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Super 16: Developing goaltenders proves no easy task

by Corey Masisak / NHL.com

Braden Holtby played in his 150th NHL game Thursday night for the Washington Capitals.

This isn't a particularly notable milestone, but he is the first drafted goaltender since the 2006 NHL Draft to reach 150 games. In fact, he's the only goalie from the past nine draft classes to have reached 100 NHL games.

Anders Lindback (Dallas Stars) is at 94, but is not receiving regular playing time. Robin Lehner (Ottawa Senators) is at 80, but would need a long-term injury to Craig Anderson or a trade to reach 100 in 2014-15. Frederik Andersen (Anaheim Ducks), who has the quirky honor of leading two NHL draft classes in games played by a goalie, is at 70.

Unless Lindback plays six more games this season, the 2015-16 campaign will begin with one goaltender from the past 10 draft classes having reached 100 games. Why is that? There are a few factors.

For starters, there are only 60 jobs available. There are great drafted goaltending prospects out there who might be NHL-ready; guys like John Gibson and Andrei Vasilevskiy come to mind, but each is currently blocked by an above-average goalie. Often, NHL teams don't want a top prospect sitting on the bench behind an established starter (though Tampa Bay has changed course on that with Vasilevskiy and is expected to give him more playing time than a typical backup).

Also, goaltenders just take longer to develop. Very few play regularly in the NHL before they are 21 or 22 years old. Expecting any from the past few classes to be starters by now is not fair to them.

Clearly, because goaltenders take longer to develop, that makes them harder to project as 18-year-olds. There are going to be more scouting mistakes, guys who were missed or overvalued.

"I was disappointed being drafted so late. I was ninth round, 271 overall," New York Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak said. "There was a lot of goalies taken in front of me. I think it doesn't matter. First round is first round and you get a lot of opportunities, but all the rounds after that you just have to prove yourself."

Another major factor is the invasion of undrafted goaltenders, particularly from Europe and NCAA hockey. Check out the accompanying graphs to see just how tough it has been for NHL teams to accurately scout, draft and develop talent at the goaltending position.

There have been 95 goaltenders to make their NHL debut since the start of the 2008-09 season. Thirty-five (nearly 37 percent) of them were never drafted. Nearly as many were drafted after the third round as were selected in the first three rounds.

"It is nice to see the European guys come over and excel right away," said Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf, who has seen Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth come over and have early success. "When they come in, you don't really know what to expect, but we've seen guys come over and settle in and they play at a mature level and at a consistent level that a lot of young goalies have a tough time doing."

There have been 80 goaltenders to appear in an NHL game this season. Again, nearly as many who were drafted after the third round are on the list as goalies who went in the first three rounds. And nearly 25 percent were not drafted.

Undrafted players are not put on a clock by NHL teams or the Collective Bargaining Agreement, so they are allowed to develop at their own pace. It is a position where some players just blossom at a later age, in part because of the large role mental toughness and maturity plays in becoming an NHL-quality goaltender.

"I always tell them they only have one job," Getzlaf said. "No [I'm joking], but it is like that in some aspect. With goalies, I think it is all about maturity level and being able to forget about the last play and to be able to make the next one. When you have that experience, I think it gives you an advantage."

There have been years where there just wasn't a typical level of talent at the position. The Class of 2003 was bountiful, and five of the goaltenders invited to the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game came from that draft year. Scott Darling or Allen York will be remembered as the best NHL goalie from the Class of 2007. The difficulty of drafting and developing goalies is a real problem for some teams.

There have been seven goalies drafted since 2006 (10 draft classes) with 100 games of NHL experience, and the Capitals selected and developed three of them (Holtby, Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth). The Calgary Flames haven't drafted a goalie who became a starter in the League since 1999 (New Jersey hasn't in longer, but there was a guy wearing No. 30 who played a big role in that). The Philadelphia Flyers have selected 17 goaltenders in the past 15 drafts, and they have combined to play three NHL games.

A combination of that difficulty, plus the success teams are having by signing a mid-20s aged free agent who has years of experience in a top European league, has led to a dearth of young drafted and developed goaltenders.

