Zach Fucale isn’t the one who got away; Antti Raanta is

With Zach Fucale’s strong play against Team USA on Tuesday, minds are turning back to how close he came to being part of the Edmonton Oilers organization in the draft last summer. Crying over spilled milk is always a little silly, but if it deserves to be done over goalies nearly acquired last summer Fucale shouldn’t be the focus.

Antti Raanta should be.

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There are lots of problems with drafting goalies, especially early.

For one, goaltender development is unpredictable and the scouts don’t do nearly as good a job in net as they do elsewhere. There are tons of examples.

2010 11th overall pick Jack Campbell did a lot more at the World Juniors than Fucale has. He has plenty of time but he flopped in the OHL and 58 games into his professional career he’s been an awfully middling AHL goalie. Draft a goalie early and you’re as like to get Rick DiPietro or Al Montoya or Brian Finley as Roberto Luongo or Carey Price or even Marc-Andre Fleury.

Another problem is the timeline. Jonathan Bernier was an early pick and turned out well but he was drafted in 2006 and is finally getting a starting gig only now – and the team that drafted him didn’t exactly get a King’s ransom in trade. Devan Dubnyk, drafted 14th overall in 2004, took years to get to the majors and still isn’t an established starter; ditto for 26th overall pick Cory Schneider (though the latter should be).

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Draft a goalie early and maybe, five years down the road, he’ll be something useful. Maybe he’ll even be useful for the team that drafted him. Bernier’s a good example of a case where everything went right with the guy who was supposed to be a franchise goalie – but it didn’t matter because a third-round pick nobody believed in came in and locked up the starting gig before Bernier even had a chance to fight for it (and now that same third round pick is injured and not being missed because two guys who were never even drafted are playing better than he has all year).

Fucale’s still an unknown quantity years away from mattering to the team that drafted him. He’s a nice guy to have in the system and maybe someday the Oilers will regret not drafting him but if they do it won’t be for years and there’s a decent chance they never miss him. He would probably have been a fine pick at 37th overall if he had landed there, but it’s really not a big deal.


But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with grabbing a free agent European goalie for nothing but money, and reportedly the Oilers came pretty close to doing so with Antti Raanta, before he understandably chose to sign with Chicago instead.

Raanta was always way closer to being a sure thing than a guy like Fucale. Raanta was the best goalie, the regular season MVP and the playoff MVP in a top professional league a year ago. When we compared him in the summer to former top goalies in the Finnish league, he was behind only Tim Thomas in save percentage and ahead of guys like Niklas Backstrom and Tomas Vokoun. That’s an awfully good track record.

He’s come to North America, done a quick stint in the minors and in his first season on a new continent and since then stepped into the Blackhawks’ net and provided the team with the best goaltending it’s seen all season. Better goaltending than the club was getting from $6 million man Corey Crawford.

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He’s a guy playing well in the NHL today, not a guy who might play well in the NHL five years from now if everything breaks right. The Oilers doubtless went after him as hard as they could, and it was the right idea.

More Generally

Young goalies are hard to predict and the expected payoff is years down the road. That’s why the best approach to drafting them isn’t to grab them high. It’s to take them in quantity, snagging one every year or so and hoping to hit big with a low-risk gamble. It didn’t pay off with guys like Olivier Roy and Tyler Bunz, but the Islanders, Stars and Coyotes haven’t done a lot better with guys like Mikko Koskinen, Jack Campbell and Mark Visentin.

Another item is that the league is full of guys who were great in Europe or in college or even in junior who never cost a draft pick. Martin Jones and Ben Scrivens lead the league in save percentage; neither was drafted. Ditto for Antti Niemi and Jonas Hiller and plenty of others.

The final thing is that it’s generally pretty easy to land goalies in trade or via free agency. It isn’t like that at other positions; centres and defencemen and even wingers cost a ton of money or a pile of assets. Goalies don’t generally. A guy like Bernier goes for a pretty middling package, as does a guy like Jaroslav Halak. Dwayne Roloson cost Edmonton a high pick at the deadline; Tommy Salo years earlier didn’t cost even that much. When the Oilers ran into goalie problems earlier this year they were able to grab Ilya Bryzgalov for cash and could have snagged a guy like Jose Theodore too if they had wanted.

