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Drafting A Goalie In 1st Round Rarely Wise

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

With the 17th pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, the Vegas Golden Knights select, Spencer Knight, goalie, US National Team Development Program.

It’s just too perfect, right? There’s literally a guy named Knight, who plays a position of need for Vegas, who happens to be slotted right around where the Golden Knights select in the Draft. Seems like fate. (Or a really stupid reason to pick a player, but people seem to do it anyway, so here we are.)

But before we even get into how good Spencer Knight is (and believe me, we will over the course of the next four weeks), I thought it was a good idea to take a look at highly drafted goalies to even begin to consider whether the match made in heaven should even be considered on June 21st.

Year1st RoundNumber(s)Player(s)Notable(s)
2018039Lindbom (NYR)Kooy (VGK, 208)
2017126Oettinger (DAL)Zhukov (VGK, 96), Patera (VGK, 161), Ferguson (DAL, 194)
2016048Hart (PHI)Woll (TOR, 62)
2015122Samsonov (WSH)Blackwood (NJD, 42)
2014034McDonald (CGK)Demko (VAN, 36)
2013036Fucale (MTL)Saros (NSH, 99)
2012219, 24Vasilevskiy (TBL), Subban (BOS)Dansk (CBJ, 31), Murray (PIT, 83), Andersen* (ANA, 87), Hellebuyck (WPG, 130)
2011038Hellberg (NSH)Gibson (ANA, 39), Binnington (STL ,88)
2010211, 27Campbell (LAK), Visentin (PHX)Grubauer (WSH, 112), Mrazek (DET, 141), Andersen* (CAR, 187)
2009031Koskinen (NYI)Lehner (OTT, 46), Kuemper (MIN, 161)
2008218, 30Chet Pickard (NSH), McCollum (DET)Markstrom (31, FLA), Allen (STL, 34), Holtby (WSH, 93)
2007036Gistedt (PHX)Darling (PHX, 153)
2006411, 15, 23, 26Bernier (LAK), Helenius (TBL), Varlamov (WSH), Irving (CGY)Neuvirth (WSH, 34), Mason (CBJ, 69), Johnson (PIT, 125)
200525, 21Price (MTL), Rask (TOR)Pavelec (ATL, 41), Quick (LAK, 72), Bishop (STL, 85)
200446, 14, 17, 26Montoya (NYR), Dubnyk (EDM), Schwarz (STL), Schneider (VAN)Greiss (SJS, 94), Ramo (TBL, 191), Khudobin (MIN, 206), Rinne (NSH, 258)
200311Fleury (PIT)Crawford (CHI, 52), Howard (DET, 64), Halak (MTL, 271), Elliott (291, OTT)

Since Marc-Andre Fleury went #1 overall in 2003 to Pittsburgh, there has been a goalie drafted in the 1st round of just eight of the 15 drafts. A total of 18 goalies have gone in the 1st round since 2004, and their success has been extremely limited.

Just five of the 18 have made more than 10 starts with the team they were drafted by. That’s 13 1st round goalies who had absolutely no impact on the team that spent a 1st round pick on them. Even the five that did work, only two ended up having a significant impact on the team that selected them (Price, Vasilevskiy). 14 years of NHL Drafts and TWO turned out to be stars for the correct team.

It’s a little better for the guy calling the shots in Vegas though.

In his 17 years as GM of the Washington Capitals, George McPhee selected 17 goalies. Four of them played more than six games in the NHL (12 did not play a single game). Those four are Braden Holtby, Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth, and Philipp Grubauer.

However, the only time McPhee spent a 1st round pick on a goalie, it went extremely well. Varlamov was selected 23rd overall by the Capitals in 2006. He played just three seasons in Washington, but was successful winning 30 of his 53 starts and posting a .917 save percentage and a 2.39 goals against average. He was eventually traded for a 1st and 2nd round pick which turned into Filip Forsberg. Varlamov went on to be an All Star, a Vezina runner-up, and has made at least 49 starts in six seasons.

For comparison’s sake, I took a look at the “success rate” of the other positions McPhee has drafted. (Success rate simply meaning they’ve played at least 10 NHL games). McPhee’s goalies hit a 24% rate (4 of 17), while he hit on defensemen at a 35% rate (16 of 46) and forwards at a 55% rate (48 of 87).

