One of the fun parts about CHL hockey is that there are always new players coming in and climbing up to the ladder. They could be drafted or undrafted into their respective junior leagues but they aim to climb the ladder all the same. While fans are never happy to see their star goalie leave for pro hockey they get the chance to cheer for someone new. Going into the 2017/18 season in the CHL there’s been quite a few goalies graduating to the pro’s or into U Sports leaving the top goalie spot in their respective leagues wide open. So the question is which goalies are ready to climb to the top?
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
The QMJHL saw two highly regarded goalies leave the league this year in Callum Booth and Samuel Montembeault. With the two of them leaving for the pro’s we’ll see two new goalies at the top of the league.
1. Mikhail Denisov
Mikhail Denisov is the easy bet to make to be the top goalie in the QMJHL this year as he had a fantastic season last year and is only getting better. Denisov is everything you could want from a goalie as he’s consistent and makes a significant impact. He did have a lighter workload shot wise than most other goalies in the QMJHL but that didn’t stop him from putting up a very high adjusted GSAA/60. In the 2016/17 season Denisov also showed that he’s not the type of goalie who will let his play spiral if he has a bad game which is important for any team that is looking for stability in net.
2. Etienne Montpetit
The steady veteran overager of Val-d’Or is next on the list for good reason. He not only had a Top 5 season in the QMJHL this past year but Montpetit was arguably the best goalie in the QMJHL playoffs getting Val-d’Or to the conference final only to lose to Saint John through no fault of his own. In the 2016/17 season Montpetit also showed he was capable of dealing with an increase in workload from the regular season to the playoffs so no matter what the next season holds it’s reasonable to suggest that he’ll keeping chugging on as normal.
3. Evan Fitzpatrick
We’ve all been waiting for the year that Evan Fitzpatrick hits his potential in the QMJHL and I believe this is the year it will happen. Fitzpatrick has always been a very talented goalie whose combination of speed and size make him formidable. This was a prime reason the St. Louis Blues drafted him in the 2nd round of the 2016 NHL draft. What’s stopping Fitzpatrick from reaching his potential so far is a lack of consistency from game-to-game as well as during games. It’s obvious in his Quality Starts % and during the games you’ll see him be caught off guard leading to goals early in games. Fitzpatrick obviously didn’t benefit from a strong Sherbrooke team but a new goalie coach in Sherbrooke could be the boost that he needs.
4. Alexis Gravel
Alexis Gravel is the QMJHL’s rising goaltending star. After an average 16yo rookie year in the QMJHL Gravel became a near instant star with how he played versus the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the QMJHL playoffs. He was then invited to be the 3rd goalie on the Canadian U18 team in the spring. Gravel is in the same situation as Fitzpatrick was in this part of their careers, a lot of potential and his success is a small sample size so far. He was average at the Ivan Hlinka tournament and therefore lost the starting job to fellow QMJHLer Olivier Rodrigue. The consistency issues are there and if they are worked out then we’ll see Gravel rise to the top of the QMJHL.
5. Francis Leclerc
He’s a quiet goalie who has gone a bit under the radar recently which is natural as he was the back-up to Samuel Montembeault. He’s in a good position though to make a run at being the top goalie in the QMJHL this year. When Montembeault was injured Leclerc stepped up providing above average goaltending for Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. It was a good rookie season from Leclerc as he showed promise and due to his success he earned invites to the Colorado Avalanche rookie camps in June and now September. What’s holding Leclerc back is that he had an easier workload than your average goalie shot wise and he was the back-up to Montembeault leading to back-up level starts even with the injuries Montembeault had.
HM - Kevin Mandolese
Kevin Mandolese had the best 16yo rookie regular season in the CHL only behind Jacob Ingham in Mississauga. He’s an impressive goalie and a goalie prospect to watch for the 2018 NHL Draft. He’s shown more consistency so far than Alexis Gravel and his play style is intimidating. What holds Mandolese back from being in the Top 5 is opportunity. Unless Cape Breton moves Kyle Jessiman (highly unlikely) than Mandolese won’t get the type of starts that the goalies ahead of him will as Jessiman is a proven QMJHL above average starter. He gets the honourable mention though because while Mandolese won’t start out as the starter he has the talent to win the starting position and make himself the top goalie of the QMJHL.