The Oilers last used high picks on Devan Dubnyk in 2004 and Jeff Deslauriers in 2002. They’ve been sharp enough to avoid it since then. It’s one of the few things the organization has done right over the last decade.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

    • 2004Z06

      Sorry Gord. That question is not fair. Mac T went after Bernier, Bishop, Raanta and Schneider first. He settled on Lababerra after he failed to land one of the aforementioned goalies.

      Further to that, Labarberra had a decent career as a backup up until coming to Edmonton. No one could have forseen his numbers would drop so significantly here.

      As has been stated earlier, until this team improves significantly defensively, no goalie will shine here.

      • reaperfunkss

        Mact FAILED to sign a credible goalie but it is not fair to hold him to that standard?

        Right he deserves a free pass. Why start holding management accountabkle now, right?

        • 2004Z06

          My god man. He had been on the job for 30 days at the time! Give it a rest!

          I am all for holding management accountable, but why don’t we give him a full season before we ask for another organization members head?

          Serious Gord….

          Bachmans career numbers were/are a joke. Pre season means squat. As for Bryzgalov, I am sure he was still enjoying his extended paid vacation with his family. What urgency did he have to speak with anyone?

    • The 'Real' Ron Burgundy

      Turned out badly for sure but low risk, low cost.

      And why would Oiler management develop/manage goaltending assets any better than the rest of this cluster _ _ _ _ ?

    • Rick Stroppel

      Which in turn, 1 must ask…

      Why did the Stanley Cup Champion GM TRADE for Labarbera..?

      Yet another bad move by Bowman..?

      Your rhetoric is redundant ‘Seriously Stale Gord’.


  • The 'Real' Ron Burgundy

    Had he actually chosen Edmonton, would he even be relevant in the goalie conversation? Or, would he have numbers similar to our current tenders who have to try and stop pucks behind a group of guys who are unable to or flat out refuse to play defense?

    • paul wodehouse

      …so we need to trade for two first pairing defencemen before we talk goalies at all…the klefboms and nurses and marincins and whoever else is coming will fill in the spots as they come …

      BRAIN FART EDIT not marincin …musil…

      • The 'Real' Ron Burgundy

        I agree, the Klefboms, Musils, and Nurses will definitely fill in some glaring holes on the back end, but they wont make the Gags, Halls, Shultzs, and Eberles want to play defensive hockey and actually commit to it.

        We can talk goaltenders all you want, but there isn’t a tender in the league that could mask the lack of fundamental defensive ability/desire this team shows on a nightly basis.

        Two first pairing defense would be great, but I doubt they would be able to force the “untouchables” to actually skate back to their own end and pick up a man.

  • 15w40

    1 – what number does it take via offer sheet to acquire Raanta this summer, with Crawford’s extension kicking in next year?

    2 – For me, If there’s someone the Oilers should have considered at 37 vs trading down, it would be Petan, not Fucale.

  • The 'Real' Ron Burgundy

    ‘The Oilers last used high picks on Devan Dubnyk in 2004 and Jeff Deslauriers in 2002. They’ve been sharp enough to avoid it since then. It’s one of the few things the organization has done right over the last decade’

    wow……not doing something constitutes as something being done right….we are grasping at straws trying to find something redeeming about the plight of the Oilers

  • Czar

    Bunz and Roy were both considered decent picks with loads of potential when they were drafted. The Oilers organization is where goaltending prospects go to die. Roy was the 2nd ranked NA goalie in 09 and Bunz was the WHL goalie of the year in 2011-12, only the Oilers could fvck up both of them.

  • Rick Stroppel


    Draft day 2014. I see all five of them up on the stage: Lowe, MacTavish, Eakins, Katz, Katz’ kid. BTW, do you suppose anybody has explained to them what a bush-league move it is to have that kid up on the stage? It makes it look like this is a picnic, and the team is Katz’ private toy.

    Anyway, they are all up there, all smug and happy and smiling. Lowe steps forward and says “With the second [or third or fourth] overall pick in the 2014 draft, the Oilers proudly select a nifty, undersized, injury-prone winger. He can’t win a faceoff, he doesn’t like puck battles, and nobody ever taught him how to back check. But he lit it up against 16 and 17 year olds!”.

