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It’s decision time on Zach Bouthillier

Last week I started the slow death march towards June 1st, the date when 2018 NHL draftees will need to be signed by otherwise they will re-enter the draft. The case for Riley Stotts was largely built off of the lack of center depth in the Leafs system, but goaltending depth is becoming something where the Leafs can be a pick more selective.

The Leafs will go into next season wanting to give as much of the AHL workload as possible to Joseph Woll. They will also attempt to reboot Ian Scott after his year off and get him as much work with the Newfoundland Growlers as possible, and perhaps some AHL spot duty as well.

The decision to bring in another goaltender to develop isn’t a bad one, but it’s not something that needs to be rushed an a less than ideal candidate, it remains to be seen how ideal Bouthillier is.

Bouthillier was selected with being a project in mind. The Leafs selected him in the 7th round, with the 209th overall pick. He was for a team that served the Leafs well decades before in the Chicoutimi Saguenéens, but that’s about the only comparison that can probably drawn to Felix Potvin.

While junior hockey goaltending numbers are seldom encouraging, sub .900 numbers aren’t a selling point at all, and they took a dip in his post draft year, not helped by Bouthillier being traded to an absolutely horrific Saint John Sea Dogs team where his opposition averaged over five goals a game against him, but he somehow managed to still put up an .884 save percentage during that time.

Bouthillier proved to be an absolute workhorse goaltender on bad teams, and at the time of the cancellation of the season he had already played 45 games for the Sea Dogs this season, with an improved .897 save percentage.

By the numbers, none of this is particularly encouraging, and Bouthillier might look like an easy goaltender to walk away from, but it’s time to revisit some of the voodoo factor.

First, there’s his pre-draft playoff appearance, the last of his QMJHL career. He played six games, and put up a .931 save percentage in a losing cause. There’s also the fact that at the time of the draft NHL Central Scouting thought enough of him to have his as their 6th highest ranked North American goaltender, and publications like Hockeyprospects.com and McKeens had him pegged as a mid-round selection.

Finally there’s the most important aspect to consider, and that is the Leafs coaching and development philosophy when it comes to goaltenders. Assuming the Leafs goaltending experts singled out Bouthillier as a goaltender they want to work with, that could still carry a lot of weight going into contract time. Although if they were excited about Bouthillier you could also assume they would have encouraged his signing by now.

So the reality of this is that Bouthillier probably won’t be a Leaf and you probably won’t be too bothered by that. Hopefully we’ll get a shiny new goaltending prospect to fawn over whenever the NHL gets around to holding a draft.