Over the past week, the goaltending scene centered around two teams – Detroit and Buffalo. It started last Tuesday when Chris Osgood, who finished off his career with 401 wins and three Stanley Cups, announced his retirement. Then on Wednesday, Detroit signed Ty Conklin, who promptly replaced Osgood as Jimmy Howard’s new backup.
A day after Osgood retired, Patrick Lalime followed suit. And so did the Sabres in terms of replacing him, as they finally signed Jhonas Enroth to a new two-year deal.
I evaluated Enroth’s upcoming season and then found out that the Red Wings had re-signed Jordan Pearce to a new contract as well. In three consecutive days, three different goalies in Detroit made headlines.
I closed out the week with the release of my new premium feature, the NHL Team Rankings. This feature evaluates and ranks goaltending depth for each NHL organization, from top to bottom. It includes a painstaking process of creating four individual rankings, and then weighing those separate rankings together to create one master ranking.
Be sure to pull up my explanation of the rankings as you go through it, and please keep in mind I rank organizational depth, not just the NHL goalies. I’ve also posted a considerable amount of insight on how the rankings are compiled in the School of Block forums.
For all you long-term prospects lovers, I have compiled a list of the draft-eligible goaltenders from NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary Futures List, which was given to all 30 NHL teams back on May 30. Although this is just a basic listing for now, I plan on developing this into some kind of new feature by the start of the new season.
Enjoy the third installment of our Prospects Pulse series and check back next Monday for Part IV!
NASHVILLE: With the loss of Mark Dekanich, the starting role in Milwaukee will most likely be claimed by Jeremy Smith, which leaves Atte Engren and the much-maligned Chet Pickard to fight for the backup role.
Smith certainly proved he could handle the role by filling in admirably (no pun intended) for an injured Dekanich. In 28 regular-season games, Jeremy went 16-8-2 with a .921 save percentage and 2.26 goals-against average. Those are clearly impressive numbers for an AHL rookie that only stands 6-foot-0 and 170 pounds.
Smith was even better in the playoffs, posting a .931 SP% and 2.28 GAA through two rounds. He was amazing in a Game 6 double-OT win at home against the Texas Stars in the opening round, then took Milwaukee all the way to a Game 7 against Houston, but lost 4-2. It was a grueling series that saw Games 4, 5 and 6 all end in overtime.
That being said, one of either Engren or Pickard will ultimately end up in the ECHL. It would be much better for the Predators if Pickard can re-establish himself as an AHL goalie, but that remains to be seen. Engren is fine making the more gradual adjustment from playing in the SM-liiga to starting his first full season in North America in the ECHL.
But Engren is a very skilled prospect and has been ranked accordingly for almost two years. In fact, he performed very well at the end of last season for Milwaukee, going 2-2-0 with a 2.43 GAA and .913 SP%. So as it has been the past two seasons, we’ll see how the dominoes fall for Preds prospects during training camp and go from there.
Magnus Hellberg is also preparing to kick off his Elitserien career with Frolunda (he signed two-year deal).
NEW JERSEY: Training camp will be focused on the battle between Jeff Frazee and Keith Kinkaid. While I pondered this situation, I keyed in on the advantage collegians have when they finally turn pro – many usually do so at a more mature age. This goes a long way in helping them play on a more consistent basis, even though the jump in skill level can be a formidable obstacle.
Kinkaid turned 22 on July 4, so it’s not the same kind of situation a 19 or 20-year old AHL rookie might experience. Last year for Union College, Keith went 25-10-3 with a 1.99 GAA and .920 SP%. He also has one year of experience in the USHL with Des Moines (2007-08) and one year in the NAHL with St. Louis (2008-09) under his belt.
Since Kinkaid will create a real competitive situation in the AHL, this season becomes even more crucial for Frazee. Although I still see very little NHL upside in his game, playing a full season without any injuries or major setbacks will go a very long way in the Devils approaching him as a possible backup for the 2012-13 season.
No matter how healthy he is, Frazee must improve on last season’s numbers. In 33 games, he went 11-15-3 with a 2.90 GAA, two shutouts and a .902 SP%. He missed seven weeks of action (from 1-07 to 2-27) and won just two games in his final nine appearances. If not, the Devils will probably replace Johan Hedberg with another NHL vet.
