With the 2016 World Junior Championships just days away, TLN will be revisiting some of the best performances by Maple Leafs prospects during past WJC tournaments. Today, we kick things off with one of the more controversial (and painful) stories.
Almost every year, one goaltender makes a name for himself on the world stage of the IIHF U20 World Junior Championships. Sometimes, we’re lucky enough to see two excellent young netminders lock horns and go save-for-save, even when they’re not playing against each other. Carey Price versus Semyon Varlamov in 2007 stands out as a great one, as well as John Gibson against Andrei Vasilevski (and Andrei Makarov) in 2013. We can also think way back to Dominik Hasek versus everyone in 1983 – a tournament that also featured Mike Vernon, John Vanbiesbrouck and Tom Barrasso.
Or, you know, 2006’s Justin Pogge versus Tuukka Rask.
What makes 2006 so interesting (or painful) was that both of Pogge and Rask were Toronto Maple Leafs prospects. Pogge was drafted in the third round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Leafs, 90th overall from the Calgary Hitmen. A year later, Toronto used their first round pick, 21st overall, to snap up Ilves’ Rask.
When the two met at the 2006 World Juniors tournament in British Columbia, they both put on all-time performances.
Oddly enough, Pogge and Rask faced off against each other in the very first game of the tournament – a 5-1 Canada victory over Finland in which Pogge made 16 saves and Rask got off to a slow start with only 26 saves. I suppose that tells you just how good Rask was the rest of the tournament, considering he earned just an 83.9 SV% in his first game.
Pogge would run the gauntlet, winning all six of his games and picking up three shutouts along the way. Most impressively, Pogge would blank Russia in the gold medal game with an exceptional 35-save performance on route to a 5-0 win. In six games, Pogge posted a 1.00 GAA and .952 SV%.
While Pogge and Team Canada won gold, you might say that Rask got the last laugh. Rask’s bronze medal wasn’t as nice a colour, but he did beat out Pogge for the Best Goaltender of the Tournament honours. Highlighted by an absolutely incredible 53-save shutout performance in Finland’s 1-0 overtime win over Sweden, Rask himself posted a 2.11 GAA and .940 SV%. While the numbers themselves weren’t quite as good as Pogge’s, it’s fair to say that Rask earned his numbers without a star-studded Team Canada playing in front of him.
Of course, the sad part is that neither Pogge or Rask went on to help the Maple Leafs at the NHL level.
Just months after the World Juniors tournament, the Leafs traded Rask to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Andrew Raycroft. Toronto, thinking short-term, hoped that Raycroft could immediately fulfill their need for a starting goaltender. Raycroft, as you may or may not remember, was awful, and was shown the door less than two seasons later. Rask would develop into one of the league’s premier goaltenders.
Pogge spent three seasons with the Toronto Marlies and failed to impress. In his only NHL stint, Pogge was awful, earning a .844 SV% and 4.36 GAA through seven games. The Leafs eventually traded their ‘future franchise goaltender’ to the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional pick that never materialized.
It’s a bittersweet story. Actually… it’s just bitter. When you consider that, as 2015 winds down, the Leafs are still looking for a number one goaltender, it’s hard to accept that Toronto made the wrong choice in putting all of their faith in Justin Pogge and Andrew Raycroft. To make matters worse, the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons reported just a few weeks after Rask and the Bruins eliminated the Leafs in the first round of the 2013 Playoffs that Boston actually preferred a Pogge-for-Raycroft deal and settled on Rask – a salt-in-the-wound story that I tend to believe.
Still, the aftermath doesn’t remove the fact that these two goaltenders were Leafs prospects when they put on a hell of a show at the 2006 World Juniors. Just do your best to compartmentalize that.