"There are only two spots on any team for a goaltender, so maybe those guys took longer to get to the top teams," Nashville forward Filip Forsberg said. "I think that is a credit to the Swedish [Hockey] League and the Finnish league. And the second leagues too. They are really good leagues and really good at development leagues. I came in from the second league [in Sweden] and I really liked the way we played back home. It was a good step for me, and I’m sure it was a good step for them too."

DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, it focuses more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings and likely will take more of a long view than a short one. If two teams are close the tiebreaker almost always is this: If the two teams started a seven-game series right now, who would prevail? Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information. All rankings, records and statistics are through the games played Wednesday night.

1. St. Louis Blues (33-13-4)

The Blues have won six in a row, but their biggest loss in weeks was Kevin Shattenkirk needing abdominal surgery. He's second in the League with 24 power-play points. He also leads the NHL with 11 primary assists on the power play, and Alexander Steen is not far behind with 10. They've had the primary on more than half of St. Louis' 41 extra-man goals.

2. Chicago Blackhawks (31-18-2)

The last time a player from Chicago led the NHL in scoring was 1967-68, and there is a statue of the guy outside United Center. Either Stan Mikita or Bobby Hull led or had a share of the League scoring race seven times in the 1960s, and Patrick Kane has a chance to be the first Blackhawks player to do it since the first year of the NHL's Original Twelve.

3. Nashville Predators (33-11-6)

The last time the Predators looked like one of the best teams in the League, general manager David Poile pushed a bunch of chips in and added two players at the deadline and a third when the Kontinental Hockey League season was over. Like the Blackhawks, Nashville's 2012 run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs was ended by Mike Smith that one year he was great. Poile might not yield his first-round pick for a bottom-six forward (like Paul Gaustad), but going after another forward to play with Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson could make a lot of sense.

4. Anaheim Ducks (33-12-6)

This doesn't necessarily mean he should be the MVP, but Getzlaf has 17 more points than anyone else on the Ducks. Anaheim is a pretty deep team, but Corey Perry was limited earlier in the season by the mumps and a knee injury and no one else has produced more than 34 points. The accompanying graph shows the players with the biggest leads on their closest teammate in points this season.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning (32-15-5)

The Lightning have the best Corsi-for percentage at even strength in the NHL, but it is also "only" 54.6 percent. That would be the second-lowest percentage to lead the League since the NHL began tracking missed and blocked shots in 2005-06. Could more teams embracing analytics lead to a trend of more parity in the puck possession stats?

6. Detroit Red Wings (29-12-9)

There are currently seven players in the NHL who have played at least 500 minutes at even strength and are on the ice for 44 shot attempts against per 60 minutes or less. They all play for the Red Wings. Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader are in that group, and also atop Detroit's quality of competition list, which is a pretty solid argument for them as the top shutdown line in the League right now.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins (29-14-8)

David Perron already has two more goals in 13 games with the Penguins than he had in 38 games with the Edmonton Oilers. It's a simple combination. He's putting twice as many shots on net (4.0 per game, up from just less than 2.0) and twice as many are going in (13.5 percent, up from 6.8). The percentage might level off, but if the volume keeps up, he's going to score a lot of goals in the next 15 months for Pittsburgh.

8. New York Islanders (32-17-1)

The difference between Corsi and Fenwick is pretty simple (take away blocked shots), but determining why a certain team is better or worse at one is not as simple as "they get more shots through." The Islanders have the greatest positive disparity with Fenwick, checking in at better than 55 percent and nearly two percent better than the team's Corsi-for percentage, which is also still excellent.

9. Boston Bruins (27-17-7)

Since Zdeno Chara and then David Krejci returned from injury and the Bruins were essentially whole again on Dec. 17, Boston is third in the League in goals against and tied for fourth in save percentage.

10. Los Angeles Kings (21-17-12)

One of those teams is the Kings, who continue to pace the League in puck possession if the parameters change to the past couple of months, but Los Angeles has six wins in 21 games since Dec. 11. The Lakers have won seven times since Dec. 11.

