It’s been a long time since the Oilers drafted and developed a goalie internally.
Devan Dubnyk, the No. 14 overall pick from the 2004 draft, was the last one to become a starting goalie in the NHL, and he didn’t really find his groove until he left the organization. To find the last goalie drafted and developed by the Oilers who became a good starting goalie for the organization, you have to go all the way back to the early-1980s, Andy Moog and Grant Fuhr.
The Oilers currently have Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen as their goalie tandem with Anton Forsberg serving as the third-string. All three were free-agent additions and all three will have their current contracts expire in the next year and a half. Edmonton’s goalie positions are wide open long-term. If a prospect puts up impressive numbers in the minors, there’s a direct path to an opportunity in the big-leagues.
I’ve taken a look at Stuart Skinner and Olivier Rodrigue, and, finally, I’ll take a look at Ilya Konovalov, a 22-year-old in the KHL who looks like Edmonton’s best bet to buck the trend of being unable to successfully draft and develop goalies.
Date of Birth: July 13, 1998
Drafted: 2019, No. 85 overall (EDM)
Height: 5’11” / 181 cm
Weight: 196 lbs / 89 kg
Konovalov was drafted by the Oilers with the No. 85 pick in the 2019 draft, so you’d think he’s miles away from being seriously talked about for an NHL gig. But Konovalov was selected in his fourth go-around, so he’s already 22 years of age, the same as 2016 third-round pick Stuart Skinner.
It was an incredible KHL performance that put Konovalov on the map and resulted in him going from someone who was consistently being passed over to a legitimate prospect. In 2018-19, his first full season in the KHL, Konovalov posted a sparkling .930 save percentage in 45 games with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.
Konovalov’s 2019-20 season wasn’t quite as impressive, as he posted a .912 save percentage over 40 games, but he’s back to playing very well thus far in 2020-21, as he owns a .924 save percentage through 10 starts. The issue for Konovalov this season is that he’s been passed on Lokomotiv’s depth chart by import (and former Oiler minor-leaguer) Eddie Pasquale, who’s been on fire this season.
The Pasquale situation does offer a warning about not getting too excited about KHL goaltending statistics. Pasquale has a .936 save percentage this season, the third-highest mark in the league, and he was a guy who peaked in North America as a third-stringer who has three NHL games under his belt.
Still, the KHL is a professional league, and the fact that Konovalov has performed well here ultimately makes him the top goalie on Edmonton’s depth chart. Skinner hasn’t been able to find his groove at the professional ranks and Rodrigue has yet to play professionally in North America.
An interesting thing about these three goalies is how different they are. Skinner is a big guy who takes up a lot of the net, Rodrigue is a well-trained goalie with amazing athleticism and reflexes, while Konovalov compensates for a smaller frame and non-elite skills with an amazing hockey sense and work ethic.
Here’s what Corey Pronman had to say about Konovalov before he was finally drafted…
Konovalov had a great season even as a fourth-year-eligible prospect. He was an above-average starting goalie in the KHL and is a player who will be looked to for the Russian national team in the future. He’s six-foot with good but not great athleticism, so I was initially quite skeptical. Konovalov’s hockey sense is outstanding, though, and won me over. His eyes seem magnetically attracted to the puck. He’s never fooled by reverse passes from behind the net, centering plays and stays in position even when the puck is bouncing around the crease. He has that very low panic threshold you want in a goalie. He may never make the spectacular diving save, but he often never needs to. His movements are quick and smooth enough that he squares up most pucks.
The NHL comparable drawn for Konovalov that I’ve seen is Anton Khudobin. Another smaller (listed at 5’11”) goalie who doesn’t have elite skills or athleticism, Khudobin has carved out a successful career in the NHL, either as a very good backup or a strong 1B type. If Konovalov could become Khudobin, that would be a win for the Oilers.
For now, Konovalov continues his play with Yaroslavl, but his KHL contract expires at the end of the 2020-21 season. That would mean the Oilers can bring him overseas and put him in the mix to play for the Bakersfield Condors. If he can perform well in the AHL, the hype train will really start moving.
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.