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AHL Notebook: League loaded with intriguing goaltending prospects

Comrie, Gillies among those making case for time in NHL

by Patrick Williams / Correspondent

No position has relied more heavily on development in the American Hockey League than goaltending.

This season is no different, as the AHL is loaded with goalies on the verge of making the NHL. Here are five intriguing goaltending prospects finding their way in the AHL during the 2018-19 season:


Eric Comrie -- Manitoba (Winnipeg Jets)

Connor Hellebuyck, 25, learned his trade with two years of seasoning in the AHL and figures to be entrenched in goal for Winnipeg for a long time after a breakout season in 2017-18. But a backup role could open by next season in Winnipeg, and the Jets have invested heavily in Comrie, who is entering his fourth full season with Manitoba.

Comrie (6-foot-1, 175 pounds), selected in the second round (No. 59) of the 2013 NHL Draft, has been a workhorse at the pro level with Manitoba, playing 97 regular-season games in his first two AHL seasons, as well as four games for the Jets. The 23-year-old's durability was a concern after requiring surgery on each hip during his time in the Western Hockey League.

He is the clear No. 1 goaltender for the organization at the AHL level and a first-recall option for the Jets, who signed Comrie to a one-year contract extension Sept. 6. Winnipeg management has long shown an inclination toward slow, deliberate player development.

Though Manitoba (4-4-0-0) is still trying to get established in the competitive Central Division and has some defensive issues that need to be ironed out, Comrie is 3-2-0 with a 2.80 GAA and .917 save percentage.

Video: WPG@CHI: Comrie slides across to stuff Sharp in 3rd


Jon Gillies -- Stockton (Calgary Flames)

The career path for Gillies, 24, has mirrored Comrie's journey in many ways.

Seven games into his first AHL season in 2015-16, Gillies (6-6, 223) aggravated a hip injury that had lingered from his NCAA career at Providence College. Subsequent hip injury ended his rookie season.

However, Gillies, a third-round selection (No. 75) by Calgary in the 2012 NHL Draft, has rallied and played 39 regular-season games in each of his two AHL seasons after returning from surgery. He's also played 12 games for the Flames, 11 last season, going 4-5-1 with a 2.71 GAA and .903 save percentage.

Stockton has struggled defensively (3-4-1-0) this season and twice has allowed eight goals in a game to rival Bakersfield (Edmonton Oilers). Gillies was in net for an 8-2 loss at Bakersfield on Saturday and is 2-2-1 along with a 5.47 GAA and .832 save percentage.

However, Gillies has shown ample potential to be a dominant AHL No. 1 goaltender. He had a 2.53 goals-against average and .917 save percentage last season in the AHL. Calgary rewarded him with a two-year contract on July 18.

Video: BOS@CGY: Gillies shuts down Donato's speedy bid


Carter Hart -- Lehigh Valley (Philadelphia Flyers)

The Flyers have struggled at the start of the season, and their goalies have been part of the problem, either because of injury or ineffectiveness. In the wake of those struggles have been calls from fans for Hart, 20, to step in and save the season.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has always shown a deliberate approach to player development, and that doesn't figure to change with Hart, selected in the second round (No. 48) of the 2016 NHL Draft.

Hart (6-2, 181) arrived in Lehigh Valley this fall after going 31-6-7 in 41 regular-season games last season for Everett, where he led the Western Hockey League with a 1.60 GAA and a .947 save percentage, was named WHL Player of the Year and WHL Top Goaltender. Along with that, he was named the Canadian Hockey League Goaltender of the Year, went to the WHL final and won a gold medal with Canada at the 2018 World Junior Championship.

However, the AHL is a major step forward. After a strong preseason with the Flyers, Hart has struggled with Lehigh Valley. He is 2-2-1 in five games, with a 3.77 GAA and .880 save percentage.


Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek -- Hershey (Washington Capitals)

While the Capitals are set with 29-year-old Braden Holtby for now, they have big hopes for Samsonov.

Their first-round selection (No. 22) in the 2015 NHL Draft, Samsonov, 21, arrived in Hershey after a strong career with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the Kontinental Hockey League. Samsonov (6-3, 205) was 12-9-1 in 26 games last season with a 2.31 GAA and .926 save percentage.

Samsonov must adjust to the North American game, as well as deal with the off-ice adjustments of life in a new country. He has a 3.70 GAA and .860 save percentage but earned his first AHL win Saturday at home against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pittsburgh Penguins).

However, Samsonov also has some competition. Vanecek (6-1, 190), 22, was a second-round pick (No. 39) by the Capitals in the 2014 NHL Draft. He has been excellent for a young Hershey team, going 3-3-1 in seven games with a 2.41 GAA and a .918 save percentage.


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