the NCAA (you aren’t allowed to play in the NCAA if you play in the CHL as it’s considered a professional league), and that’s the path I expect for Point. From that perspective, I’m more intrigued by Point because you can have him developing in college for up to 4 years after you draft him, so he wouldn’t take up space in the Maple Leafs’ depth chart for the spots in Orlando and on the Marlies.
Point’s performance in the CCHL itslef is noteworthy, with a 91.5% save percentage, but it’s hard to find a measuring stick that will compare it with the performances from other players in other leagues.
Vehvilainen is an interesting case. He is a 19 year old that was passed over in last year’s draft, so he’s a little further along the development path. This can be advantageous when drafting goalies, as they’ll have had a larger sample to analyze.
He comes out of the Liiga playing for JYP (the men’s league, not the junior leagues). He started 28 games for them and had a 92.5% save percentage. This puts him in the top 5 in the league (92.5% isn’t necessarily elite in the Liiga as it’s a high-volume shooting and low scoring league, which is why someone like Laine becomes so impressive). He becomes a legitimate option, considering he’s already played against men and has performed admirably.
He’s ranked 3rd in NHL Central Scouting for European goalies behind the above-mentioned Gustavsson and Daniel
Marmalade Marmenlind. I’d be pretty confidently placing him second myself, and I would even put him in contention to take Gustavsson’s spot. He’ll certainly be someone to look out for with a 5th or 6th round pick.
WHAT SHOULD THE LEAFS BE LOOKING AT?
If I were the Leafs, I would pass on Fitzpatrick and Gustavsson as I believe they’ll be drafted significantly higher than the others in this list. I might take a look at Carter Hart with a 2nd round pick but otherwise, I’m just going to be seeing what I can get my hands on in the 4th and 5th round.
It’s been proposed that the Leafs may never draft a goalie and choose to acquire them once they’re 23 and we know enough about them to properly project their development path. I believe this is a poor plan, as I believe it’s better to take chances with the draft eligible players and hope you develop something special, rather than hope someone shows up as a diamond in the rough later on.
Personally, I’m hoping we can acquire Vehvilainen and Point, but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.