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Picking A Goalie High In The Draft Is A Gamble Not Worth Taking

It’s been the week of the goaltender here on SinBin.goalie, so let’s keep it going by trying to answer the age-old question of “when should a team draft a goalie in the Entry Draft?”

Top five, late first round, 150th pick? There’s an example of just about every option for Vegas to examine. Marc-Andre Fleury was chosen first overall, Roberto Loungo fourth, and Carey Price was picked fifth. Cup winner Jonathan Quick made the Kings happy at pick #72. New York famously did well with Henrik Lundqvist at 200th overall. Some Hall of Famers were chosen late first/early second round like the 20th pick Martin Brodeur, or the 51st pick in the 1984 draft, Patrick Roy. Then of course there’s the first #1 overall goalie in NHL history… Rick DiPietro.

There’s not much of an explanation for this uncertainty. Which means most teams are willing to pass early. It’s not worth “wasting” a high pick on a risky position like goaltending. Scouts describe targeting goalies early in the draft as a massive gamble.

Netminders are a volatile commodity at such a young age, so it’s almost impossible to predict who will mature into the best one, five or six years down the road. That’s pretty much the normal incubation time for goalies drafted at age 18 to begin making a mark at the NHL level. Look across the 30-team NHL landscape and count how many netminders age 22-and-under there are in the league; it’s a very short list. -Kyle Woodlief, NHL Scout

Even the best scouts have a hard time predicting how the player will translate to the NHL. So many young stoppers stand out in the NCAA, Juniors and European leagues, but stumble under the bright lights of the NHL. Over a 17-year period only 40% of goaltenders drafted wound up making an NHL experience. Even more evidence, during that same 17-year period most highly selected goaltenders were a disappointment. Just take a look, I broke down each NHL draft with the highest drafted goaltender and best goaltender in the draft. Notice the stunning lack of overlap.

2000: Rick DiPietro/#1st Overall
Henrik Lundqvist/#200th Overall

2001: Pascal Leclaire/#8th Overall
Craig Anderson/#77th Overall

2002: Kari Lehtonen/#2nd Overall
Cam Ward/#25th Overall

2003: Marc-Andre Fleury/#1st Overall
Jaroslav Halak/#271st Overall

2004: Al Montoya/#6th Overall
Cory Schneider/#26th Overall

2005: Carey Price/#5th Overall
Carey Price/#5th Overall
**Next best** Jonathan Quick/#72nd Overall

2006: Jonathan Bernier/#11th Overall
Steve Mason/#69th Overall

2007: Joel Gistedt/#36th Overall
Scott Darling/#153rd Overall

2008: Chet Pickard/18th Overall
Braden Holtby/93rd Overall

2009: Mikko Koskinen/#31st Overall
Robin Lehner/46th Overall

2010: Jack Campbell/11th Overall
Frederik Andersen/187th Overall

2011: Magnus Hellberg/38th Overall
John Gibson/39th Overall

2012: Andrei Vasilevskiy/19th Overall
Matthew Murray/83rd Overall

2013: Zachary Fucale/36th Overall
*Top Prospect- Juuse Saros/99th

2014: Mason McDonald/34th Overall
*Top Prospect- Thatcher Demko/36th

2015: Ilya Samsonov/22nd Overall
*Top Prospect-Mackenzie Blackwood/42nd

2016: Carter Hart/48th Overall
*Top Prospect-Filip Gustavsson/55th

As you can see, many high picks have gone to waste. Two such selections never even saw the NHL ice (Gistedt and Pickard), and three others still haven’t played their fifth NHL game (Koskinen, Campbell, Hellberg).

It’s a real gamble and hopefully George McPhee will look to later in the draft for goaltending. More bold scouts even suggest ignoring goalies altogether in the draft. To them there’s a better chance finding a starting goaltender in free agency or undrafted players. I doubt Vegas is considering that, but hopefully they wait it out. Maybe there’s a Quick, Lundqvist, Holtby or Murray waiting for them in the fifth round.

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4 Comments

  1. Cappy

    Historically, GMGM has picked up many goalies in the draft. Most were excellent choices, and some are still playing: Varlemov, Neuvirth, Holtby, Grubauer come to mind. (Only two of them have ever impressed me, one much more than the others. Holtby was impressive even in the AHL. Watching him, one just knew. )

    I don’t think GMGM left choosing good goalies, or players, behind when he departed the Caps organization. He has the chops, and he’s done this draft thing a few times, which is a few times more than all the people second-guessing him have done. Have faith in George <—bumper sticker for you.

    Although GMGM had acquired a few stinkers in free agency, it wasn't consistently. (That Jagr guy comes to mind. His time with the Caps did not go as hoped, but that wasn't GM's fault. Jagr played like he didn't give a steaming pile.) The Knights probably won't get the Cup the first season, but he will choose the players he thinks the best of those available to him.

    So, everybody, just chill and prep for a fun ride.

    • James

      @Cappy
      So, you don’t foresee Jagr in the Golden Knights future. Not even sure what to make of the rumour. Some talking heads say that the plodding Jagr is holding the Panthers back and should not be used on the first line, and others say the Panthers front office want him back. It sounds like Jagr is not interested in a lesser role in order to accumulate points. I think he would have a good chance of playing on the Golden Knights first line.

  2. James

    @Jason Pothier
    I heard that Nico Hischier impressed during the World Juniors, I would be happy to draft in the top three.

    I agree that picking a goalie high in the draft is a gamble. It is the hardest position to judge. Heck, picking an unproven goalie in the expansion draft is a gamble of lesser proportion. There are some intriguing names, but how confident are you that the likes of Antti Raanta can successfully perform the duties of a starting goalie? Raanta is still an unknown quantity approaching the age of 28 with years of NHL experience.

  3. RJ

    The number one reason I don’t want to see a goalie go early in the first entry draft is that we are going to see a ton of talent at the position available in the expansion draft. Las Vegas HC is going to be very deep at goalie if I understand the expansion draft rules. Let’s get an exciting forward, a physical center or a dominant defenseman in the entry draft.

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