What about the Goaltending Prospects?

You might have noticed recently on The Leafs Nation that we’ve
had a lot of draft coverage. You might have also noticed recently that the
Leafs really need to start doing an incredible job of drafting in order to turn
their franchise around. That has led us to looking into as many skaters in the
draft as we possibly can. The one area we’ve ignored has been goaltenders, with
the exception of Justin
Fisher’s plea to consider drafting one again this year

While I’m not ready to use the 24th overall pick
on adding Ilya Samsonov to the organization, I agree that it never hurts to add
at this position, and a goaltender selected from the CHL would likely be able
to slide into a starting ECHL role by the time their junior career ends as the
Leafs goaltending depth chart isn’t so crowded that we wouldn’t expect to see
one of Gibson, Bibeau, or Sparks move on or be promoted over the course of the
next couple of years.

Besides the CHL goaltenders there are plenty of European and
NCAA options which give the Leafs the chance to develop additional goaltenders
without having them take time away from each other.

Here are five goaltenders worth looking at.

Ilya Samsonov

It makes sense to start with the goaltender that one most
commonly spoken of as a potential first round pick, and most notably cracked
the top 20 of Bob McKenzie’s rankings. Strong international showings put Ilya
on the radar of many of us, but Ilya also benefits from having the size and
style of the prototypical NHL goaltender. While he’s been good when he has
played, I’ve certainly got concerns about how little he has played, as Elite Prospects
only shows him playing in 29 games in the past year. While that might not be enough
reason to dismiss what has been seen, it doesn’t leave me with the impression
that Samsonov is worth spending a first round pick on.

When I’d take him: If
Samsonov is available when the Leafs pick at 65 he’d be worth getting excited
over. Though if rankings are any indication, Ilya will be gone well within the
top 60.

Callum Booth

Moving away from a goaltender I don’t think the Leafs will
pursue to one that might be worth looking at, here’s a goaltender that played
in 41 games, had a save percentage north of .900 (good in the CHL). Booth’s
stock didn’t get a fair chance to rise in the second half of the season as
Quebec brought in the wildly overrated Zach Fucale to take over their number
one role. Fucale was never able to replicate the numbers of Booth, and Fucale
was hilariously lit up in the Memorial Cup while Booth was forced to watch from
the bench. The concerns with Booth are that he may be benefiting for being a
good and defensively sound team. Booth is identical in size to Samsonov, and
plays the butterfly style that every QMJHL goaltender has played since Patrick
Roy. Given that every goaltender is a project, Booth seems to be one worth taking
on, and has at least proven that he can handle a heavy workload.

When I’d take him: With
two picks in the 4th round this year I certainly wouldn’t mind
seeing the Leafs use one on Booth. Both McKenzie and Future Considerations
rankings would suggest he’d be gone by then, but besides those two rankings,
Booth was questionably absent from the top 100.

Felix Sandstrom

When drafting players I generally like to choose ones that
sound like they may be a transformer, but the question is, can Felix Sandstrom be
transformed into a professional goaltender? (Totally nailed that lede).  Similar to Samsonov, Sandstrom doesn’t have a
huge number of games under his belt this season, but he was solid when he did
play. Felix got a small taste of the SHL this season which is a significant
vote of confidence for a developing goaltender, and a strong sign that he’ll
see time with them in the near future. This experience might be what sets apart
from some of the other goaltending options available, although it’s worth
noting the Leafs struggles with Swedish goaltending prospects.

When I’d take him: Sandstrom
is a guy I like, but not one I’m rushing out to get. If he’s there in the fifth
or sixth round I think you have to have discussions about him.

Ryan Larkin

In their draft guide Future Considerations names Larkin as
the most athletic goaltender in the draft. The cool thing about Larkin is that
he comes with a long learning curve that has little impact on the organization’s
depth chart. Ryan has another year in the USHL (which isn’t so much a good
thing) but then will be attending the University of Miami (Ohio). Essentially
you’ve got up to five years to develop your goaltender external to your
organization, so no SPCs and no fighting for starts with your other goaltender
prospects. In a league that has high variance of Sv% based on both talent of
the goaltenders and the talent of the teams, Larkin is on the great side of the
curve with a .919 Sv%.

The real selling point on Larkin for me is that he plays an
exciting acrobatic style not the boring ol’ butterfly. Some Hasek/Thomas style
craziness sounds appealing to me, and this seems like a dare to be great kind
of pick.

When I’d take him: Larkin
is easily my favourite on this list, but I still don’t think I’d go before the
fourth round on him. He seems to be off the radar, so why reach for him? He’s
the lowest risk, and highest reward of this group and that’s usually the best
way to approach drafting goaltenders.

Mackenzie Blackwood

While I have strong moral objections to drafting anyone
named Mackenzie, it seems necessary to include the goaltender ranked top North
American Goaltender by NHL Central Scouting. Blackwood has done well on some
very good Barrie teams, and has had some very good defensemen in front of him.
Blackwood and Booth are fairly similar to me, but Blackwood has a small size
advantage and didn’t have to suffer the indignity of Zach Fucale stealing his
starts. Blackwood also has performed well in big games and that means a lot
because decision makers watch big games. A strong playoffs and great Super
Series performance mean he’ll go fairly early on day two of the draft.

