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Goaltenders remain biggest question marks in Draft

by Adam Kimelman

"It just takes longer for goalies sometimes. When somebody is drafting a goalie, they're drafting under the assumption they're going to take 4-5 years down the road."
-- NHL Central Scouting goalie scout Al Jensen

TORONTO -- The scouts from NHL Central Scouting spent their third day in the Conn Smythe Boardroom at NHL headquarters here Monday debating and assessing their final list of North American skaters.

They've been going at it almost non-stop since Saturday morning. The only pause was to discuss and rank the goalies.

The presentation, discussion and debate took about an hour.

If goaltender is the most important position on the ice, why was there so little time spent discussing the position?

"That's a good question," Al Jensen, NHL Central Scouting's chief goaltender scout, told

While other scouts have a wider scope of responsibility, Jensen can hone in on the goaltenders and give them a better evaluation than other scouts. And the rest of these hockey experts have no problem deferring to Jensen's expertise.

"He is the goalie specialist," said Gary Eggleston, an East Coast scout with Central Scouting. "He's good. He will evaluate a high-school or prep school goaltender properly and be able to see him with the same eyes that he would a major-junior guy."

"He is the final authority," added NHL Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire. "When we see a goalie play well, we call and say come see him. Al Jensen is the man."

And, Jensen takes that responsibility seriously.

"When I go to the games, I'm watching the goalies," Jensen said. "The play goes up the ice; I'm still watching the goalie. I'm watching his mannerisms, the intangibles, confidence, where I think a lot of other scouts, they have to watch the players. Goalie makes the save; OK, they're watching the play, where I'm focused on the goalies."

Since Central Scouting separates skaters from goaltenders in their lists, it's tough to see where Edward Pasquale, the top-rated netminder in the mid-term rankings, stands in comparison to John Tavares, Matt Duchene, Evander Kane and the other top-ranked skaters.

Regardless, Jensen believes one or two goaltenders could be taken in the first round of the 2009 Entry Draft.

"A team that maybe has a couple picks in the first round will take a goalie," Jensen said. "But I don't believe there's any high-end, top-15 picks in North America. Possibly a couple might get picked late in the first round."

Last year, two goalies went in the first round -- Chet Pickard to Nashville at No. 18 and Thomas McCollum at No. 30 to Detroit. That follows recent historical trends. In the past nine drafts, 22 goalies have been taken in the first round.

The issue, though, becomes what happens after the goalies are drafted. That group of first-round picks includes NHL All-Stars Rick DiPietro (No. 1, 2000) and Carey Price (No. 5, 2005), but also non-entities like Devan Dubnyk (No. 14, 2004), Adam Munro (No. 29, 2001) and Brent Krahn (No. 9, 2000).

And if you go further, a look at the last 30 goalies named to an NHL All-Star team reveals only seven were drafted in the first round, while eight were taken in the seventh round or later, and three weren't drafted at all.

If teams could take a mulligan, do you think Henrik Lundqvist would have been available in the seventh round? Tim Thomas or Evgeni Nabokov would have lasted until the ninth round? Niklas Backstrom, Dwayne Roloson or Curtis Joseph would have gone undrafted?

So more than any other position, scouting and predicting goaltenders is more of an inexact science than any other position.

Jensen, though, does his best to get it right.

He knows what it takes to tend an NHL net. A 1978 second-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings, Jensen spent seven seasons in the NHL with Detroit, Washington and Los Angeles, and shared the 1984 William Jennings Trophy with Caps teammate Pat Riggin.

"I know the type of things that are required to be an NHL goalie," said Jensen. "It takes longer for goalies in most cases to get to that level. It's very unusual for Carey Price, Marc-Andre Fleury, Cam Ward, guys that jumped pretty quickly to the NHL. Doesn't happen that often. You have to have the mental toughness, you have to have toughness in the net; you have to have big-time mental toughness. And, obviously, being able to stop the puck -- net coverage is a big thing. I can tell usually when a kid is going to get there a bit sooner than others."

That road can be a bumpier one for goalies than for other positions.

"It just takes longer for goalies sometimes," said Jensen. "When somebody is drafting a goalie, they're drafting under the assumption they're going to take 4-5 years down the road."

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