With the 2011 Memorial Cup tournament getting some well-deserved exposure on NHL Network over the weekend, I had the chance to scout and assess the fantasy value for three different CHL goaltenders.
The first game took place on Saturday and resulted in Owen Sound’s Jordan Binnington shutting out Kootenay and 19-year-old Nathan Lieuwen by a score of 5-0. On Sunday afternoon, Lieuwen bounced back with a strong showing against Mississauga, but JP Anderson was just one shot better and led the St. Michael’s Majors to a 2-1 victory.
Below you will find some traditional scouting notes on all three goalies, with a strong emphasis on the undrafted Binnington and Lieuwen. Below the notes are a few paragraphs projecting and assessing their potential fantasy value. As always, feel free to follow up with questions in today’s Fantasy Mailbag!
And in case you missed it, I also dropped some analysis on the signing of Scott Stajcer, J-F Berube and Corey Crawford. I also shed some light on the reported signing of Alex Salak.
JORDAN BINNINGTON: Displayed above-average patience and quality controlled movements for a 17-year-old ... I consider him to play a calm butterfly style that relies more on positioning than reflexes ... Displayed a strong sense of sealing his pads to the ice ... Good absorption rate on many shots above the waist ... Solid patience when reacting, especially during a fast-paced first period ... Has a calm, composed demeanor and quiet footwork ... Does a good job of letting pucks come to him … Has an above-average goalie IQ and did a good job of challenging in appropriate situations … Needs a stronger and wider range of movement and more flexibility with his hip rotations ... Very solid puck-moving goalie that likes to be aggressive by making head-man passes ... His wide butterfly allows for solid lower-net coverage … Calm body language a result of a calm, quiet mindset … Finished with 29 saves for the shutout, including 15 in the second period
Overall, I was very impressed with Binnington’s game, especially for a 17-year-old. He has very good patience and plays a sound “calm butterfly” style. Those two elements are usually connected to each other, so the whole game was a great display of his abilities. Rarely did Jordan get caught in a situation where he was out of control.
As the third-ranked draft-eligible domestic goalie for next month’s NHL Entry Draft, I expect Binnington to be selected early in the second round, or possibly sooner. Usually once one goalie gets plucked, one or two more are quickly chosen. And if Binnington continues to play this well through the Memorial Cup, he could be the first goalie selected.
In regards to his style setting him up for a future success, Binnington has a lot of good things going for him. I consider him to already be a positionally sound goaltender, mainly due to his patience. He also has a great combination of net coverage and the ability to absorb shots. Because of this, I saw a goalie who manages his body and pucks very well, leading me to believe that durability should be one of his stronger points by the time he turns pro.
Two more years in the OHL, plus one to two years in the AHL seems like a fair projection for Binnington’s path to the pros. Of course this could change depending on which team drafts him, but with his technique and poise being so steady at just 17 years old, Jordan clearly has NHL starter upside.
NATHAN LIEUWEN: A very lanky goalie that has too narrow of a stance while up on his skates ... Has a quick glove hand but struggled to catch pucks on a few occasions ... Needs to grow into his 6-foot-5 frame and add some upper body muscle ... Hunched over appearance causes issues with his balance … Does not have very polished lateral butterfly slides … His puck-tracking needs work and he needs to improve his peripheral vision ... Biggest issue was dropping down too early on rushes from the wings, especially when the puck was below his goal line … Very sloppy footwork in the first game … Has a long way to go in regards to reading plays in a more effective manner ... Scrambles extremely well for his size, but was caught in scramble-mode way too often ... Has the body and stance of a Pekka Rinne or Anders Lindback in regards to hunched over shoulders ... Played with much more composure and control on Sunday against Mississauga … Made numerous timely desperation saves … Tremendous athleticism for his size, but needs a lot of work on the technical side … Finished with 28 saves on 33 shots on Saturday … Finished with 32 saves on 34 shots on Sunday … Most pressing concern is his tendency to drop into the butterfly or VHS too early, a result of lacking patience and not reading plays correctly
Although Nathan really struggled on Saturday against Owen Sound, his bounce-back on Sunday was a testament to how hard he has battled mentally and physically over the last three years. If you aren’t familiar with his story, be sure to read about it here. Injured in a scary one-car rollover accident, then hampered by a couple of on-ice collisions that led to concussions, Lieuwen has had to deal with real-life adversity that almost ended his junior career.
