While he was in the middle of auditioning for Team Canada’s World Junior team, goaltender Ian Scott inked a three-year entry level contract with the Leafs Friday morning. For those who have kept up with Scott’s historic 2018/2019 campaign with the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders, the signing should come as no surprise.
Simply put, Scott has been fantastic this season.
The Calgary, Alberta native has posted a 23-2-1 record while leading the WHL in both goals against average (1.61) and save percentage (.943). His efforts this season have not only earned him a commitment from the Leafs, but also a spot on Team Canada for the upcoming World Junior tournament.
Scott sports a tall frame (he’s listed at 6’3) and is an incredibly mobile athlete for someone of his stature. He’s regarded as the best goalie in the WHL, bar-none, by many around the league.
“As a goalie he reads the play so well, it’s hard to find good options on him,” one opposing WHL forward told The Leafs Nation.
Others, however, are impressed by his puck handling abilities which made headlines when Scott scored a goal from his own net earlier this season.
“He plays the puck very well [he plays] like a third defenceman back there,” added another WHL player.
But Scott wasn’t always this good.
Ever since he entered the WHL, Scott oozed of potential. But he’d showcase it in flashes, and it was a process before he’d take the reigns of his own crease, let a lone becoming the best goalie in the league.
In his 16-year-old rookie season, he suited up for 26 games with the Raiders, which is no small feat for a net-minder. His rookie season would earn him a spot on Team Canada White, where he’d go on to lead the team to a gold medal victory.
The hype train on Ian Scott was in full motion. He had quirks, sure, but there was a general consensus around the Raiders organization that he’d iron it out.
In his 17-year-old year though, Scott struggled. He was given every opportunity to take the starters job and run with it, but he just couldn’t grab a hold of it. He was a sub .900 goalie who was splitting time with fellow goaltender Nicholas Saunders, who’s save percentage (.892) was a hair below Scott’s (.895).
“The truth is he really didn’t play very well. He was inconsistent. Maybe it was too much, too soon, for him,” Prince Albert Raiders general manager Curtis Hunt told The Leafs Nation.
Nobody was giving up on Scott, though. There was still flashes of his athleticism, that were remarkable for someone of his stature, that some scouts drooling at the possibility of what he could morph into.
The Leafs were high on Scott, and selected him in the fourth round of the 2017 draft.
The following year, Scott started to get the wheels rolling. He helped lead a Prince Albert Raiders team that had no business making the a long playoff run, to Game 7 against the Moose Jaw Warriors. After his WHL season wrapped up, that’s when the Leafs came calling–they had an AHL ATO with Scott’s name on it.
Cue the turning point.
Scott was set to join the top team in the AHL, who also possessed the most amount of resources. He even got the chance to suit up in the tail-end of the regular season, where he earned his first ever professional win against the Belleville Senators.
That was the only game-action that Scott would see, but his tenure with the Marlies, was nothing but pedestrian. He had the privilege to observe how professional hockey players, one level below the NHL, prepared on a day-by-day basis.
“It was a really great experience for me,” Scott told me while he was a guest on the Leafs on Deck Podcast. “I got to experience the full ride and all the ups and downs, that come with a playoff series, inside the dressing room.”
Scott may have been on an ATO and the team’s third-string goalie, but he kept busy.
First, he’d work on his off-days with the plethora of young prospects with the team on ATO’s. Then, the next day, he’d be practicing with the main group. All throughout, he was in the locker room on a day-to-day basis, participating in morning skates, too. He got to see how they took care of their bodies, and what they put in them. He got to witness how they were disciplined off the ice.
He saw how they remained focus, amidst the biggest games of their careers.
He got a taste of what it was like to be a part of a Calder Cup run in the AHL, where the vast majority of NHL regulars start their pro careers.
He saw the way they prepared, and prevailed, in two Game 7s, one against Utica in the first round and one against Texas in the final. He saw the desperation and drive of the players at the AHL level.
He saw players in make-or-break years fight for not only their teams playoff hopes, but for the longevity of their careers. He witnessed young players approach stardom, like Andreas Johnsson, Travis Dermott and Garret Sparks, at the AHL level.
Scott was a fly on the wall, absorbing everything happening around him. Scott took note of what was happening around him.
“I think that when he was here, “It was clear to me that he was taking it all in,” Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe said on Friday evening after the Marlies 7-2 defeat of the Manitoba Moose “You could just that he has the type of personality that, he doesn’t say a whole lot, but [he had his] eyes kinda wide open. He was taking things in.”
Even more valuable to Scott was getting to learn from that year’s dynamic goaltending tandem of Sparks and Calvin Pickard, both of whom are on NHL rosters today.
“They were great,” Scott added. “They brought me in and made me feel like part of the team–just watching them on and off the ice really helped.”
Sparks and Pickard, unquestionably, were the driving force behind the Marlies championship winning season. Both goaltenders faced loads of pressure, but they prevailed and answered the bell accordingly.
Scott got the opportunity to understand how important the mental side of things is for a goaltender. If you’ve got all the skill in the world, but you crack under pressure or are easily thrown off your game, you’re not going to make it very far as a goalie in pro hockey.
“Learning to handle the ups and downs of being a goalie at a high level was something he really worked on mastering,” said Kelly Guard, the Prince Albert Raiders former goalie coach.
You could make the case that the hands-on experience helped unlock Scott’s potential.
“When you’re in a development role like we are with the Marlies, the more hockey you get to play, the more the young players get to benefit,” said Keefe.
Scott’s immediate set of goals is likely a clear, if lofty one: World Junior gold with Canada, followed by a WHL championship and a Memorial Cup run back with the Raiders. But it’ll be his teaser with the Marlies during their Calder Cup run that’ll give him that added boost of confidence next season when he’s likely entering his first full tenure as a professional goaltender.