Much like just about any goalie in professional hockey, Joseph Woll is a question waiting to be answered. There’s a deep desire among the fanbase for him to do well thanks to the endless potential of his name. The fact he’s a Maple Leafs prospect at the most valuable position in the sport is just icing on the cake.
After spending three years as a starter at Boston College, Woll joined the Marlies last season and is now expected to be among a group of four goalies battling it out for third on the Leafs depth chart. One of the lead storylines heading into training camp will be whether Woll can outduel fellow netminders Ian Scott, Aaron Dell, and Michael Hutchinson for priority on the depth chart. Possibilities are endless for the young American goalie who could find himself on the Leafs taxi squad, platooning in the AHL, starting in the ECHL, or if we’re all lucky – being loaned to the DEL’s Berlin Bears where he can lay claim to hockey’s greatest nickname by becoming the Berlin Woll.
Rank – Grade – NHL Readiness
11TH – B – 2-4 YEARS
Weight: 203 lbs
Drafted: 2016 3rd round, 62nd overall
What kind of player is he?
Joseph Woll is a natural butterfly goaltender, relying on his large frame to cover up the majority of the net as he moves into the butterfly position. If anything, he relies too much on his size when in net dropping to the ice earlier than necessary and leaving himself susceptible to getting beaten by changing angles. Already aware of these tendencies, the young netminder has spent this past summer working with a strength and conditioning coach to help improve his range of motion in net.
At 6’4, Woll measures up taller than most NHL goalies and the exact same height as current starter Freddie Andersen. The hope is the Leafs coaching staff will be able to help Woll learn how to best use this size, especially when dropping into butterfly while still keeping his torso upright to cover the top half of the net as he’s struggled in the past with upper body positioning. With every single Vezina nominee of the past three seasons being 6’3 or taller, there’s plenty of game tape available on how goalies his size can best utilize their natural gifts.
Woll’s best performance in recent memory may be from the 2019 Hockey East Tournament semifinals where he stopped 36 shots to shut out Cale Makar’s #1 seed Massachusetts squad and earn Boston College a trip to the finals. Spend a minute to watch highlights of the game and you’ll see where Woll’s strengths shine. An expert at tracking the puck, he shows the mental fortitude needed to constantly follow the play and uses his size to force opponents into either taking a bad shot into the pads or risk a turnover in an attempt to maneuver the puck to a better position.
By the numbers
Joseph Woll had a bad start to his AHL career. There’s no way around saying that, and it’s something that needs to be addressed. Despite getting a shutout in his first ever professional start, Woll struggled the rest of the way through the season putting up a dismal .880 save percentage in 32 games – second worst in the league among qualified goaltenders. The good news is that when Woll has struggled, he doesn’t struggle for long. There’s a determined competitiveness behind his work ethic that has seen the young goalie bounce back time and time again. After struggling with the USNTDP’s under-17 team, he came back looking like a whole new netminder a year later excelling in the under-18 program including putting up a .947 save percentage across 3 games in international play. Following a poor performance at the World Juniors in 2018, he returned to Boston College only to put up career bests a year later, finishing the 2019 season with a .919 save percentage over 37 games.
What’s next for Joseph Woll?
There’s reason to believe that Woll can once again bounce back after spending another year developing, working directly with Leafs coaches, and hopefully finding a more stable role. The 2019-2020 Toronto Marlies saw the team lose their head coach and top defender to NHL call ups, leaving the team scrambling to make do with what was left. A preseason injury to Ian Scott, who many projected to be the Marlies starting netminder, forced the team’s hand into platooning Woll alongside current Nashville Predator Kasimir Kaskisuo throughout the season.
Going from playing college kids to grown men, many of whom have years of experience as professional athletes is a shocking jump for any hockey player, but especially for goalies who see their faults exposed more than any other position. With uncertainty around the upcoming hockey season still looming, it’s hard to predict where Woll will be playing, and in what sort of role he’ll be there in. Should the AHL or ECHL seasons start up alongside the NHL, we’ll likely see the young American serving as a starter or platoon goalie in one of those leagues.
With rumours swirling that the NHL is expected to have some sort of taxi squad system throughout the upcoming modified season, the assumption is that this is the role Hutchinson and Dell were brought in to fill. However, there’s an argument to be made that Woll or fellow goaltending prospect Ian Scott should be considered for the Leafs taxi squad as it would allow them to practice with NHLers and work directly from the Maple Leafs coaching staff.
It’s no secret that goaltending is the most volatile position in hockey, if not all of pro sports. In just a few seasons Carey Price went from winning league MVP to being the league’s worst starter before bouncing back and then settling into league average numbers. Tim Thomas bounced between European leagues before finally becoming an NHL starter in his 30’s and then won two Vezina’s a few years later.
To have a goalie on your franchise is to have a lottery ticket in your wallet. You’re hoping for the best, but the unpredictability of it all is what makes it so exciting. For Joseph Woll, it’s no different. There’s a good chance he doesn’t end up becoming anything noteworthy, but there’s enough there to have some hope and spend a moment fantasizing about how great it would be to finally cash in.
For the Maple Leafs, it’s imperative that they do everything it takes to help Woll succeed, especially with Freddie Andersen’s contract set to expire at the end of this coming season. With so many question marks in net for the team’s future, the Toronto Maple Leafs have undoubtedly found themselves backed up against a Woll.