The Oilers historically haven’t had much success when it comes to drafting and developing goaltenders.
The cream of the crop, of course, is Grant Fuhr, who was drafted No. 8 overall and went on to have a Hall of Fame career. There’s also Andy Moog, the No. 132 pick from the 1980 draft, who put together an excellent NHL career.
Since then? Only two goalies drafted by the Oilers have gone on to become legitimate NHLers. There’s Devan Dubnyk, the No. 14 selection from the 2004 draft, who didn’t really hit his stride until he left the organization, and Jussi Maarkkanen, the No. 133 pick from the 1998 draft, who was a decent NHL backup for a few years.
As a result, the Oilers have generally had to acquire their goaltenders externally. Bill Ranford, Curtis Joseph, Tommy Salo, Dwayne Roloson, and Cam Talbot were all trade acquisitions, while Nikolai Khabibulin, Mikko Koskinen, and Mike Smith were free agents.
Being able to draft and develop a goalie internally is obviously ideal. Trading to fill a need can be a challenge because of the cost associated with acquiring talent and free agency is also difficult because you generally have to overpay to attract the top options. This off-season, for example, the Senators gave up a good prospect and second-round pick to acquire Matt Murray via trade and the Flames paid $36 million over six years to sign Jacob Markstrom as a free agent.
The Oilers used a top-90 draft pick in three-consecutive drafts between 2017 and 2019 on Stuart Skinner, Olivier Rodrigue, and Ilya Konovalov with the hope of bucking the trend and internally developing their goalie of the future. Today, I’ll talk about Rodrigue, a guy that the organization was high enough on that they traded up to select him No. 62 overall at the 2018 draft.
Date of Birth: July 6, 2000
Drafted: 2018, No. 62 overall (EDM)
Height: 6’1″ / 185 cm
Weight: 159 lbs / 72 kg
At the 2018 draft, the Oilers traded a third- and a fifth-round pick to the Montreal Canadiens for the No. 62 overall pick to draft Rodrigue. There was a bit of an eye-roll at the time because Rodrigue’s father, Sylvian Rodrigue, was (and still is) employed by the Oilers as a goaltending coach.
Nepotism is certainly something that has been an issue for the Oilers in the past, but, I wouldn’t say the team overreached on Rodrigue. He was consistently ranked as one of the top goalies in his draft class and some pre-draft lists, such as this one put out by NHL.com, even had him as the No. 1 option available. Moving up to take him at the end of the second round was perfectly reasonable.
Greg Balloch of In Goal Magazine wrote about Rodrigue heading into the draft, stating that his status as a top prospect was based on his own merit and advanced skills, not simply his last name…
“His father Sylvain is a well-respected goaltending coach that has spent the last five years as part of the Edmonton Oilers organization. … Don’t think for one second that these opportunities were handed to Rodrigue. Of the draft-eligible-or-younger starting goalies in the QMJHL, his save percentage was only bested by Rimouski’s Colten Ellis, who will be a top end prospect in the 2019 entry draft in Vancouver.
At 6-foot-1, Rodrigue isn’t the most imposing figure between the pipes. He’s in the category of elite puck-trackers who are able to cut pucks off before they have a chance to rise over his shoulder. His hand discipline is very consistent, which is why you just don’t see him get beaten on clean shots all that often. Rodrigue’s other great strength is his sublime edgework while down in the butterfly. His east/west movement is lightning fast due to his ability to quickly grab an edge and push back in the opposite direction.”
As Balloch said, Rodrigue is a highly-skilled and technically-refined goalie. He isn’t a big guy by any stretch so he compensates with very good vision, edgework, and movement in the net. We see many goalies have success at lower levels simply because they’re huge and take up the entire net. In Rodrigue’s case, it’s interesting to see a smaller guy have success due to his advanced technical skills.
In 2019-20, Rodrigue was putting together an incredible season for the Moncton Wildcats before the season got wiped due to COVID-19. Rodrigue posted a 31-7-1 record and a sparkling .918 save percentage, which is incredibly impressive for the high-scoring QMJHL.
Next up, Rodrigue will make the transition to professional hockey, so we’ll see if his success can translate at the next level. I imagine we’ll see Stuart Skinner and Anton Forsberg as the goalie tandem in the AHL this season, so Rodrigue should have an opportunity to see a lot of reps in the ECHL in his rookie season as a professional.
How things shake out after that ultimately comes down to performance. Skinner’s first two seasons as a pro have been underwhelming, so he has a lot to prove this year. If Rodrigue is great in the ECHL, he’ll jump up and grab an AHL gig sooner rather than later. And then there’s also Ilya Konovalov, whose contract in the KHL expires at the end of this season.
There are only so many reps to go around, but having three talented goalie prospects competing with each other for opportunity is a positive thing.
For reference, players who I consider to be “prospects” for this countdown are skaters who have played fewer than 50 NHL games and goaltenders who have played fewer than 25 NHL games. I’m basing the rankings on a combination of upside and the likelihood of reaching that potential.