Canada’s best young goalies disappointed in their pro debuts

Photo of Mark Visentin (Hugh Lee/Wikimedia Commons)

The state of Canada’s goaltending is a concern for anyone who regularly watches the World Juniors. It’s been some time since the last high-end performance by a Canadian goaltender at the tournament (Steve Mason in 2008) and while some of that can be chalked up to the shortness of the tournament, the professional results of those goalies have been only middling as a group.

As First-Year Professionals

The chart above shows how Canada’s goalies from the last 10 tournaments (starting in 2012, since the 2013 goalies have obviously yet to play their first professional hockey) have fared in their debut seasons as pros.

The goaltenders for the last two years stand out for their poor results. Both Olivier Roy and Scott Wedgewood spent most of their time in the ECHL, with the former playing well and the latter putting in the weakest performance of any goalie on this list. Mark Visentin, the Phoenix Coyotes first round pick, was mediocre in the AHL. It isn’t that Roy and Visentin don’t have decent futures; but for them to be the two most prominent Canadian goalies in 2011 and 2012 suggest a weak group of prospects.

Indeed, that is the case. Of drafted Canadian goalies in 2010 (the Visentin/Wedgewood class) only Calvin Pickard, with a 0.918 save percentage in the AHL, had a particularly creditable initiation to the professional ranks. The 2009 class (Olivier Roy’s year) wasn’t much better; only Minnesota Wild-drafted prospects Matt Hackett and Darcy Kuemper particularly stood out in the AHL as rookies – and both of them were only drafted as overagers.

In other words: some of this may have been on the scouts, but overall the last few years have simply featured a weak crop of prospects to choose from.

Last Season

Only seven Canadian goalies aged 28 or younger played in at least half their team’s games in the NHL last season; of that group only five (Corey Crawford, James Reimer, Devan Dubnyk, Braden Holtby and Marc-Andre Fleury) managed a better than league-average save percentage.

Those five, plus Carey Price (0.905 save percentage this season), Cam Ward (injured, played only 17 games) and Jonathan Bernier (played only 14 games as a backup) represent the current group of Canadian up-and-comers at the NHL level.

While there is no single dominant goaltender in the group, it really isn’t as bad as recent hand-wringing would suggest, because most other countries don’t have a strong stable of young goalies. The Americans have a credible group, the Finns have Tuukka Rask, the Russians have Sergei Bobrovsky and Semyon Varlamov, the Swedes don’t really have anybody and the Czech hopes (Ondrej Pavelec and Michal Neuvirth) are all iffy.

Even during a down cycle for Canadian goalies, they can easily compete with any other nation in the world in terms of young depth in net and as long as one of those young goalies can really emerge in the next year or two – and there are encouraging signs – they should be just fine. And, as the development of players like Riemer and Holtby demonstrates, just because the guys who played at the World Juniors haven’t impressed of late doesn’t mean the whole group behind them won’t produce quality players.

Recently around the Nation Network

At Flames Nation, Kent Wilson writes a grab-bag piece that touches on a lot of different things but includes this particularly interesting bit at the end:

I mentioned this on twitter the other day, but I looked at a collection of goalies who have recently played in th KHL and NHL with the intention of finding the potential difference (or "translation factor") between the two leagues so we can know what to expect from [likely Flames starter Karri] Ramo this season

Click the link to see what that tranlsation factor is, or alternately feel free check out some of my other pieces here:

  • All I’m gonna say is Devan Dubnyk’s gonna be fine..has had a pretty bad defence to play behind the past few seasons and has put up very respectable numbers.
    Every goalie lets in the odd bad goal here and there (patrick roy lol) but in the end Numbers mark consistency for a goaltender.
    Dubnyks got #’s

  • Czar

    Roy with the second best SV% is a surprise. Don’t get me going on Bunz getting cut,still think he could have made a difference.

    Kuemper is a solid prospect who I’d love to see in an Oiler jersey,Minny’s done well drafting WHL goalies.

      • Czar

        Yes, as you’ve pointed out a few times and again today in the Journal,I’m well aware of his poor debut. I’m pulling for the kid and hope he gets his career on track,way too much talent and potential to give up on. The Oiler system is where goaltending prospects go to die, has been for years.

    • I’m not wild about his chances, but it’s interesting to compare him to Devan Dubnyk at the same age.

