TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: #20 Garret Sparks

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Anyone who has ever spoken to me, or followed me on Twitter when the Marlies are playing has seen my absolute love for Garret Sparks and his checkerboard gear. In fact, looking at the final votes, I was the only one of the TLN staff who ranked him in the Top 15. That’s only because they’re all wrong. Or I’m biased. It could be either.

The Votes

Jeff Ryan H. Shawn Ryan F. Adam Dom Jess Katy Readers
19th N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 17 14 23

Sparks was ranked 13th in 2013, 18th in 2014, and unranked in 2015.

Player Bio

Position Hometown Height Weight Hand 2015 Team Acquired
G Elmhurst, IL 6’2 204 Left Toronto Marlies 2011 Draft (7-190th)

The Stats

Season Age Team League GP W L OTL SVS SV%
2010/11 17 Guelph OHL 19 8 6 1 477 0.89
2011/12 18 Guelph OHL 59 27 25 4 1669 0.907
2012/13 19 Guelph OHL 60 36 17 4 1672 0.917
2012/13 19 Toronto AHL 3 2 0 1 68 0.895
2013/14 20 Toronto AHL 21 11 6 1 520 0.915
2013/14 20 Orlando ECHL 10 4 6 0 285 0.916
2014/15 21 Toronto AHL 2 1 0 0 56 0.966
2014/15 21 Orlando ECHL 36 21 7 3 1115 0.936
2015/16 22 Toronto AHL 21 14 4 3 602 0.928
2015/16 22 Toronto NHL 17 6 9 0 407 0.893
2015/16 22 Orlando ECHL 1 1 0 0 25 0.962

Last year was a gongshow for the entire Leafs organisation. It was all over the place for the entirety of the Leafs goalie system. Goalies were up, down, and sideways across the entire organization. Sparks went from starting in the ECHL to starting in the NHL, and stopped at pretty much every goaltending position in the organisation in between.

READ MORE: Garret Sparks named AHL Goaltender of the Month for November

The Eye Test

While part of me just wants to blame the late-season roster gutting for Sparks being (sometimes literally) a bit all over the place, it’s not in my nature to just put my head in the sand like that. Sparks has his faults. He is a hard working player with the ability and potential to develop into not necessarily an elite goaltender, but most definitely a solid one. 

READ MORE: Marlies Year In Review: Garret Sparks

From James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail

Sparks has a reputation as a good kid and a hard worker whose style remains raw and who – despite his success with the Marlies – obviously needed work to succeed at the NHL level. He has come a long way since he was a seventh-round pick fewer than five years ago, and it’s possible he is a late-bloomer.

It’s also worth considering that most of his NHL appearances came from after suffering a groin injury in December, which may have dragged him down a bit.

READ MORE: Garret Sparks leaves game with lower-body injury

When you look past the occasional cringeworthy games, Sparks shows promise. You can see what could be there. And, as a prospect that’s still being developed, I think the belief in what could be is almost as important as what is.

As Seen on TV

The Buildup

Sparks got called up to the big leagues and pulled off the impossible, a shutout in his NHL debut against the Edmonton Oilers. Something that has never been done in franchise history.

READ MORE: Garret Sparks becomes first Leafs goaltender to earn shutout in NHL debut

However….

Sparks also played in all three professional leagues, starting and finishing his season in the AHL, but also playing games in the NHL and the ECHL as well. He had consistency issues, to say the least. To quote the famous nursery rhyme, “When he was good, he was very, very good; but when he was bad, he was horrid.” 

READ MORE: How Garret Sparks improved his game with a change in play style (by Garret Sparks)

In the 2014-15 season, injury prevented Sparks from making the AHL out of training camp. He spent the majority of the season down in Orlando with the Solar Bears of the ECHL. He used that year to recover, train, and regroup, focussing all his energy on getting back into the AHL and getting into the NHL, eventually posting a 0.936 SV%. 

READ MORE: Garret Sparks drops gloves in ECHL game

From an interview with InGoal Magazine, when asked what he felt was his biggest strength and what had gotten him back to form…

I immerse myself in goaltending so deeply and criticize every little thing I do or see done, so I would have to say my ability to watch the position and learn from it would be my biggest strength. I have physical tools, but I would be nothing without the stability of my head and my instinct.

 Next Season

The Leafs have signed Sparks to a two-way deal for the 2016-17 season, $575,000 in the NHL, and $100,000 in the AHL. It’s a pretty good deal. It’s a deal that says, ‘Prove yourself’. And Sparks has shown before that he can take a challenge like that and run with it. As of right now, the Leafs haven’t signed an “official” backup goalie, despite the rumour mill flying about Enroth (watch them sign five goaltenders the second this is posted). 

READ MORE: Leafs re-sign Garret Sparks to one-year contract

Sparks could be the “unofficial” backup, or the “Plan B” if Leafs management can’t reach an acceptable deal with any of the backups they’re in talks with. The Leafs organisation as a whole is going to be very interesting to watch this season. Sparks and his part in the organisation’s goaltending is going to be nothing short of fascinating.

Closing Thoughts

Ideally, Sparks will share the Marlies’ starting position with Bibeau this season, and prove himself worthy of a bigger and better contract this year. Ideally, he will iron out the inconsistencies in his game, even if it means his outstanding games go to ‘pretty darn good’, but his utter shockers come up to ‘could’ve been better’. But for now, Garret Sparks as the Leafs twentieth best prospect? Yeah. That’s about right.

The Rankings So Far

  • Tommy Cat

    I believe Sparkes’ groin was a recurring injury? Hard for a goalie.

    I also am a bit surprised that he made the list while Loov, Valiev, and Goat didn’t. Meanwhile I’m much less a fan of Goat after this year and seeing him live a few times. Guy needs to get engaged. Meanwhile Valiev is a definite prospect.

  • Tommy Cat

    I think a lot of fans are writing him off because of his 0.893 SV% last year but there are a few things to remember:

    1) Babcock kept playing him down the stretch despite his bad numbers and Bernier’s good numbers. Why? Auston Matthews. (THANK YOU BABS)

    If Sparks had of been sat for a couple weeks maybe he could have recuperated and come back with better performances.

    2) It was his first year in the NHL.

    2.5) Imagine going from facing ECHL shots one week to NHL shots the next? That’s a huge adjustment.

    Give him time and he could turn into something good in a couple years. I think his 20th ranking makes sense.

  • Tommy Cat

    I like Sparks. He seems to be a hard worker and a good team guy that bleeds blue and white.

    I think he will bounce back with a stellar year in the AHL and maybe some good showings in the NHL, if there are injuries. I think he will become a good NHL backup. The kind of backup that can occasionally steal a game, maybe even start for a few years at the peak of his career (though probably not here.)

    There is nothing wrong with getting a good NHL backup from a 7th round draft pick. It shows good scouting and proper development in the AHL.

  • Gary Empey

    Only this panel of misfits could rate our best AHL goalie, who sports an NHL .893 SV% in their top twenty prospects list.

    Calder Cup Playoffs Sparks was ranked 9th.

    Antoine Bibeau was ranked 16th.

    In last years Regular Season – Bibeau ranked 26th – Sparks’s .893 SV% would of ranked him 45th if he had played enough minutes in the AHL.

    Correction the 893 was his NHL stat. He was .915 SV% in the AHL. About the same a Bibeau.