In the first round, McPhee was perfect selecting just the one goalie, but he was pretty darn close with defensemen and forwards as well, hitting on 6 of 7 d-men and 13 of 14 forwards.

No matter how you slice it, drafting a goalie in the 1st round is a major risk. Most teams whiff completely, others get the player right but aren’t patient enough to wait for him to make it to the NHL, and even the ones that work tend to be can’t miss prospects (which Spencer Knight is not).

The Golden Knights are likely to have the choice at #17 to go with the goalie, and if they do pick Knight it will probably be widely celebrated, but facts are facts, even if they pick him, the chances the word Knight ever end up on the back of a Golden Knights jersey remain incredibly slim.

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15 Comments

  1. dryraindinner@gmail.com

    I’ll take the bad odds and get the goalie. We know we need one as Subban is probably not the next in line for Fleury. Everyone will be a gamble, but goalie is the one spot we really don’t have other good options.

    • J. Griffith

      Agreed! Take a gamble and pick goal tender Spencer Knight!

      Crystal ball here on my desk says go for it!

      Fans would go nuts!

  2. A Fan

    I think Knight is worth the risk. Goalie is our weak spot right now for the future. Whether he works out or not only time will tell. Grab him.

  3. vgk2018

    Easier to fix LT goalie situation through free agency esp when we are (hopefully) at least 3 years away from needing a goalie.

    Also, those stats you quote are kinds misleading as there are 12 forward positions, 6 D’man but only 1 goalie starting every game…so yeah hit rate for someone to start 10 NHL games is much more difficult for a goalie than any other position.

    • JAY T

      3 years away? LOL, Fleury is already average to below average in most advanced stats.
      Amazing he gets no heat for the 4 goals in 4 minutes. If he’s still the starting goalie in 3 years, he’s either had a remarkable age-defying turnaround (unlikely), or the Knights are no longer a playoff contender.

  4. Joseph C Vara

    So flurry made no impact so according to you he is not included with Price and Vassilevsky ?

    • Read it again, I say Since 2004.

      • Tim

        Sorry Ken, you did miss Rask, as in Tukka. Same draft as Price. So it’s actually 3 since ’04

        • Tuukka Rask was drafted by Toronto. He was then traded to Boston for Andrew Raycroft (who was awful after his rookie year).

          • Eric

            Why does it matter where the goalie had success? Is Rask a bad pick because he got traded? Of course not.

          • The point of the story is that drafting Spencer Knight doesn’t mean he’s likely to play for VGK. It’s very rare that first round goalie picks ever make it to play with the team that picked them.

            Also, yeah it’s bad when you trade the pick for a bum.

  5. Joseph Biase

    Oscar Dansk and Maxime Lagace are minor-league backups at best. Dylan Ferguson has a cool first (Bob Dylan?) and last (John Ferguson?) name, yet his numbers are far from having potential. Maksim Zhukov has proven only to be mediocre in the USHL. I like Malcolm Subban and thought that he had the potential to become a poor-man’s Vladislav Tretiak. It’s not to late for him yet, but l do agree with you all, the Vegas Golden Knights should play it safe and draft Spencer Knight as their 1st round pick. By doing so, the Golden Knights will have 2 bona fide #1 goalies by the time Marc-Andre Fleury retires. Plus if Subban flops, the Golden Knights will have their goalie of the future, Spencer Knight.

  6. Nathan

    Never draft for need. Always draft best player available.

  7. the hockey god

    i like Oscar, meanwhile Glass / Wolves on fire

    https://theahl.com/ahl_videos/gulls-vs-wolves-wcf-game-1

  8. Spyider205

    I have see this kid in net playing several NCAA games and he has the potential to be a NHL goalie for sure. How good will he be? Nobody knows it’s a risk for sure but I believe this franchise was built to take risks and this guy is worth it!!! Worst case trade back to get him or we will be trading some of our assets and will probably have 2 first round picks this draft. Get him it’s worth it!!! I usually agree with Ken but not in this case….

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