      Dubnyk at 20 (ECHL): 43GP, 0.921 SV%

      Dubnyk at 21 (AHL): 33GP, 0.904 SV%

      Roy at 20 (ECHL): 40GP, 0.925 SV%

      Roy at 21 (AHL): 22GP, 0.902 SV%

  • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

    Or maybe a better way to ask the question is …what kind of career progression would we expect to see …and is he on track or at least close?

  • The more I see Hockey Canada run things, the more I think the people running it are not the sharpest tools in the shed.

    There seems to be an awful lot of “well I just like you better, so you’re on the team even though there’s someone out there who fits the role 100x more than you do”.

    What I’m trying to say is that Hockey Canada’s decisions always seem full of bias and not so full of thought to me.

  • Lloyd B.

    Long time lurker first time poster. So why on earth would you ever waste a draft pick on a goalie? Pick them up after a few years experience much as McTavish has done this year.

    • Spydyr

      I’m completely opposite of you.I would pick a goalie in each draft year.For a few reasons. First one there are seven rounds in the draft and six players on the ice. You need to keep up all postilions with depth.Just look at the Oilers centre issues at the present.The second reason is goal in by far the most important position on the team.Finally the third reason goalies even more so the defencmen and way more so then forwards don’t always develop in the straight line.

      With the big team and two minor league teams that’s six positions to fill.Minor league teams should be for developing players.What the Oilers have done the last few years.Signing career minor league goalies to play the top spot in the AHL is bad policy.Develop and play your up and coming goalies.

  • magisterrex

    How many times has it been said that goalie development is witchcraft. Writing off goalies early is foolhardy. Stay the course, and see where the end up. Just always have more developing simultaneously across multiple leagues.

  • Spydyr

    @Lemming

    Not gonna disagree with you, but at least they’re kind of admitting it and have let people like Prendergast go. As Oiler fans, we all know the kind of poor decisions and handling this guy had in terms of evaluating talent and players and he fared no better working for Hockey Canada. May he never get another high profile scouting job again.

  • Off topic : L.A. just signed Lewis and doubt if enough left over for Clifford . Article suggests they may only have @245,000 – 2M to sign him depending on which site might be accurate . Comments at L.A. site . What could we give to get him without adding salary to their cap ?

    • Prospects/picks.

      I don’t know their roster well enough to know if they need more forwards, but they currently have 13 signed with 9 D signed, so they might not need any help at the NHL level.

      If so, then yah, prospects and/or picks would be my guess.

      I can’t really see them being able to take something back, so unless they’re giving up more players with decent salary, they aren’t going to be able to afford anything anyways.

  • Citizen David

    Why Brossoit wasn’t the goalie last year for Canada was a joke.

    @JW isn’t Robin Lenner considered a future A level goalie? And Markstrom is a very good prospect too.

    Considering Quick is only 27 same as Schnieder ( thought I’m not very high on him) the states looks good for the future. Everyone loves Gibson too. Howard’s 29.

  • Citizen David

    I was thinking Canada has way weaker Goaltending than the other Countries. Or at least less reliable. Luongo and Price can both play great. And can both falter. Fleury is a mess. Cam ward is always injured and falters. Mike Smith hasn’t shown enough. Crawford is good. Not elite though. Holtby… enough said. Honestly I would have invited Dubnyk.

    Americans: Quick (best goalie in the league), Anderson, Howard, Schnieder,

    Swedes: Lundquist (second best goalie)

    Finns: Rinne, Lethonen, Backstrom, Niemi

  • YFC Prez

    Canadian goaltending development has been and continues to be outshined by the Swedish and Finnish minor hockey programs. Kids are coached by goaltender coaches who are certified by finish ice hockey federation. This starts at a young age and young goalies on competitive teams get their own goalie coaches. They learn techniques and fundamentals well ahead of their North American counterparts.

    Sweden has a very similar model almost mirroring the system Finland uses.

    When I grew up there were no goalie coaches for minor hockey at least not where I played. Let alone any kind of standard certification system in place with hockey Canada for coaching goalies.

    Any parents out there with kids playing competitive hockey know if goalies are being coached any differently now?

    Finland has almost caught up to Canada in the amount of professional league goalies currently employed. That’s very impressive considering Canada used to hold an edge of almost 5 to 1.

    I think the development system is starting to show now with the high end NHL goalies. Canada should take a look at Sweden and Finland. They are doing wonders with their young goalies.

  • Looks like Oilers intend to have a fast puck moving team this year… getting the rubber out of their own end before the forecheckers arrive, type of game.

    My concern for Dubby, aside from his rebounds, is that he is one of the worst puck handlers in the NHL, and this will not help his puck moving game. Hope this is something he works on this summer.