Halifax Mooseheads goalie Zachary Fucale is considered the best player available at his position for the 2013 NHL Draft, and for good reason.
"When I first saw Zach play, I saw NHL written all over him; there's not a doubt in my mind," NHL Central Scouting's Al Jensen told NHL.com. "He's not a flashy goalie, so if you're looking for someone like that, you need to look elsewhere. He reads the play, is smart and backs that up with quickness. When he moves laterally, he's always in position."
It's for those reasons Jensen has Fucale rated No. 1 on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American goaltenders.
Even though Fucale is the starting goalie for one of the top teams in the Canadian Hockey League, he still plays third fiddle to forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, who are Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, on Central Scouting's final ranking of the top draft-eligible North American skaters.
"It's no secret [MacKinnon and Drouin] have exceptional talent and it's obviously great to be practicing with them every single day," Fucale said. "They keep pushing you, but I feel we all push each other and that's a great thing. We help each other progress, compete and contribute to team success."
Fucale, 17, has backstopped the Mooseheads into the QMJHL semifinals, going 10-0 with a 1.68 goals-against average, a .915 save percentage and two shutouts. That follows a regular season that saw him go 45-5-3 with a 2.35 GAA, .909 save percentage and two shutouts in 55 games. He has a franchise record 77 career regular-season wins in 113 games spanning two seasons.
"Net coverage in the NHL is so crucial and Zach's got that, and that's why he's way ahead of the other goalies in this draft," Jensen said. "His net presence is excellent; he always gives himself a chance to stop the puck, and that's big because players today can shoot the puck and they don't need many holes to find the back of the net."
The top-ranked European goalie is Juuse Saros of HPK Jr. in Finland. The 5-10.25, 178-pound player had a 1.86 GAA and .933 save percentage in 37 games and won the Jorma Valtonen Award as the SM-liiga Jr. A's best goalie. He's also excelled for his country at the 2013 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Sochi, Russia.
"He had a great season, has extremely quick reactions and reads the game very well," NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb told NHL.com. "He's the No. 1 goalie prospect in Europe. He was good last year but has been sensational this season."
FINAL 2013 DRAFT RANKINGS
Central Scouting releases final ranks
By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer
NHL Central Scouting has released its final rankings of the top draft-eligible skaters and goaltenders from North America and Europe. READ MORE ›
After Saros on the European goalie list are No. 2 Ebbe Sionas of AIK Jr. in Sweden and No. 3 Luka Gracnar of Salzburg in Austria.
"Luka is my sleeper goalie [at the draft]," Stubb said. "He's a Slovenian-born goalie that's quick and athletic, but small [5-10, 185]. He was a positive surprise in the Under-20 World Junior Championship Division 1 tournament, and has grown into a starting goalie with the Red Bull in the Austrian league."
Gracnar, 19, played in five games at the WJC Division 1, going 1-3 with a 2.76 GAA and .941 save percentage. He hails from Jesenice, Slovenia, the same hometown as Los Angeles Kings forward Anze Kopitar.
Jensen's top-five goalies on Central Scouting's final North American ranking are identical to how he had them in the midterm rankings, released in January. Here's a look at the four goalies ranked after Fucale:
2. Eric Comrie, Tri-City Americans (WHL): The native of Newport Beach, Calif., was 20-14-3 with a 2.62 GAA and .915 save percentage in 37 games in 2012-13. Jensen said 6-0.75, 167-pound Comrie has lateral ability and pushes that remind him of former Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas.
"He competes hard, always gets himself in position and never gives up on a play," Jensen said. "He's very aggressive and I like his upside. When you watch him, you can see he has a chance to play in the NHL someday. He'll always give his team a chance and that's what you want out of your goalie."
3. Tristan Jarry, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL): Born in Delta, British Columbia, 6-1.5, 178-pound Jarry finished his second full season in Edmonton with an 18-7-0 record that included six shutouts. He sported a 1.61 GAA and .936 save percentage in 27 games. Jarry was the backup to starter Laurent Brossoit, who was selected by the Calgary Flames in the sixth round of the 2011 draft (No. 164).
"He's not a cookie-cutter goalie and doesn't just drop in the butterfly; he'll stand up and read the play and possesses good rebound control," Jensen said of Jarry. "He probably played one out of every four games this year, but each time I've seen him, he looks like a veteran. His smartness and confidence are what have helped him improve and develop his overall game."
4. Calvin Petersen, Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL): The University of Notre Dame-bound native of Waterloo, Iowa, finished 20-11-1 with a 3.01 GAA, .905 save percentage and three shutouts in 34 regular-season games for the Black Hawks. Petersen's goalie partner in Waterloo, Eamon McAdam, is No. 6 in Central's final ranking.
"Petersen is quick and flashy and McAdam is more a positional, get-your-body-in-front-of-the-shot kind of keeper," Jensen said. "Petersen has phenomenal quickness, good size (6-1.25, 175) and offers good low net coverage. His wingspan is great, so he covers a lot of the net and is capable of coming up with big games. I like his battle level, and he competes hard. It wouldn't surprise me if he were chosen in the second or third round of this draft."
5. Spencer Martin, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL): Jensen said if there's one knock on Martin, it's the fact the 6-2.25, 192-pound goalie plays smaller than his size. It's an area Jensen said will improve, however. Martin went 17-21-4 with a 3.02 GAA and .906 save percentage in 46 games this season.
"If he wants to play at the higher level, he needs to learn to play bigger because he commits too early at times and that gets him in trouble," Jensen said. "He has a great work ethic and will learn quickly. He has NHL quickness, battle, aggressiveness and strength. There are more plusses in his game that you can see despite some struggles. You can see that potential."