At just 5-foot-10 and 166 pounds, Stockholm native Jhonas Enroth
is the National Hockey League's smallest goaltender. But don't let the tiny frame fool you; his advanced ocular senses allow him to thrive and survive against the world's finest shooters.
With a remarkable 13-0-1 record in 2011, including a perfect 6-0-0 start to his rookie campaign, Enroth proves that no matter what situation he's thrown into, whatever he lacks in size, he compensates with his eyes. But what exactly about Enroth's vision makes him so special?
Simply put, Enroth tracks the puck with an innate and detailed precision. This allows him to anticipate plays, arrive at angles early, and square up to pucks before they can sneak past him.
In the goalie glossary, this term is called situational awareness. It refers to a goalie's ability to read plays with a clear understanding of how they develop, and how to place the body in the best position to effectively eliminate as much net space as possible.
Goalie - BUF
GAA: 1.76 | SVP: 0.942
When you see Enroth make a save while standing up, or in the half-butterfly, it is visual proof that he's tracking pucks and shots extremely well. Instead of routinely or robotically dropping into the butterfly, he's patient, poised, prepared, and confident in his angles and natural reactions. He doesn't drop until he absolutely has to, because he knows that filling unnecessary space is a luxury he simply can't afford.
Enroth's natural ability to read plays is reinforced by Farjestad BK (Swedish Elite League) goalie coach Erik Granqvist, one of Sweden's finest netminder educators. He has never worked directly with Enroth, but has watched him develop in summer camps and tournaments in Sweden since he was 14 years old.
"For many years, Enroth has excelled at 'box-control,'" Granqvist explained. "He reads the game excellently, and he has great awareness of just how much of the net he covers, depending on the puck's position and his own position on the ice."
This reveals another positive aspect of Enroth's vision; his attentive mindset. He almost never appears casual in the crease, but rather he's always engaged in the play. He rarely gets caught "cheating" on passes, and like many NHL goalies, he's so alert he can sometimes sense things before they happen.
"This kind of 'box-control' has been significant for him since he started playing at an elite level," Granqvist said. "He is and always was a 'cool' goalie -- he makes good decisions with his positioning, and with how to respond to every unique situation."
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So Enroth is not only advanced at reading plays as they develop around him, he can instinctually and naturally process many of the different speeds that transpire during a hockey game.
Enroth's vision excels at processing the speed at which a player approaches him on a breakaway or penalty shot. By accurately gauging the shooter's approaching speed, he can determine the exact depth at which he needs to be positioned in order to stay big, but still stay balanced. In his career, Enroth is a perfect 5-0 in shootouts, stopping 20 of 28 total chances for a .714 save percentage.
His vision also effectively gauges the speed at which a shot is released off a player's stick. This includes tracking the puck with such precision that he can determine instantly where it will arrive on goal. This helps him to read and react without hesitation, and with plenty of confidence.
Enroth's vision also helps him execute with lightning-quick biomechanical speed. This includes the time it takes for him to process a shot by tracking it, then moving, reacting or stretching to actually make the save. It takes a quick mind to react quickly, so Enroth's decision-making speed boosts his biomechanical speed, a solid one-two punch to the gut of a shooter.
Finally, Enroth's vision allows him to process a change in speeds and trajectory due to deflected or redirected shots. If a puck is tipped halfway between the release point and the net, Enroth excels at tracking that change, and then making a sudden reaction at the last second. His hand-eye coordination and natural skills take over, and right now he's finding ways to make the tough saves look easy.
These are just a few of the ways Enroth excels in the NHL, despite being the League's smallest goalie.
With the goaltender continually evolving as an athlete, Enroth is a true sign of the times; he's a more cerebral and intelligent goalie than most rookies. Because of his lack of size, he had to work even harder to train his eyes to help him make better decisions, and more precise reactions. Advanced vision skills and terrific fundamentals is what it takes for the small goalie to survive in a position where giants dominate the frozen tundra.
Enroth's success with the Sabres is not only impressive, it is a landmark in NHL goaltending. It proves to hockey fans everywhere that successful goaltending is not tied to only size, but is deeply rooted in the natural ability to read and react.