Ontario Hockey League
The OHL saw two stellar goalies this year in Michael McNiven and Tyler Parsons. Now both goalies have left the league just like Callum Booth and Samuel Montembeault in the QMJHL for the pros. This of course leaves the OHL looking at a battle royale for the title of Top OHL Goalie.
1. Dylan Wells
If Vegas were to take bets on this sort of thing Dylan Wells would have the best odds. This past season he saw himself vault from the bottom of the goalie ladder right to the top behind Michael McNiven and Tyler Parsons. This coming season looks to be no different for him. Wells was in fine form at the World Junior Summer Showcase and is certainly in the running to be one of Canada’s goalies at the 2018 WJC. He’s shown himself to be a very consistent goalie that is above average in nearly all aspects of the position, while being excellent in his puck handling, which bodes well for the Peterborough Petes this season. Wells just needs to keep on his natural progression and he’ll be the top goalie in the OHL this season.
2. Matthew Villalta
He took the hockey world by surprise when he was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the 3rd round after Michael DiPietro. It was well deserved though as his rookie season in the OHL was fantastic. What I personally like about Villalta’s game is how he understands the goaltending position. His impact on the game is impressive and we’ll see him in an even bigger role this coming season. While true that Villalta didn’t play against the highest quality of competition he is more than ready to take the next step this season in the OHL to the top of the ladder. With a potential Joseph Raaymakers trade on the horizon we’ll see Villalta step into a bigger role on the Greyhounds giving him the stage he needs to show himself as the top end goalie he is.
3. Michael DiPietro
Hard to argue with the season that Michael DiPietro had this past year when he shined on the Memorial Cup stage and had the season you’d expect from a top goalie prospect. With the Windsor Spitfires losing key players from their Memorial Cup win DiPietro will be expected to take on an even bigger role this upcoming season. What we’ll be looking from DiPietro is to show strong play when coming off of a bad game because he’ll be relied upon more than ever now to lead the team. We’ll see progression from DiPietro this year of course but will it be enough to get in front of Wells or Villalta this season?
4. Stephen Dhillon
If there was a workhorse goalie of the year award then Stephen Dhillon would have been the easy pick. No goalie saw the volume of shots or the level of starts that Dhillon did in the 2016/17 OHL season. This did have its drawbacks though as Dhillon saw his play drop and consistency issues creep in the last quarter of the season. He does deserve a lot of credit for his play last season and was barely given any because he played on a team that won just enough to make it into playoffs to get smoked by the Peterborough Petes. The task for Dhillon will be to simplify his game a bit more as he has a tendency to overthink what is happening. This will be important for Dhillon to keep up his play as the season winds down and the playoffs start up.
5. Jacob Ingham
He had the best 16yo rookie goalie season in the entire CHL this past 2016/17 season. It’s rare to see a goalie show the ability to adjust to CHL play at 16yo then go on to fail the next season. What we’ll see is progression enough to be a top NHL Draft prospect and a top 10 goalie in the OHL similar to what DiPietro did in the 2016/17 regular season. There is of course the possibility that Ingham explodes. The talent is there and how he ended the 2016/17 season is important to look at. In his last 18 games he posted a 0.667 Quality Starts % compared to the 0.000 QS% from the first half of the season. If Ingham can carry that over he’ll be pushing for a top 3 spot in the OHL and if he finds another gear Dylan Wells will have some very stiff competition.
HM – Jordan Kooy
The somewhat forgotten Jordan Kooy in London is the dark horse candidate to sky rocket up the OHL ladder of goalies. In his limited action in the OHL Kooy showed he’s ready to take that next step into a bigger role with the London Knights. How big of a role will decide just how far Kooy gets up the ladder. He still has to compete with Tyler Johnson who is an average OHL starting goalie with a bigger resume than Kooy and therefore will be relied upon by the Knights staff at the start of the season. Kooy does have that potential though to take the starting job as he has an important part of his game figured out and that’s his ability to make in-game adjustments. It’s natural for Kooy as a 16yo to be overwhelmed at the OHL level but he made the in-game adjustments to raise his level and meet the challenge set for him leading to the nice numbers you see. At this stage though expectations for Kooy are to get the starting role on the Knights and then we’ll see how high Kooy can climb this season.
