Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2019 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.
Mads Sogaard, a goaltender born in Aalborg, Denmark, hopes to follow countryman Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs to the NHL.
So when Andersen reached out with some position-specific advice during the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, Sogaard listened close.
After watching parts of Sogaard's first two games with Denmark on television, Andersen, a native of Herning, Denmark, relayed a message through his father, Ernst, who was Denmark's goaltending coach, about Sogaard playing more in his crease. Sogaard was noticeably more contained in his next start.
"Getting a tip from Frederik Andersen is definitely something that can help you," Sogaard said. "I felt calmer, more confident and more in control. Playing in Denmark, a country where there is not a lot of NHL guys and he is the only NHL goalie, so I want to be the next one. I have faith in myself I think I can become the next one."
Sogaard is on the right path to joining Andersen in the NHL. In his first season with Medicine Hat of the Western Hockey League, he is No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American goaltenders for the 2019 NHL Draft, to be held at Rogers Arena in Vancouver from June 21-22.
In 37 games, Sogaard was 19-8-4 with a 2.64 goals-against average, a .921 save percentage and three shutouts. The 18-year-old led WHL rookie goes in GAA, save percentage and shutouts, and he had a .919 save percentage in six WHL playoff games.
"We knew he had potential but we didn't think he was going to make that big an impact," Medicine Hat goaltending coach J.F. Martel said. "He's the best prospect I have seen in a very, very long time."
Sogaard's size (6-foot-7, 196 pounds) clearly is a factor at a position where coverage matters and every inch can make a difference. But being big isn't enough against offensive attacks that have become increasingly dynamic, forcing goalies to move side to side more. For big goalies that means opening bigger holes while moving, but Sogaard has worked to improve his mobility and efficiency.
"Huge pro presence," Central Scouting's Al Jensen said. "He moves extremely well for such a big goalie. Strong, efficient and quick lateral ability."
Sogaard only can get better, said Martel. Along with improved puck handling, the focus for Sogaard this season was beating lateral plays on his feet rather than defaulting to his knees and sliding across prematurely, a tendency that often and easily is exploited at the pro level. That improved patience holding his edges also translated to open shots, with Sogaard relying less on his size to make saves and not dropping to his knees as early as he did when he first joined Medicine Hat.
"He's just so fluid for his size, he has pretty good control in his game, and got stronger as the year went on, there was more control on lateral plays," Martel said. "He took some steps and will continue to take steps once he gets on with an NHL team and goes to summer camp and rookie camp. He'll keep evolving against really good shooters. He's a very smart person and a very smart goalie."
As for Sogaard's over-aggression at the World Junior Championship, Martel believes it was more a function of playing behind an overmatched team and against some of the world's best players in his age group. Challenging open looks in that case is natural but can be problematic with a lack of backdoor defensive support.
It wasn't an issue in Medicine Hat, according to Martel, who credited Sogaard's ability to pick his spots to challenge with good reads.
"I play more of a quiet game, make sure I don't get too aggressive," Sogaard said. "I am not a goalie that wants to make all the big, highlight-reel saves. I just want to be in good position and make the easy stop. It makes it easier and gives a calm sense for the rest of the team."
If that approach sounds similar to Andersen, so be it.
"That's not a bad comparison," Sogaard said. "He's an idol of mine and we have the same game style kind of, and him being the only Danish goalie in the NHL is definitely motivating and something I want to do too. I want to be in the National Hockey League."
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