When it comes to ranking the top goalies eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft, the overwhelming majority consider Boston College freshman Thatcher Demko in a class by himself.
As expected, Demko remained No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final rankings of the top draft-eligible North American goalies, which was released Tuesday.
"He was so far ahead of the under-aged players last year that if he was draft-eligible in 2013 he would have probably been drafted high; that's how far ahead he was then and is now," NHL Central Scouting's Al Jensen, who specializes in viewing goaltenders, told NHL.com.
At 6-foot-4 and 192 pounds, Jensen likens Demko to fellow American-born goalie and Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson.
"He's a huge, strong goalie with excellent net coverage," Jensen said of Demko. "He has that NHL presence in the net. He's more of a positional-style goalie that relies on his angles and size and he plays big in his stance.
"When he drops in the butterfly he gets his body in front of a lot of shots. He's smart at reading the play and gets set quickly; strength is definitely not an issue with him."
Demko, who could become the first American-born goalie drafted in the first round since the Dallas Stars selected Jack Campbell at No. 11 in 2010, is the youngest player in NCAA hockey this season.
He was the second-youngest (after 2015 draft-eligible center Jack Eichel) to earn a roster spot on the United States National Junior Team at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship, but as the third goalie did not dress for any games. In 23 games with BC this season he's 16-4-3 with a 2.16 goals-against average, two shutouts and a .920 save percentage.
He likely will be the starter for the Eagles on Thursday when his team plays against Union College in the semifinal round of the Frozen Four at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, the site of the 2014 NHL Draft. He made 18 saves in a 6-2 victory against Denver in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 29, and 29 saves in a 4-3 victory against the University of Massachusetts-Lowell in the quarterfinal round one day later.
Rounding out the top five North American goalies on Central Scouting's final release are No. 2 Mason McDonald of the Charlottetown Islanders in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, No. 3 Brent Moran of the Niagara IceDogs in the Ontario Hockey League, No. 4 Alex Nedeljkovic of the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL and No. 5 Kevin Reich of the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the United States Hockey League.
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McDonald (6-4, 178), who was No. 7 in Central Scouting's midterm rankings. He has a similar style to that of Philadelphia Flyers goalie Steve Mason. He was exceptional for Team Orr at the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Jan. 15 in Calgary, stopping 15 of 16 shots in 29:08 of action to help his team to a 4-3 victory against Team Cherry.
"He's a big and athletic kid who had a good second half to the season," Jensen said. "He became their No. 1 goalie and deservedly so. He was actually getting close to Demko at one point."
Moran (6-4, 186), No. 6 at the midterm, enjoys playing in pressure situations. He finished 14-19-4 with a 3.85 GAA and .891 save percentage in 40 games for Niagara.
"He has a powerful leg drive, can push off the post and get out there to challenge shooters quickly," Jensen said. "He puts pressure on himself to succeed in big spots, and I think as he matures he'll become an even better keeper. But he's aggressive and has played well over the second half of this season."
Nedeljkovic (6-foot, 190), who will represent the United States at the 2014 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Finland later this month, is one of the more athletic-style goalies available in the draft. At the All-American Prospects Game in Pittsburgh in September he stopped 13 of 16 shots in 30:53 of playing time. He also played for Team Cherry at the Top Prospects Game, stopping 13 of 16 shots in 29:54.
Jensen said a good comparison for Nedeljkovic would be Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier.
"He's another very quick and athletic goalie," Jensen said. "He battles and has good strength in his crease area, has excellent recovery and lateral quickness. He's got quick reactions, flaring out his pads to make low corner stops. He's very smart and is capable of playing big games consistently."
Reich (6-1, 208) made the biggest jump from the midterm release, when he wasn't listed among the top 34 goalies. But his high hockey IQ and instincts catapulted him to fifth on Central Scouting's final list. The German-born goalie is 10-6-3 with a 2.98 GAA and .899 save percentage in 20 games for Dubuque.
"He has a great feel for the game and an unpredictable style since he hangs back in the paint, but he uses that size efficiently and always presents himself big," Jensen said. "I'd compare him to Curtis Joseph; he's got a great glove and good reflexes. He's got a good feel for the position, has phenomenal balance and good body control."