NY ISLANDERS: New York has a plethora of talent between the pipes, so they face an obstacle of putting their prospects in the best position possible to succeed. As you can see, a three-headed monster might be developing at the NHL level, as Rick DiPietro, Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov are preparing for training camp on the Island.
I feel that this is not a bad strategy for the club, seeing as DiPietro is sure to miss some games due to injury. A Nabokov-Montoya tandem is clearly way more reliable than a DiPietro-Montoya tandem, as Nabokov instills more confidence in his teammates, so it’s a pretty good situation if DiPietro does get hurt again.
Nabokov is an excellent fit mainly due to his playing style, which relies on moving less, being more positionally sound and more economical. Even though he hasn’t played in a very long time, it won’t take him more than a few games to get his game back to where it needs to be. He will still have that presence of a poised, confident puck-stopper.
The Sound Tigers Cerberus has been slayed in Bridgeport, as Nathan Lawson is gone, thus leaving Kevin Poulin and Mikko Koskinen to handle AHL duties. From there, they have no other prospects to place in North America, as Anders Nilsson and Stefan Ridderwall will play another season in the Elitserien.
I definitely think you need to put Nilsson on your radar. This guy had an exceptional season in the SEL last year and he could easily come over to North America and thrive in the AHL right now. I fully expect him to come over next season, so long as there is a place for him to play.
Nilsson, who won a Silver Medal in the World Championships earlier this summer as Viktor Fasth’s backup, posted the best GAA (1.92) in the Elitserien last season, along with a .918 SP% in 31 regular season games for Lulea.
In the playoffs, Anders posted a 1.96 GAA and .931 SP% in the playoffs, proving he has the ability to elevate his game when it matters most. Standing at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, he’s an intimidating presence in the crease and still has the athleticism and agility to be a very mobile goaltender. He could easily thrive at the AHL level this season.
NY RANGERS: Negotiations are still ongoing with Chad Johnson, who continues to ponder his qualifying offer. Cam Talbot will look to have a strong sophomore season with the Whale. Jason Missiaen is a new arrival in the Rangers’ system and will most likely turn pro, giving the organization a goalie to place in the ECHL.
While Johnson was three games below .500 in 40 appearances (16-19-3) last season, Talbot was two games over .500 in 22 appearances (11-9-2). Both goalies had very similar stats, however. I don’t have any insight on Johnson’s contract negotiations, but if things go south, if given the opportunity, I could see Talbot thriving as the team’s #3.
Missiaen is clearly considered as Benoit Allaire’s main project right now. Standing at a towering 6-foot-7 and 180 pounds, Jason performed extremely well with Baie-Comeau last season. In 53 grueling games, he posted a 3.33 GAA and .893 SP%, which is very respectable on a weak QMJHL club. He finished the season by signing an entry-level contract with the Rangers on March 24, then spending some time with Allaire, but did not see any AHL action.
Scott Stajcer was mangled by a very serious hip injury last season, then a very weak performance in the Memorial Cup Tournament semi-finals. He was pulled in that game and replaced by Jordan Binnington, in what was the most controversial goaltending situation of the entire Canadian Hockey League.
From what I saw during his play in the Memorial Cup Tournament, I think Stajcer was still suffering from lingering effects of his injury. His movement was rigid, he didn’t appear very comfortable and he didn’t have a wide range of motion when he was asked to scramble. If he made the first save, however, he was fine.
If I had to choose between drafting Missiaen and Stajcer in a keeper league, it would clearly be Missiaen.
OTTAWA: What is there to say? The Senators have the shallowest pool of goalie prospects a team can possibly have. They’re four deep, and that’s as far as it goes. I do love the tandem of Mike McKenna and Robin Lehner in Binghamton, however, as the baby Sens prepare to defend their AHL title with this formidable duo.
One thing I will say about the Senators in terms of goaltending depth is that all four puck-stoppers are big bodies with very good agility and mobility. Lehner is certainly their future franchise goaltender, so the lack of depth behind him actually bodes well for his current and long-term value…and for those that own him in a keeper league.
But when there’s no competition behind him, the writing is on the wall. Lehner’s destiny in a Senators uniform is there for the taking. He will have to stay patient and prove his worth again this season while Craig Anderson and Alex Auld play out their contracts, but behind a fiery competitive nature, there’s nothing that leads me to believe he won’t excel.