Western Hockey League
Unlike their brother leagues to the East, the WHL only had one of their top 2 goalies move on after this season in Connor Ingram. It does feel like it’ll be a battle royale for the no. 2 spot in the WHL but you never know what type of injuries could occur that will allow another goalie to step up into the top goalie spot of the WHL. So let’s take a look at this season’s contenders.
1. Carter Hart
He was the top goalie in the WHL for two straight years and now he’s looking to make it a 3rd straight year. There’s no reason except for an unexpected injury to assume that he won’t be the winner of the WHL Top Goalie award once again. His competition in Connor Ingram has graduated as well making Hart unchallenged when the season begins. There will be competition though as the WHL has several talented goalies capable of pushing Hart but it won’t be easy as there’s a good reason Hart has been so good. He’s an intelligent goalie who reads the play well and therefore is rarely out of position. His consistency and ability to deliver a high impact at the same time is a tough bar for any goalie to get over.
2. Dylan Ferguson
The heir to the Kamloops Blazers crease is also one of the goalies best positioned to give Carter Hart some stiff competition for the top spot. When Connor Ingram and Carter Hart left for the 2017 World Junior Championships Dylan Ferguson stepped in the starting role quickly proving to be a very capable starter as well as showing that he is capable of being a top WHL goalie. Ingram is a fantastic goalie so replacing him isn’t an easy task yet that is what Ferguson did. The Kamloops Blazers didn’t see a drop a play going from Ingram to Ferguson’s stretch of 15 straight starts while Ingram was away. The obvious task ahead of Ferguson is to pace himself over the course of the season to ensure there aren’t a large amount of low low’s.
3. Griffen Outhouse
This past season Griffen Outhouse was the workhorse of the WHL. You’d have to look to the OHL’s Stephen Dhillon to find a goalie with a similar workload to what Outhouse did in the 2016/17 season. It’s a great look for Outhouse in terms of the success he had because stepping into the starting role isn’t easy yet he did it. Looking forward to next season the task for Outhouse will be to better pace himself as he found himself having some really bad starts then right at the end of the season he struggled to put up quality starts. Would also like to see Outhouse stand a bit taller so as not to give away the top part of the net as much as he does now. Otherwise we expect to see more progression from Outhouse as this season starts.
4. Tyler Brown
The Regina Pats overager veteran goalie comes in at no. 4 on this list. Tyler Brown will once again be providing the league contending Pats the necessary goaltending it will take for a long playoff run. Brown is the type of goalie any contender needs at minimum to win, someone steady who can keep up with the play and able to get set before the shot gets off. The downside of Brown’s play is that he reads the shot off the stick rather than tracking it from stick to body leaving him more vulnerable to tips or rebounds than goalies who track the puck all the way. The question of course for Brown is can he reach another level in play in his overage year. If not he’ll still be a high end goalie just not the best in the WHL.
5. Stuart Skinner
He was one of the best goalies in the WHL playoffs last season but his regular season was far from great. Skinner’s playoffs though were just too good to ignore and should have everyone excited for what Skinner will bring to the 2017/18 WHL season. In the playoffs Skinner found the consistency needed for success as his mental lapses, which in the regular season could occur for 10 minutes before he found his proper focus again, didn’t occur or occurred for a minimal amount of time. Skinner is also going to benefit from getting NHL level training with the Oilers who helped Dylan Wells have a successful 2016/17 season. It’ll be important for Skinner to show that his playoffs were not just a hot streak and that he can keep up his high level of play in the regular season as well.
HM – Carl Stankowski
Carl Stankowski made a name for himself in the 2017 WHL playoffs. How many 16yo rookie goalies miss the majority of the regular season then are thrust into the starting position on a contending WHL team and then prove to be successful? While the Memorial Cup wasn’t a success for Stankowski it still proved to be a valuable experience for him. This coming season Stankowski will be coming in as a potential draftee for the 2018 NHL Draft and will be aiming to prove he should be drafted. The opportunity is certainly there as he’ll be the starter of the Seattle Thunderbirds and already knows what it takes to succeed against tough competition. If Stankowski has learned how to stay on his feet more and avoids trying to play on his knees we’ll see Stankowski going high up the WHL ladder.