Last year, a goalie wasn't selected in the opening round for the third time in five years. NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said there might be a run on them at this year's draft, to be held June 22-23 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
"It would not surprise me to see an increase in the number of goaltenders selected earlier in the 2012 draft than where they have been selected in the last few seasons," Marr told NHL.com. "There hasn't been more than two goalies selected in the first round since 2004, and I believe there are four strong goaltending prospects worthy of first- or early second-round consideration. Three are the top-ranked European goalies, and this would continue a trend of excellent young goaltenders coming from Europe."
In the 2004 draft, Al Montoya (N.Y. Rangers, No. 6), Devan Dubnyk (Edmonton, No. 14), Marek Schwarz (St. Louis, No. 17) and Cory Schneider (Vancouver, No. 26) were chosen in the opening round.
The first goalie off the board at last year's draft was Magnus Hellberg, who went to the Nashville Predators in the second round (No. 38). It was a bit of a surprise considering the top two North American prospects still were on the board: John Gibson of the U.S. National Team Development Program and Christopher Gibson of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Central Scouting's Al Jensen has been scouting goalies for the NHL the past 12 years.
"There was a time where goalies were mostly trying to block, and now it's about good positioning and being athletic, reacting to shots instead of just letting the puck hit you all the time," he said. "There are still goalies out there that do that, but I think NHL teams are realizing that the goalies who have had success in the NHL are the ones who not only have good technique but are able to react to shots and have a good feel for the game."
Topping the 2012 class is Malcolm Subban of the Belleville Bulls in the Ontario Hockey League. Subban, the brother of Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, is Central Scouting's top-ranked North American goalie.
The top two European goalies, Andrei Vasilevski of Ufa in the Russian junior league and Oscar Dansk of Brynas' junior team in Sweden, each boast impressive credentials.
Goalies filled the top six spots in the wingspan measurement at the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto. Anthony Stolarz of Corpus Christi in the North American Hockey League had an 81-inch wingspan that was three-quarters of an inch longer than Jon Gillies of Indiana (United States Hockey League). Subban was third at 79.5 inches. Vasilevski, Central Scouting's top-ranked European goalie, was sixth at 78 inches.
The biggest surprise of the goaltending group at the draft could be Stolarz. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound New Jersey native was ranked No. 21 among North American goalies on Central Scouting's mid-term report but catapulted to No. 4 in the final rankings.
"I have to attribute [the rise in the rankings] to my hard work and the coaching staff [at Corpus Christi]," Stolarz told NHL.com. "They pushed me to be the best goalie I could be, and just going on the ice early and staying on after practice really helped. I just worked at solidifying every part of my game."
Here are Jensen's top five North American goalies:
1. Malcolm Subban, Belleville Bulls (OHL): Subban (6-1, 188) finished 25-14-0 in 39 regular-season games, with a 2.50 goals-against average, three shutouts and a .923 save percentage.
"I see Malcolm as a Carey Price," Jensen told NHL.com. "He's calm and poised. … Malcolm is very good with his positioning with outstanding lateral ability and quickness. He can make the big save to turn a game around, but he covers post-to-post so well with his butterfly. His leg extension is incredible and he has a very quick glove hand."
2. Brandon Whitney, Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL): In 36 regular-season games, Whitney posted a 22-4-4 record with a 2.74 GAA and .896 save percentage. His solid play over the second half of the season, which included a spot with Team Canada for the 2012 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, pushed him to No. 2 in the final rankings. Whitney also participated in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in February, stopping 11 of 12 shots for Team Cherry.
"For his size (6-5, 193), he has extremely quick movements and is controlled … he's not all over the place," Jensen said. "I find his angles are very good, he's aggressive and challenges well. He's got strong legs and gets set quickly. I see a lot of upside for this kid three or four years down the road."
3. Jake Paterson, Saginaw (OHL): Paterson (6-2, 183) was No. 5 in the mid-term rankings but came on strong over the second half of the season to finish 18-18-3 with a 3.42 GAA and .904 save percentage.
"I like his quickness, his athleticism, drive and determination," Jensen said. "He wants to get better and he is getting better. He's most effective when he challenges. He has such strong leg strength. He's challenged better over the second half and he has NHL quickness right now … he's one of the quickest goalies in the draft."
4. Anthony Stolarz, Corpus Christi (NAHL): Jensen was sold after watching Stolarz several times over the second half of the season.
"I'm a big, athletic goalie who likes to play the puck," Stolarz told NHL.com. "I squeeze my holes very well and won't allow pucks to go through me."
Stolarz, born in Edison, N.J., finished 23-22-7 with a 2.84 GAA, three shutouts and a .920 save percentage in 50 games.
"He reminds me of Ben Bishop [of the Ottawa Senators]," Jensen said. "He's tall and not wearing big equipment, but has great athleticism, great drive and determination. He's controlled, has great reflexes. He's got that quickness that's required in a pro goalie."
Stolarz, who will attend the University of Nebraska-Omaha next fall, is a big admirer of Devils goalie Martin Brodeur.
"He'll do whatever it takes to stop the puck and that's what you have to do as a goalie," he said. "Your job is to stop the puck, and if you have to make a save with your bare hand or dive across like a first baseman, so be it."
5. Francois Tremblay, Val d'Or (QMJHL): Tremblay (6--2, 200) advanced one spot on the final rankings after finishing 22-28-4 with a 3.79 GAA, two shutouts, and an .882 save percentage in 57 games.
"He's one of the best technical goalies in the draft," Jensen said. "He's a typical butterfly-style goalie -- calm, relaxed and patient. He's very tough to beat down low, he's very square, and his positional play is good. He may not be as quick as some of the goalies I've mentioned, but he's smart and keeps his body upright. I don't see many holes, and I see a good upside from this kid."
Author: Mike Morreale of NHL.com