With my focus shifted to the NHL Entry Draft this weekend at the XCEL Energy Center, I wanted to post my thoughts on the crop of domestic and international goalies available this summer. Although everyone is looking towards the two Gibson’s as the biggest story for the goaltenders, the 2011 class is actually much deeper than it appears.
By now we all know that John Gibson will probably be the first goalie drafted this weekend. But to be honest, I personally find myself drifting towards Christopher Gibson as the more valuable goalie for a few different reasons.
First of all, for what it’s worth, I like Chris’ game a little more than John's. Coming over from Finland to play for Chicoutimi, he has thrived by playing more of a reaction-based butterfly style. He thrives on excellent footwork and reads plays extremely well, which allows him to be successful in a dynamic and very skilled league like the QMJHL.
Chris doesn't have the size, net presence or the lower-leg strength of John, but he has better eye-hand coordination. In fact, Chris had the best score (22.4) in the Hand-Eye Coordination test at the NHL Combine, so I think reflexes and overall reaction speed is a significant advantage for him. Chris also had a 78-inch wingspan, which was second-best for all goalies at the Combine.
Either way, NHL teams can't go wrong with either Gibson. Both have terrific upside and both have great strengths in different areas. It’s tough to compare them since they play such different styles, so teams will have to look at how each goalie potentially meshes with the team’s goalie coach. Teaching styles compared to the goalie’s current style will play a role in where they ultimately land.
Beyond the two Gibson’s, it’s safe to say that Samu Perhonen will be the first International goalie taken. He's another Pekka Rinne hybrid, as his lanky size (just over 6-foot-4) and terrific reactions make him a valuable commodity. He'll probably be the third or fourth goalie taken, maybe sooner since there’s a buzz that he could be the next great Finn.
One you get past the big three (Gibson’s and Perhonen), the goaltending class is fairly wide open. You’ll know that some of the more recognizable names Jordan Binnington and Matt McNeely will get plucked, but let me briefly discuss three other goalies that, regardless of where they're drafted, will be worth owning in your keeper league.
First of all, Matt Mahalak, who is in no way a “sleeper” by any means, still seems to be flying under the radar. Not only was he considered one of the best goalies in the OHL this season, but he has a lot of hidden advantages in regards to his long-term potential.
To start, Mahalak has is very mentally tough for his age thanks to his time spent at the Culver Military Academy. During his tenure there, Matt learned important mental elements such as preparation, composure, confidence, discipline and structure. This, I feel, will go a long way in helping him evolve into a very special goalie that could clearly reach the upper echelon of his goaltending class in 3-4 more years.
Secondly, playing for Plymouth provides him with an advantage in regards to his goalie coaching. Just like Michal Neuvirth, Justin Peters, Scott Wedgewood and others, Mahalak works closely with Stan Matwijiw, who is mostly known for refining Chris Osgood's game during the NHL Lockout, which helped extend his career and reach the 400-win plateau.
Matwijiw is a co-owner and the head coach of Bandits Goaltending, one of the premier puck-stopping schools in
Michigan. They work with a number of draft-eligible goalies and continue to teach one of the more progressive styles found in the United States.
Finally, Mahalak in general has a terrific skill set. He has great situational awareness, so he knows how to approach different plays and make the correct save selection. This is one of the more important elements of a draft-eligible goalie, as it separates skills from smarts. And Mahalak might be one of the smartest goalies available this weekend.
One sleeper I’ve really come to like is Edmonton Oil Kings goaltender Laurent Brossoit. Although he’s still very raw-skilled, my research has revealed that he is not afraid to abandon his technique in order to make a save. Brossoit, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and around 200 pounds, also has the longest wingspan of the NHL Combine at 81 inches.
What makes Brossoit a sleeper of sorts is the fact that he really surged in the final few months of the regular season for the Oil Kings. After appearing in just five games in October, four games in November, then four more in December, he appeared in seven games in January, 10 in February and then two playoff games.
Overall, Brossoit went 13-12-2 with a 3.32 goals-against average, .887 save percentage and two shutouts. March was his most successful month, as he went 5-2-2 in his 10 appearances.
Another goalie that isn’t getting enough press heading into the draft is Victoriaville’s David Honzik. A Czech import with a 6-foot-3 frame, David also came on strong for his team late in the season. His soaring confidence was a major reason why he experienced more success as time went on, as he became more comfortable in an unfamiliar setting.
More importantly, this season was the first time he ever had a legitimate goalie coach. That structure, along with constant and consistent reinforcement on almost a daily basis went a really long way in improving his game.
During the regular season, you can see the result of his blossoming confidence in his ability to win games despite giving up a lot of goals. He was 3-0 in December, 4-2 in January and then 3-0 again in February. Honzik capped his rookie season by going 5-4 in the playoffs and posting a .919 save percentage, which was second in the QMJHL playoffs to only Maxime Clermont (.927).
Ultimately, Honzik is just at the tip of the iceberg in regards to his potential. He’s already building a reputation for having a very quick glove, and he’s still athletic despite being a bigger goaltender. Be sure to check out this solid profile on Youtube to learn more about Honzik before the draft gets underway this weekend.
Outside of the goalies I’ve discussed above, don’t lose sight of two high school prospects, Stephen Michalek and Alex Lyons. Lyons is a Minnesota native and Michalek hails from Connecticut. Lyons had a standout season for Lake of the Woods, while Michalek, who is ranked very high at 5th overall for domestic goalies and scored very well in the NHL Combine, posted a .918 save percentage in 23 games for Loomis-Chaffee.
Although The Goalie Guild is still in “maintenance mode” for a few more days, be sure to follow me on Twitter at @TheGoalieGuild for tons of thoughts on all of the draft-eligible goalies. Just look through the top 20 domestic goalies and you’ll find similar molds, similar stories and similar upside for many of these guys.
In regards to projections, I think odds are strong that you will see John or Chris Gibson drafted very late in the first round, somewhat similar to what we saw with Mark Visentin last year. It will be a surprise if either Gibson is taken 20th overall or above, and it will also be surprising if Perhonen is taken in the first round.
I think Mahalak and Binnington are sleepers for a high pick in the second round. And also don’t forget that Joacim Eriksson, Memorial Cup Trophy winner Jacob DeSerres and the embattled Kootenay goalie Nathan Lieuwen are also draft-eligible this weekend.
And as I have come to learn over the last four years, there will ultimately be one or two goalies drafted that nobody expects to get plucked. Think about Montreal taking Petteri Simila with their final pick in 2009 and don’t be surprised if another team follows suit in a similar fashion this weekend.