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Drafting Goalies Matters (And Where)

June 23, 2016



When it comes to the NHL draft fans are naturally excited to add to their prospect pools. For the past month fans and media people alike are excited for the draft where they are talking nearly non-stop about the various forwards and defense available. Who can blame them though? Auston Matthews is going to look great in the NHL year along with Patrik Laine. There’s also a top 3 of defenseman that has everyone excited as well. Even into the later rounds you have a lot of discussion regarding other forwards and defensemen.


For goalies and the draft, there seems to be almost a reluctance to take them in the draft from a fans point of view and even NHL General Managers. When a forward or defenseman is taken in the draft the pick is usually met with celebration. When a goalie is drafted the response is usually that the team wasted a pick on an expendable position. At least it’s considered a wasted pick if it’s a 6th or 7th round pick because in most people’s eyes late round picks are all that are needed to pick a goalie.


That’s the myth; all you need to do to have a proper goaltending pipeline is the odd late round pick or sign an undrafted UFA goalie from either the CHL or NCAA.  Those are fair options to use to fill your goaltending prospect pipeline. Every so often you are able to find that goalie that matured a little later then his peers and hit the ground running. Most recently that goalie was Martin Jones of the San Jose Sharks who was an undrafted free agent who originally signed with the Los Angeles Kings. For the most part though you need to draft these goalies that carry you in the playoffs:


Starters by SV% in Playoffs (200 minutes played)

So looking at the starters in the playoffs we have 17 goalies in total. I left Andrei Vasilevskiy in as he took the starter role and played as a high level starter in the playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Moving on with the information presented we have16 out the 17 starters as being drafted. Eight of the teams that made the playoffs drafted their own goalie. Where did the goalies come from that were drafted by the team they made the playoffs with?


One goalie was drafted in the 1st round

One goalie was drafted in the 2nd round

Three goalies were drafted in the 3rd round

One goalie drafted in the 4th round

One goalie drafted in the 5th round

And lastly, one goalie drafted in the 7th round


In the first three rounds that’s five starting goalies with the last three starting goalies coming in the last four rounds of the draft. So with this sample size of goalies from the 2015/16 NHL playoffs we can come to some conclusions:


-NHL level goalies are more than likely drafted (~94.1%)

-For your team to have a starting goalie, they will most likely have to be drafted

-The best place to find a starting goalie is in the first three rounds of the draft


Playoffs are a small sample size though. In order to minimize the outliers and possible errors we are going to look at each team and the goalie that has the most games through the past two years (regular season) with that team.


  • 27 out of 30 starting goalies in the NHL are drafted (90%)

  • 11 out of 30 starting goalies are with the same team they were drafted by

  • 10 starting goalies were 1st round picks, 3 starting goalies were 2nd round picks, 5 starting goalies were 3rd round picks, 1 starting goalie was a 4th round pick, 3 starting goalies were 5th round picks, 1 starting goalie was a 6th round pick and 4 goalies were 7th round picks or higher.

  • That is 18 out of 30 goalies that are starters and have been chosen in the first three rounds of the NHL draft.


From the chart we can come to a few more conclusions. 60% of starting goalies are found in the first three rounds of the NHL Draft. Contrary to popular belief, drafting a goalie in the 1st round is the most sure fire way to find yourself a starting goalie compared to the other rounds of the draft. It should certainly help put to rest that you can find a goalie as easily in the later rounds as you can in the earlier rounds. If you’re worried about the goalies busting in the 1st/2nd rounds of the draft then don’t because goalies bust/fail at nearly the same rate as players.




Of course that leads to another argument of a later round goalie can be just as good as a goalie taken early in the draft. It’s a true statement and it works for players as well. Due to goalies being human it’s entirely possible that a goalie taken in the 7th round can be better than a goalie taken in the first round. You can take Lundqvist and compare him to any first round goalie to win that argument. Lundqvist is one goalie though that can skew the argument while there are other goalies that swing the argument back towards goalies taken early are more likely to become starters.


Going by Vezina Winners it’s a 60/40 split between the later round goalies and the early round goalies for the past 10 years. If we look at the current Vezina voting though we’ll see 2/3 of the Top 3 finalists (Bishop and Quick) were taken in the 3rd round.  So it is definitely possible to draft a goalie in the later rounds who can match the quality of an early round goalie. This is important to note because it gives teams incentive to look further into late round goalies.


Getting close to the end now so thank you for your patience so far as we just have one more aspect of drafting goalies to go through. Goaltending is a unique position as you can only have one goalie in the crease at one time. There are generally only thirty starting positions in the league which means that some goalies will miss the playing time necessary to develop properly. Or it means that you might end up spending +10M on two goalies. In today’s cap world having that much salary tied up in two spots where only one can be on the ice is nearly impossible to get away with.


This leads people to not wanting to draft goalies if they have an established starter who is under the age of 35. They don’t want to spend a lot of money on two goalies and they don’t want a locker room distraction as two goalies battle it out to win the starting spot. This is the wrong attitude to have. Just like players, goalies can be trade assets.


If we go back up to the top chart of starting goalies there are 17 goalies who are starters on their current teams but they were not drafted by that team (we’re going to leave 3 undrafted ones out). Those 16 goalies had to leave the team that drafted them one of three ways: trade, waivers or free agency. So the question becomes, did the NHL teams get assets back for their goalies?


So apart from one goalie that was waived, in other words an outlier, 15 teams were able to get back some value for their goalie listed here. If we were to add the three undrafted goalies then the result would be 18 teams getting some sort of value back for their goalie. So NHL fans and General Managers should be looking to draft goalies as that’s another way to get assets back. Depending on the trade and may not be a lot of value back. However the point is that developing goalies does have a payoff even if you already have a starter.


One last concern teams will have is did they keep the right goalie? That’s just something you have to trust your pro scouting team and front office with. Speaking in the general sense, if you have two goalies that are starter material then you can’t go wrong either way. There are only a few examples where the NHL organization moved the wrong goalie. The Vancouver Canucks was a special situation where they moved out both goalies.


I hope after reading this it will help fans start getting excited when a goalie is taken in the early rounds of the draft. While scouting goalies is still behind the curve we can look at the past and see that goalies taken early are successful. Drafting is only one small part of the equation though. Teams need to focus on proper development. Only with proper development can you turn a goalie from any round into a top flight starter. Development is a whole new discussion though and we can tackle that later on.


Thank you for reading and please give whatever goalie your team drafts a warm welcome.  


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