|Jake Allen led Canada to the gold medal at the World Under-18 Championship and was named most valuable player of the prestigious tournament. |
NHL Central Scouting director E.J. McGuire stresses again and again that scouting is the ultimate YMMV -- your mileage may vary -- experience.
For instance, in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, scheduled for June 20-21at Scotiabank Place, it seems pretty clear Sarnia Sting centre Steven Stamkos will be the first pick. Scouts and team officials at the recent draft combine in Toronto were in agreement that any one of a half-dozen players could be the No. 2 selection. Is No. 2 better than No. 10? In some people's eyes, yes -- but not all.
Canadian goalie Jake Allen, the No. 8-ranked North American goaltender, is a prime example of the YMMV dynamics. As a rookie this past season with the St. John's Fog Devils of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Allen battled respected second-year goalie Timo Pielmeier for the starting job and wound up playing in 30 games. Then he led Canada to the gold medal at the World Under-18 Championship and was named most valuable player of the prestigious tournament.
And that gets you No. 8?
"He's still a little unpolished," explained Corey Hirsch, a former NHL goalie who now is Hockey Canada's goaltending consultant, who was Allen's goalie coach at the U-18 tournament. "But he has great athleticism and he has the potential to be a pretty good NHL goalie.
"He's very strong mentally. He showed that at the World Under-18s that he can handle the pressure of a situation like that. With the single-elimination format, he basically played what I would call three Game 7s and he was our No. 1 star in all three of them."
Former NHL goalie Al Jensen keeps an eye on goaltenders for NHL Central Scouting and he was surprised by what he saw from Allen on his visit to Newfoundland.
"He came from nowhere," Jensen said. "He was playing for St. John's and all of a sudden, he started to play more and got more and more confidence. I went to see him and when I did, I thought, 'Wow.' His potential just rose right there for me. Jake is big (6-foot-2, 175 pounds) and strong, athletic, and he handled the puck very well. His net coverage was very good.
"I saw NHL goalie written all over him. He's probably the best puck handler among North American goalies."
Hirsch agrees with that last statement.
"He's very good with his stick," Hirsch said. "Probably the strongest junior goalie I've seen at that level. He helps his defence and thwarts the forecheck with the way he plays the puck."
Allen, who grew up in the Fredericton, N.B., area, is a modest, shy person and he tempers his speech so that he doesn't appear to be bragging about his past success. However, it is an unbroken record of achievement.
"I skated a position when I was playing mites," Allen said. "My dad was the coach and we were always changing goalies. I'd play goal and then go back to playing a position until finally, my dad kept playing me every game and I stayed at the position ever since.
"I was always one of the top goalies in every league that I played in, from peewee to midget. It seemed I was always the first-year guy who took the starting job from the second-year guy. I was one of the top goalies in my area growing up. I've had opportunities that I took advantage of my whole hockey career and it's one of the reasons why I am here. I'm like that in other sports as well. I really like golf and baseball.
"I'm a butterfly goalie who uses technical ability to my advantage. I'm very athletic and I try to use my athletic ability, along with my strength. I'm a good puck handler and my mental game is very important to me."
"Jake came on and gave us good goaltending around Christmas and we had a lot of confidence in him by the end of the season," said Luke Adam, a Fog Devils teammate ranked No. 42 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting.
Allen wasn't always able to convince scouts he could handle the jump to the next level.
"I played another season of midget with the Fredericton AAA Canadiens," Allen said. "I got passed over in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft two years ago. I had a great second year of midgets and the Fog Devils took me in the third round last year. I went to training camp and made the opening-day roster as the backup.
"[Allen's] very strong mentally. He showed that at the World Under-18s that he can handle the pressure of a situation like that. With the single-elimination format, he basically played what I would call three Game 7s and he was our No. 1 star in all three of them." - Corey Hirsch, Hockey Canada's goaltending consultant
"I was able to get a lot of starts in midseason because Timo went to the world juniors (Team Germany, at the Division I, Group A level), and I got a chance to show off then. It turned into a battle by the end. I had a great second half to top off the year and I was pushing Timo to be the best he could be. I think I put the coach into a situation of deciding who he wanted in the net. We were both playing well when we went into the playoffs."
The Fog Devils weren't close to the QMJHL's top team, but you get some insight into the abilities of Allen and Pielmeier when you see they both had losing records but outstanding internal numbers. Pielmeier went 23-26 with a 2.94 goals-against average and .911 save percentage, while Allen was 9-12 with a 3.14 GAA and .901 save percentage. Among starters, Pielmeier saw the fifth-most shots per game, while Allen was 11th.
The Fog Devils are moving to the Montreal suburb of Verdun next season, which likely will mean a new coaching staff, but Allen will follow them.
"Dave Alexander is my personal goalie coach," Allen said. "Peter White worked with me in St. John's four times a week, but never on road trips. Peter would break down video and gave us pointers and tips over the years. Corey Hirsch was my goalie coach at the World U-18s in Kazan, Russia."
"He needs to continue getting good goalie coaching when they move to Verdun," Hirsch said.
Allen said he loved the coaching he got at the World U-18s.
"It was a great honor for me to play for Canada and for my teammates, as well," he said. "It was a great experience and a dream come true to play for coach Pat Quinn. He knows his stuff and it's something I'll look back on in the future."
Allen said his combination of fierce internal determination hidden by an easy-going, friendly demeanour is a blend of the personalities of his parents, Curt and Susan.
"My dad is a pretty strict, stern guy, but he can also be laid back and comical," Allen said. "I'm more like my mom. I'm relaxed and calm and I keep to myself. I focus on myself and what I have to do. I'm not outgoing, but when I have to be, I know what I have to do, like these interviews (at the combine). Mostly, I'm pretty shy."
Author: John McGourty | NHL.com Staff Writer