    Then the poor player comes forward and slips the jersey over his head. He is thinking “how in the heck do I get out of this!”.

    I admire the work that people like Jonathan do and I used to care a lot about the draft myself. But now I find it hard to get excited. This team does not need teenagers or more “prospects”. This team need disciplined, mature men who will play hard and smart at both ends of the rink.

  • The 'Real' Ron Burgundy

    Raanta made the right choice. Edmonton is where NHL careers go to die – his was just starting out. Understandably wouldn’t want to spend his years with a bottom feeder.

  • 15w40

    1st on the article, the Oilers’ options are limited because any quality free agents will not be signing with them. Only those with no options (Bryzgalov), or those that get longer contracts with more $$ than anywhere else (Ference).

    Now, completely off topic. Just watched the 30 minute CBC infomercial for the Olympic team selection.

    Two things I noted – no mention of Hall at all but they did discuss Eberle – neither have a shot at this point. The other thing is that I was surprised to see Katz getting his face time with the team management group. He is looking more and more like a groupie all the time.

  • Byks

    Since Dubnyk and Bryz are both free agents at the end of this year I think we should try to find some teams needing some depth at goaltending at the trade deadline, and unload both of them. Who knows what we might get and we can finish the year with Bachman. Besides we want to keep a good strong hold of 29th or 30th place , don’t we?
    If it wasn’t for the NHL draft every summer, Oiler fans would have nothing to think about till next September.

  • 2004Z06

    The Oilers have mismanaged their goalie situation for years. They completely mismanaged Deslauriers so we’ll never know what kind of goalie he might have been. Then there was the brilliant signing of Khabibulin. When it was obvious that Khabibulin wasn’t the answer, why didn’t they give Dubnyk a lot more starts so that they could have made a better assessment of his value? They could have drafted Brossoit, but didn’t so they basically had to give up a solid D-man to get him. If I recall l correctly, Bob Green had recommended they take Brossoit in the 2011 draft. They didn’t get Ben Bishop. Since they were going to get rid of Smid anyway, why didn’t they try to put him in a package? Ottawa has always liked Smid. Tambi was still the GM at that point, but how much input did other people (McT) have? So here we are again with inconsistent goaltending, the players never knowing what they are going to get on any given night. It is questionable whether either one of these two will be here next season, so we might be starting all over again trying to find the right guy. I disagree with the premise of not drafting goalies too high. Yes, they take longer to develop and it is harder to predict what they will become, but a lot of draft picks don’t pan out. As the saying goes, goaltending isn’t that important until you don’t have it, which in our case has been for a long time.

  • Rdubb

    Question for Johnathon; what would it cost the Oilers to grab Martin Jones from LA? When Quick returns, LA will have a log jam in net, and Jones will not get another shot unless Quick gets hurt since he is signed for huge dollars and a long period of time…so, wouldn’t it do the Kings good to trade a good asset like Jones now and get something in return since they won’t be using him anytime soon?
    Would something like Yak for Jones get the deal done for Edmonton, and would it be a good deal for both sides? Edmonton would rid themselves of a player who DOESN’T want to play defense and LA would get a player who can really help their woeful offense, plus LA could surround him with big, 2-way players, & in return, LA would only be losing an AHL goalie and Edmonton would hopefully fill a hole that has been there all season, even with Bryz here, he plays one good, one so-so & than one poor game…
    Jones could then grow up with this young Oiler group…
    OR, could Edm offer up Yak and Hemmer, paying some of Hemmers salary and get Jones and a 5/6 d-man, which would be a 3/4 d on Edm???
    What do you think?
    And I do hate giving up on Yak, but he seems to be a prima donna (which we don’t need and cannot handle right now) and a player who just refuses to play any sort of defense or system – I guess he thinks he didn’t need to in junior so why here?