This season, however, was the first time the draft-eligible prospect felt like he was 100-percent again. There was no better proof of his health than when he went on an absolute tear in the WHL playoffs. He finished 16-3 with a 2.24 goals-against average, a .923 save percentage and three shutouts. He also went 4-1 in overtime games and was named the WHL’s Playoff MVP.
Passed over in the 2009 and 2010 NHL Entry Drafts, Lieuwen still has a chance to be drafted this summer, despite being un-ranked by Central Scouting. Now that he has received some good exposure in two games in the Memorial Cup, Lieuwen can improve his odds by stealing a game over the next few days.
Overall, there is a real interesting dichotomy when looking at Lieuwen’s draft likeliness. On one hand, he’s already 19 and simply not very technically refined, especially when compared to other draft-eligible goalies a year or two his younger. On the other hand, at 6-foot-5, he has quick reflexes and scrambles well. He’s also very mentally tough.
This makes his draft value a matter of perception. Some teams might want to take a chance on a guy with legitimate size and mental toughness, and then dedicate a few years to improving his technique. Other teams might not want to take that chance because, at his age, they may not see upside in investing the time it would take to improve his skills.
I personally wouldn’t have a problem drafting Lieuwen during or after the fourth round. Bigger, taller goalies usually take longer to refine their footwork and smooth out their movements. So if my team had a quality goalie coach, and knowing Lieuwen is a mentally tough character, investing a few years in his development could pay off with huge dividends. If the risk is low (later in the draft), and the team has the means to develop him, Lieuwen is worth drafting.
Does he have long-term starter upside? Not right now. But with mental toughness, great athleticism and a 6-foot-5 frame on his side, if he gets drafted by a team that knows how to develop goalies, his fantasy value will ultimately end up on my radar. But until his rights are owned by an NHL team, there’s not much hope for Lieuwen.
JP ANDERSON: Slight advantage by catching with the right hand ... Very technically sound and refined butterfly movements ... Very quick up and down butterfly recoveries ... Quality active stick and glove hands ... Caught sinking into his crease on Eakin’s PP goal ... Has to work harder at establishing his positioning at the top of his crease … Similar to Jhonas Enroth, he must stay aggressive in order to stay successful ... A well-rounded goalie with a terrific foundation to build upon ... Biggest concern is his tendency to slightly slide back in his crease as shots arrive … This is a sign he's not totally confident with his positioning ... Love his combination of active hands and feet, but calm and patient body language ... Finished with 32 saves on 33 shots, a terrific bounce-back effort following the loss to Saint Johns
Anderson, who was signed as a free agent by the Sharks following the Penticton Prospects Tournament back in September, had a terrific showing against Kootenay on Sunday. Although he lacked confidence in the first period, he got more comfortable as the game went on and came up with 13 saves in the third to secure a 2-1 win over the Ice.
What makes me such a big fan of Anderson’s long-term upside was his active hands and feet, but calm and composed body language. He’s extremely quick, but in control. He didn’t over-exert himself, and for such a chippy and fierce game, he did a great job of focusing on the puck and battling through traffic.
Because Anderson already has terrific skills, reactions and upside for his age, the main thing I watched for was his ability to challenge shooters. Listed at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, the path to becoming an NHL starter is not going to be easy. He will have to fight for every inch of space and become a wizard at finding pucks through bodies.
So my biggest concern with Anderson is basically the same thing I discuss with prized prospects Enroth and Jon Bernier. They must stay aggressive as consistently as possible, otherwise they give up too much time and space for shooters. Unlike a bigger goalie, Anderson does not have the luxury of sliding back in his crease as a shot is taken, nor can he play deep in his crease. He must come out and challenge and eliminate time and space.
This is where confidence and the ability to read plays become paramount traits for Anderson to hone.
At this point in time, I do feel like Anderson has the quickness and confidence to become a legitimate fantasy value, but it is going to take some time. I’ll preach patience to those who own Anderson, as he’ll need a few years in the minors to prove he can stay aggressive and “big” against the best players in the world.