11. Montreal Canadiens (32-15-3)

The Canadiens have a chance to take control of the Atlantic Division in February thanks to a combination of a very favorable schedule and a very tough one for both the Lightning and Red Wings. Back-to-back home losses to the teams that would rank 29th and 30th if this were called the Terrific 30 is not exactly the best start. Eight of the next 11 games are against teams out of the playoff race though.

12. Winnipeg Jets (26-18-9)

The Jets looked in great shape for a first Stanley Cup Playoffs berth since moving from Atlanta with 34 games left in the season, but with 29 left the number in the win column hasn't changed. Winnipeg and the Vancouver Canucks not only have to iron out their current problems, they've got a group of four teams chasing them that are talented enough to do it.

13. New York Rangers (30-15-4)

Quiz time: 1. Name the last forward to win the Hart Trophy when not finishing in the top three in the NHL in scoring. 2. Name the last forward to win the Hart Trophy when not finishing in the top five in points. 3. Name the two forwards who have won the Hart Trophy despite not finishing in the top 10 in points.

Answers: 1. Mark Messier was fifth in points in 1991-92. 2. Bobby Clarke was sixth in points in 1974-75. 3. Ted Kennedy, in 1954-55, and Frank Nighbor, the inaugural winner in 1923-24.

Rick Nash is currently 13th in the NHL in points. This is not the first year of the award, and there is no great narrative for any particular player to win the first individual award of his career like there was with Kennedy. If Nash is going to be MVP, he's going to need more points.

14. Washington Capitals (26-15-10)

Super16 Zero Hero

Player SO GP G/SO
Terry Sawchuk 57 345 6.05
Alec Connell 50 154 3.08
Martin Brodeur 32 305 9.53
Harry Lumley 31 459 14.81
Roberto Luongo 23 266 11.57
Steve Mason 23 300 13.04
Frank Brimsek 22 139 6.32
Turk Broda 21 188 8.95
Roger Crozier 20 241 12.05
Chris Osgood 20 221 11.05
Carey Price 19 310 16.32
Glenn Hall 17 148 8.71
Braden Holtby 17 149 8.75
Henrik Lundqvist 17 195 11.47

Holtby shut out the Kings on Tuesday. It was his sixth shutout of the season, and 17th of his career. As mentioned above, the Capitals have been the one team that has drafted and developed goaltenders well in the past decade, and because of that Holtby did have to marinate a little longer in the American Hockey League than he might have in a different organization.

His frequency of racking up shutouts early in his career is quite remarkable. This is Holtby's age-25 season, as defined by hockey-reference.com (age on Feb. 1). There are 14 goaltenders in NHL history with at least 17 shutouts by the end of their age-25 seasons.

Holtby is accumulating shutouts at a rate of less than one every nine games. Check out the accompanying table, which has the 14 goaltenders. Of the eight goaltenders who have played since the 1960s, Holtby's shutout rate is better than all of them, even better than the NHL's career leader, Martin Brodeur.

If he continues to collect them at his current pace, he would add another three or four before the end of the season and be in the top-10 of all time in shutouts by a player's age-25 season.

Holtby is also fifth this season in goals-against average (2.17) and fifth in save percentage (.925), while seeing a significant workload (third in saves). He is trending toward a chance at being a Vezina Trophy finalist.

15. Minnesota Wild (24-20-6)

Look what happens when the Wild have a top-29 starting goaltender. Not only is Devan Dubnyk stopping more shots, but the Wild appear to have regained some of their mojo. Poor goaltending plays on the minds of everyone in a locker room. The Blackhawks may have been sluggish, but Minnesota's win Tuesday night was October/early November-esque for the Wild.

16. Calgary Flames (29-20-3)

When Mikael Backlund is on the ice with Mark Giordano at even strength, the Flames control more than 53 percent of the shot attempts, according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com. When Backlund is on the ice in front of Jonas Hiller, it's more than 50 percent (compared to 44 percent for the Flames in front of Hiller without him).

This isn't a new thing. The numbers were similar last season for Backlund and Giordano (and toss in his defense partner T.J. Brodie as well). Backlund was hurt for a large chunk of this season though. The Flames are 8-4-0 since he returned.

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