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Top 5 goaltenders Maple Leafs should target in 2024 NHL Draft

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Photo credit:Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff
Steven Ellis
19 days ago
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There’s no position more difficult to scout in the NHL Draft than goaltenders.
The reasons run deep. They play fewer games than skaters by default; defense can be a mixed bag in juniors compared to European pro; they often have to split the net, and many aren’t even starters; and goaltenders are just weird, in general.
There isn’t a clear No. 1 goaltender for the 2024 NHL Draft. Carter George, Ryerson Leenders, Ilya Nabokov and Eemil Vinni are some of the top names available, but none are expected to be available for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toronto has seven picks in 2024, starting with the 23rd overall selection. Knowing the Leafs, there’s no guarantee they’ll keep that pick and could look to trade down if they can pick up an additional asset. They’ll pick again in the fourth round, three times in the fifth and twice in the seventh.
The three fifth-rounders could be a fascinating spot to pickup a goalie this year. There isn’t much separating the top goalies from the mid-range options, and there’s no clear future No. 1 available this year like with Yaroslav Askarov or Jesper Wallstedt in recent years.
Still, picking up another goalie could be a worthwhile move for GM Brad Treliving. Joseph Woll is the only NHL-caliber goaltender under contract for next year, with Martin Jones, Ilya Samsonov and Matt Murray all set to become UFAs. Dennis Hildeby had a good year in the AHL, while 22-year-old Artur Akhtiamov had a good season in Russia.
Vyacheslav Peksa had a difficult first year in North America, struggling to put up consistent results for the now-defunct Newfoundland Growlers in the ECHL. What does his future look like, especially with the Leafs lacking an affiliate beyond the Toronto Marlies? Speaking of the Marlies, it’s fair to think the organization could move on from pending RFA Keith Petruzzelli this summer.
No matter which goalie – if any – the Leafs draft this year, they’re years away from being a serious part of the depth chart. Goalies develop slowly, simple as that. But having a few ready to go at any given time is huge because all it takes is one to strike gold to make it all worth it. Woll, for example, was the fifth goaltender taken in 2016, with Filip Gustavsson being the only active NHL goalkeeper taken ahead of him.
Whether it be the fourth round or the fifth, the Leafs should target a goalie this year. And if they do, they could benefit from taking one of these five:

Nicholas Kempf (USNTDP)

Kempf is fresh off an excellent showing at the U-18 World Championship, where he was one of the top goaltenders en route to a silver medal with the United States. The fourth-ranked goaltender by NHL Central Scouting, Kempf’s numbers don’t look great, but the USNTDP juggles play in a variety of different competitions, including against NCAA teams. So you have to take that with a grain of salt, but he definitely has stood out whenever he has played in internationally. He’s very athletic and is never caught watching the puck from the crease. Kempf never quits on a chance, and his quick reads allow him to make some huge stops. I think he’s better than the stats suggest.

Dawson Cowan (Spokane, WHL)

Cowan is no stranger to making some big, highlight-reel stops, showing a keen sense of athleticism. He has quick legs that make him hard to beat and his active glove hand comes up big often. Cowan can be caught reacting too slowly to a shot, and his rebound control isn’t great. But other times, he’ll just turn on a switch and it becomes difficult to get a shot past him. Cowan missed out on 2023 NHL Draft eligibility by just over a week, but he put the extra time to good use with a solid season as Spokane’s starter. He’s only 6-foot-1, though, and he gets beat often from far away. We’ll see how much that affects his draft stock.

Lukas Matecha (Tri-City, WHL)

Matecha looked excellent at the CHL Top Prospects Game earlier this year, making some great saves while playing a half-game. He’s in his first year in North America, and his numbers have been good despite often getting shelled with Tri-City. He’s no stranger to 40-shot contests and often plays some of his best hockey when busy. At 6-foot-3, Matcha has the size teams crave, and I can’t imagine he’ll go undrafted like last year. There’s enough raw talent, mixed in with a good frame, to make him intriguing. 

Kim Saarinen (HPK, Finland U-20)

Saarinen stands tall at 6-foot-4 and lets his body do the talking. He covers so much of the net, but he’s athletic enough to stretch out to make more difficult stops when needed easily. He had some rough goes internationally this year, but he looked great back home, reminding me just how good he can be in the zone. He allows poor goals a little too much for my liking but the size alone makes him intriguing – and, for the most part, he’s been good against U-20 competition. Saarinen could be one of the first goalies taken due to the potential with his size, but if he’s available in the fifth round, Toronto should take a flier.

Evan Gardner, Saskatoon (WHL)

Gardner played AAA U-18 hockey with the RINK Hockey Academy in Kelowna a year ago. This year, he finished with a WHL-leading .927 save percentage in 30 games with the Blades as a rookie. He shared the net with veteran Austin Elliott but Gardner was the better of the two goalies, going 21-5-0. He has decent size at 6-foot-2 while maintaining a calm presence in the crease. His rebound control has always been an issue but he moves well enough to at least help compensate for it. Gardner is one of the more positionally sound goaltenders I’ve seen in this class and tracks pucks well, too. The biggest question – was Gardner’s success fueled by having a great team in front of him, or is he the real deal?

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