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Leafs System Teeming with Goaltending Talent

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

Jeff Marek hosts AM 640 Toronto's Leafs Lunch, also seen each weekday on Leafs TV, from noon to 2pm. Marek, along with co-host Bill Watters have their finger on the pulse of Leafs Nation and now joins the team.

January 12, 2006

(TORONTO) -- There is a novel concept being floated around the NHL amongst scouts and GM's as it relates to the NHL's annual entry draft.

In today's game, few teams now draft out of positional necessity and most draft using the "take the best player available no matter what the position" approach, there is a radical new idea that one daring GM just may try come this June;

Any converstion about Leafs goaltending has to start with Ed Belfour.
(Getty Images/NHLI)

Take the best goalie available.

In every round.

Yes, you read that correctly,

The concept is a simple one (and was probably initiated by a GM who used to be a goalie...Carolina's Jim Rutherford comes to mind). In each round of the entry draft use each draft pick to select a netminder.

Sound crazy?

Well maybe, but the idea is that goalies develop at different times of their career and there's no guarantee that the top goalie selected will be the best goalie from the draft.

Let's have a look at recent Stanley Cup champs and where their goalies were selected (and which goalie was taken first in that draft)

Tampa Bay Lightning: Nikolai Khabibulin (204th in 1992. Jim Carey 32nd by Washington)
New Jersey Devils: Martin Brodeur (20th in 1990. Trevor Kidd 11th by the Calgary Flames)
Detroit Red Wings: Dominik Hasek (199th in 1983.  Tom Barrasso 5th by the Buffalo Sabers)
Colorado Avalanche: Patrick Roy (51st in 1984 by the Habs.  Craig Billington 23rd by New Jersey)
Dallas Stars: Ed Belfour...oh, yeah, he was never drafted.

What do they all have in common? They weren't the first goalie selected in their draft year and one wasn't even taken at all!

Couple this with the fact that all great Stanley Cup teams are built from the net out, this may not be such a radical scheme at all.

If so, you can be sure Leafs GM John Ferguson will chuckle if the plan is even presented to him leading up to the draft (unless scout and former Leaf goalie Mike Palmateer has more stroke at the table than we know about) since the position the Leafs franchise is the deepest at is between the 4x6. 

A couple of years ago you couldn't say that about the squad, but suddenly the emergence of two young prospects and one improving Swede has Leafs fans excited about their immediate and long-term future in net.

Let's have a look at the Leafs organization between the pipes, starting with the straw that stirs the drink, Ed Belfour.

Ed Belfour:  What more can be said about the goalie who just moved into sole possession of second place in the all time goalie wins list, leapfrogging Terry Sawchuck?

Drawing inspiration and instruction from his goaltending idol Vladislav Tretiak (yes, that's why Belfour wears #20), Belfour has been nothing short of sensational since coming over to the Leafs via free agency in the summer of 2002.  Former Leafs assistant GM Bill Watters says the choice to go with Belfour after Curtis Joseph left for Detroit was an easy one.

Mikael Tellqvist has proved a lot of his doubters wrong with his play this season. (Getty Images/NHLI)

"Pat Quinn had Belfour in the Olympics that year and after watching him in practice, felt he was among the top three in the world. So when Joseph left he was the number one pick."

The Leafs also had Byron Dafoe and Trevor Kidd on their list of replacements for Cujo.  Safe to say, they got the best of the bunch. Belfour's poise is the envy of young goalies across the league and his career stats make him a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame.  Belfour has another year on his contract, but that's a team option so the Leafs will have to make a decision in the offseason if they want to ride the Eagle for one more year or clip his wings.

Mikael Tellqvist: Since Felix Potvin left the organization, the Leafs have bought their goaltenders via fee agency as it has not been a team that put much premium on developing within the system. With Mikael Tellqvist, that has changed. A standout in his home country of Sweden, Tellqvist always had the knock that he was a good goalie for the European game but would never adapt to the North American style.

"He comes out of the net too far", "He plays every shot the same way", "He lacks the confidence it takes to be an NHLer", "He get's rattled too easy". 

All has been said about Tellqvist, but somewhere last year while playing for the St John's Maple Leafs, Tellqvist found his way.  Or was it something else?

Watters wonders, "He was much better internationally then he ever showed here.  You keep waiting and usually a player reaches maturation in a great American Hockey League season, but Mikael never had one. Does this mean that (Leafs goalie coach) Steve McKichan turned him around?"

Pogge has made the Leafs scouting department look pretty smart in the last four months. (Getty Images/NHLI)
Justin Pogge: It's a pretty harrowing and intimidating feeling when, at the age of 19, your country calls for you. That's just what happened to Leafs prospect Justin Pogge over the Christmas holidays at the World Junior Hockey Championships. 

Not even invited to the teams summer development camp, the Penticton B.C native's standout numbers with the WHL's Calgary Hitmen and his brilliant play caught the eye of Team Canada junior coach Brent Sutter who went with Pogge for the entire Junior Championships, playing the young Leafs prospect in every minute of every game. Pogge responded with three shutouts, allowing a scant six goals in six games.

Mark Siedel, chief scout for International Scouting Services says Pogge could have been a bust were it not for his hard work and determination,

"When Pogge was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2004 draft, there were some eyebrows raised in the scouting community, but the dramatic improvements in his overall play are a testament to his work ethic, attention to detail and desire to become a #1 goaltender. As evidenced by his play in Vancouver, his first mission has been accomplished while the ultimate goal of starting for the Leafs looks to be in the near future."

The Leafs recently signed Pogge to a three-year entry level contract.  Look for him to be in a Toronto Marlies jersey at the Ricoh Coliseum next season.

Quick trivia...Who's starting job did Pogge take when he joined the WHL's Prince George Cougars? Fellow Leafs prospect Todd Ford, who is currently playing for the team's ECHL affiliate, the Pensacola Ice Pilots.

Tuuka Rask took home top goalie honours at the juniors. (Getty Images/NHLI)
Tuukka Rask: Since the last goalie the Leafs drafted in the first round, Eric Fichaud (16th overall in 1994) was shipped off, the Leafs have stayed away from rolling the dice with a netminder with the team's first round pick ever since. 

That streak ended last summer when Leafs GM John Ferguson confidently announced to a small Ottawa hotel hall that "the Toronto Maple Leafs are proud to select, in the first round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, from Savonlinna, Finland, Tuukka Rask". A tall, rangy goalie (6'2, 165), Rask still needs to fill out physically, but his play has already turned heads.

While fellow Leafs prospect Justin Pogge was the netminding story for Team Canada at the World Juniors, it was Rask that took home top goalie honours at the tournament, often turning aside more than 40 shots per game. 

The consensus opinion among scouts sees Rask in the Leafs organization at the AHL level in two years.

Siedel thinks Rask is "can't-miss" saying, "Tuukka Rask was tremendous in his draft year by combining a tremendous frame with athleticism and technical ability and the compilation is a potential star in the years to come"

"Show me a good goalie and I'll show you a good coach", is a phrase that has floated around the NHL for years and if it stays true, Toronto coaches will look good for plenty of years to come.

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