    • The 'Real' Ron Burgundy

      Bad idea pal, Yakupov might not look good to the lot of you, but his talent is not fully realized yet, far from it! I think he’s being slightly mishandled so far in his career, although, he’s partly at fault too, him displaying his immaturities and all; But, he’s still young, with the right management/coaching, he could become the real threat he’s been touted for, and you don’t want to give him away for an ‘AHL player’ as you put it, do you? On the other hand, you nail it right on the head, our smaller, but talented forwards should be lined up with bigger, and rugged team mates to fully compliment their skills, why trade him or other smaller forwards to LA so they could prosper? Why can’t we reap the rewards we so desperately need by creating a better environment for them here? Yes, here in Oilerland?

  • Serious Gord

    Until the Oilers can shaw an iota of a chance to be a competitive team in the NHL expect them to lose out on 99% of the hottest available talent this way. J.Shultz was an anomaly and i’m sure looking back he regrets coming to a team with no one to learn from.

  • OttawaOilFan

    I disagree with not using higher rough draft picks on goalies. There are plenty of examples of other organizations doing so and it paying off. This is called quality scouting.

    As you mentioned in your article, the Oilers are terrible at scouting goalies and have been for years. Our pro scouting is probably among the worst in the league and our amateur scouting has improved a lot under Stu but I’m almost 100% positive that I read somewhere in the past couple years that they actually consult with Freddie Chabot when it comes to scouting amateur goalies. If that’s right, our scouts, men who are paid to have keen eye for talent and hockey ability, are so poor at identifying goalies that they ask the goalie coach’s opinion. Not a horrendous idea, perhaps, but should this even be necessary in the first place? Maybe we should hire a guy or two like other organizations clearly spot them out with confidence.

    While choosing a goaltender every year isn’t a terrible idea either, going with quantity rather than quality is not exactly the best way of doing things. If you’re choosing a bunch of guys that you’re not exactly confident about and hoping they turn out, or hoping at least one turns out, that’s extremely poor scouting. Not to mention that you really will run into a problem eventually where there are only so many pro positions to put them and realistically only two or three actual development positions for them. Four if you count backing up the ECHL as a legitimate development area.

    Bottom line is that scouting’s been a major weakness for this organization for a long time. We have a few really good guys but we have an entire department of guys that haven’t been good enough for a decade or more and another department that’s got no eye for one entire area of the game they’re being paid to scout. If that’s acceptable for you, then I guess we can enjoy wasting a draft pick every year or hoping we can convince a European goaltender to come play behind a team as poor of playing team defense as this one is.

    Good luck either way.

  • The 'Real' Ron Burgundy

    I also kind of wanted to sign Khudobin. He hasn’t made us look bad because he’s been hurt for most of this season, but he’s played well when healthy. If I’m Mactavish, I’m putting in calls to the Hurricanes to see if they might move him now that they have a three-headed goaltending situation in the NHL.

    • The 'Real' Ron Burgundy

      Rollie won’t come back here and do us any favors after he was told to take his want of a two year deal and scram.

      He would’ve been a great role model and a shoulder for DD to lean on while developing properly.

      But hey, the way they did it worked out just fine.

      • a lg dubl dubl

        Yea, I never understood why they told Rolllie no on the money he wanted only to turn around and give ol’ boozy the bank. But that was ST not Mact. I don’t think he’d come back either.

        Bottom line get rid of Chabot

    • OttawaOilFan

      I’m late to the party on this article but YES!!!!!!!!! this all day long!!!! This is such an issue for us! I looked up Chabot’s stats and he’s got something like less then 35 actual NHL games to his name. Why in the name of sweet 8Lbs 4oz baby jeebus do we have a goaltending coach who lacks NHL experience??? Ok .. I’m done now.

  • The 'Real' Ron Burgundy

    JW – I haven’t been following the European leagues. Who is the next Raanta or Fasth? Have you identified anyone you would like to see the Oilers pursue?

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Sometime over the past two months I came across an LA Kings game on TV and watched it for a few minutes… Scrivens was playing in net for the Kings and the colour commentator mentioned how the Kings had been coaching Scrivens to crouch down lower in his stance. Maybe the commentator was over-simplifying the situation, but he then stated that this change in Scriven’s technique had already led to a higher save percentage during his time with the Kings.

    Why can’t the Oilers do this? Why can’t they identify a player’s weaknesses and coach him to correct them? It seems like other teams have a whole bunch of coaches and trainers that contribute to a player’s development. Why can’t the Oilers have something remotely close to this?