It's extremely difficult to predict how fantasy goalie prospects will pan out. The "goalies
are different" philosophy applies to fantasy hockey as much as it does to the locker room. Their development is incredibly unpredictable. Goalies can hit their peak early (Cam Ward at 22), late (Tim Thomas at 30) or not at all (Hannu Toivonen). Unfortunately in most fantasy pool formats, goalies are a crucial subcategory. The rest of your team can be great, but without a decent goalie or two, you simply won't win. If there is one position you should stockpile its good young goalies, because for every Carey Price there is a Dan Blackburn.
Jaroslav Halak, Josh Harding and Pekka Rinne have all played enough games now that most people know who they are. This column will concentrate on goalies 24 years-old and younger that have
played less than 30 NHL games. These are goalies you can steal.
Cory Schneider, who has lit up the American Hockey League this season, turns 23 in less than a month. He's ready for prime time right now and has nothing else to prove in the minors. Bare
in mind that Schneider has two strikes against him. First, he's well known because of the
media hype he received earlier in the season. Most think he's a lock to be a number one
goalie, but that means you'll pay more for him at the draft table. Second, he's playing behind Roberto Luongo, who isn't going anywhere. This puts Schneider in the same category as Halak.
Both may waste the early part of their careers backing up franchise goalies, while
their teams seek adequate compensation.
A bigger gamble is Washington's Semen Varlamov. Varlamov has first round credentials, is
relatively unknown and he turns 21 in April. Varlamov is appealing because despite Jose Theodore's solid season, Theodore turns 33 this year.
Only truly elite goaltenders produce past the age of 35. If Theodore is typical, he'll have
two more good years before Varlamov would be asked to backstop the Capitals with the two
Alexanders in their prime. If you like Washington but not Varlamov, there is another option.
Washington took talented Czech goalie Michal Neuvirth 11 picks after Varlamov in the 2006 NHL
Entry Draft. Neuvirth is very raw and hasn't proven himself anywhere beyond the Ontario Hockey League but is still a solid prospect.
Brian Elliott has rocketed up the prospect charts this season. With a monstrous .926 AHL save
percentage and 14 solid games under his belt, Elliott is a tempting package. He turns 24
in April, and if Ottawa's recent additions of Mike Comrie and Chris Campoli wake up the
sleeping Senators, Elliott could pay immediate dividends. Unlike Varlamov, Neuvirth and
Schneider, Elliott has little crease competition in Ottawa.
Tuuka Rask has developed slowly but steadily since being picked 21st overall in the 2005 NHL
Entry Draft. His timing may prove to be perfect if father time catches up to Thomas. As great as Boston is this season, they have the youth to produce well into the next decade. Blake
Wheeler, Phil Kessel, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lucic are all under 24. If the
"Great" Chara continues his love affair with the weight room, perhaps he can anchor the Bruins defence when the youngsters have matured. Rask, and poolies who draft him, will be the
beneficiaries. Rask may well fulfill his immense promise and become a top-10 goalie, but to do so he has to put on weight. He hasn't gained an ounce in the last two years and is an
incredibly gangly 6'3, 169 pounds. Even if he's effective at his current weight he'll be an
injury risk. Ryan Miller has managed to stay healthy despite an equally scrawny frame,
however, bigger goalies like Martin Brodeur are more durable and therefore more desirable.
Ondrej Pavelec is a solid prospect with two huge strikes against him. The Atlanta Thrashers
are one of the worst franchises in the NHL and are going nowhere. To make matters worse,
Atlanta starter Kari Lehtonen is young and a legitimate No. 1 NHL goalie. Now the good news.
Unless something drastic happens, the Thrashers franchise won't exist in five years and
Pavelec will be playing for another team. With goalies, the team is crucial so consider
Pavelec a wild card for now.
Buffalo's dark horse goalie prospect, Jhonas Enroth, 20, played in Sweden until this season.
His transition to the North American game has been smooth as his .917 AHL save percentage
indicates. Enroth had considerable success in Sweden, helping his team Sodertalje SK get
promoted to the Swedish Elite League in a pressure-packed, 2007 round-robin tournament. Not
bad for a teenager. Unfortunately, not only is Enroth stuck behind potential Vezina Candidate, Ryan Miller, his 5'10, 174-pound frame is an injury risk. Small goalies are rare since the butterfly gained popularity, although Tim Thomas might change that way of thinking if his success continues. Enroth isn't as unorthodox as Thomas but he does share an elite
athleticism which he'll need to thrive in the NHL at 5'10.