When I’d take him: I
have a slight preference of Booth over Blackwood, and I’m probably more
intrigued by Sandstrom than Blackwood that I’d rather wait in the draft and
take him. None of this matters because someone is going to take Mackenzie in
the second or third round.

Jon’s Final
Goaltender Rankings:

1. Ilya Samsonov
2. Ryan Larkin
3. Callum Booth
4. Felix Sandstrom
5. Mackenzie Blackwood

Near Misses:

Daniel Vladar became popular through international tournament play and
being the largest goaltender available. He’s certainly not a bad option, but
not thrilled about developing someone in the Czech League.

Matej Tomek is a NAHL goaltender bound for the University of North Dakota next
season. He made McKenzie’s list, but I’m not going to pretend I’ve seen a NAHL
goaltender play.

The moral of the story here is that Justin Fisher was right
to suggest the Leafs look at a goaltender, but certainly not on the first day
of the draft. In a thirty team league, and likely 10 strong goaltending
prospects it seems reasonable to play the waiting game and start considering
addressing the position in no earlier than the fourth round.

  • elseldo

    I think your underestimating every goalie in this draft. But if I had to guess Ken Appleby will be taken with be a late pick, samsanov will be taken in the first, and Blackwood/ booth will be gone right at the start of the second. But goalies are voodoo so I wont even try to evaluate them.

  • Brooksterman

    It’s a good Idea to draft a goalie every couple of years if not every year just to keep having guys coming into the system. The one problem I think Leafs management needs to solve is I think they have too many goalies at the AHL level. It will hurt any of the 3 goalies’ development to go down to the ECHL next year as they are all too good for that level other than it may be better for Bibeau to go down there. I do know I don’t want to see Sparks down there as he I know for sure is too good for the ECHL and it does his development no good to play there again next year.

  • Brooksterman

    The selling point on Larkin ia a reason of concern to me. This tells me he may be out of position often and has to react to make a save. This is also concerning because this style is less efficient and takes more energy which also hurts technique at end of games if he doesn’t have stamina. Would he be able to play this style versus NHL shooters?

  • MatsSundin#13

    The Leafs already had one amazing goalie named Felix…goalies are so voodoo that’s what I am going on!! Plus Sandstrom and Reimer could make up a Transformer tandem in between the pipes for the Leafs, it all fits.

  • SEER

    It’s not the strongest draft for goaltenders…, but I had to come in here and state my two cents about our own prospect goalies…

    Whoever thinks that Sparks is our top, needs to take a real, close look at some of his decisions & attitude in the past two seasons.. He wasn’t sent down to the ECHL two seasons in a row, because he is our top goalie prospect..

    Bibeau & Gibson are much more mentally mature, in my opinion… Still think that Bibeau will shine above all three, though… Goalies take longer to develop..

    As far as Sparks goes, he needs to really get his ego in check & stop acting like a high-school brat, if he ever expects an NHL career… In 2013-14, during the Marlies playoffs, he decided to grab a player’s stick and walk onto the ice in his shoes ands street clothes (just before game start) and take practice “shots at the net”…, so he could gain the attention of the whole crowd… Not the wisest decision…

    This past season (in the middle of a time-out, during a Solar Bears game) he took his goalie stick and started playing air-guitar, while the coach was talking to the players.., again seeking attention from the crowd…

    If I was a coach of either team, he would have been dismissed from the team..

    He has a lot of growing up to do, for an American tender trying to make headway..

    • SEER

      Not everyone needs to be this perfect media trained angel. It’s refreshing to see someone have a little fun once in a while. So what if he plays air guitar while the coach is talking to players or takes “practice shots” before the game if its what keeps him level headed during the game.

      • SEER

        You missed my point…, Denis..

        I have no problems with things like that being done once the game has ended.., but not “during” a game..

        If he wants to unwind before a game, he can do that off ice… There are other things he’s done not privy to the public, too.., but I’m not going to be the one to announce them..

        He’s a young tender trying to break in.. He’s not a star with bragging rights..

        But, you don’t ignore a coaches directions during a time-out and dis him, by playing air-guitar (making it appear that he has no interest)…

        Would you like one of your employees standing up in the middle of a board-room meeting playing air-guitar.., while you were in the middle of a multi-million dollar offer..?

    • Brooksterman

      At the end of the day all a team’s head coach cares about is results. The save percentage Sparks had with the Solar Bears last year was at such a level compared to his peers that his coach would have let almost anything he did slide as long as it wasn’t illegal. Sparks performance between whistles bought him leeway to a point the coach would have seen him do that and said “good for him, change up the lines.”

      • SEER

        No.. that’s not all..

        These farm team coaches are trying to prepare these kids for the NHL… That means instilling a little respect for authority, too.., or they won’t make the Major League… and survive..

        Sparks had a good season, yes.. BUT, he also played a whole 36 games in the regular season (and six in playoffs.. where his save % went down a little)… If he was that great, he would have played more than half a season as starter.. The Bears were also knocked out in the first round of playoffs..

        IMO.. Drew MacIntyre is twice the goalie that Sparks is… and Bibeau will be better than both of them..

    • Gary Empey

      You are correct. Air guitar should be left strictly to the fans. Using a goalie stick ? Why everyone knows you should use a regular hockey stick with a flex rating of 85,