Last year was a weird one for goalie prospects, at least those in North America. Most of the 2018 NHL Draft Eligible goalies had the size/speed combination that NHL teams prefer. However most North American draft eligible goalies just struggled from the start of the season up until the end with a few making good late season pushes but it wasn’t enough to convince teams to take them early. So last year the problem for scouts was which of these struggling goalies has it in them to turn it around. This year the problem scouts are going to have to solve is out of the many goalies (on the NA side of the world) which goalies are going to continue their success into their DY+1, DY+2, etc. because right now draft eligible goalies are showing rather well statistically. Before moving on to the actual list/rankings some other quick thoughts: American goalies are going to be a strong unit with three looking like surefire draft picks and potentially one or two more in the mix, Russia doesn’t look like they’ll have any first time eligible goalies drafted, and the WHL is back with a vengeance goalie wise.
1. Spencer Knight- US NTDP U18 – USHL
When watching Spencer Knight he has the ability to make anyone believe that goaltending is easy to the point where the question “is Knight lazy in net” starts to creep in. The answer to that question is a very quick no though. To play the way Knight does requires a lot of focus because he’s always reading and anticipating the play. This isn’t a goalie that wants to skate by on his physical skill set. He easily could though. Goalies that sport his frame and are quick in his crease movements can make a lot of saves by just being big and quick leading to success in their respective U20 Junior Leagues. With Knight his size and physical skill set are just another tool for his success but it’s a high end tool that most goalies his size wish they had. Knight is very quick in whatever he does. Whether he’s dropping to knees then getting back up or moving around the crease, everything is done with the type of high end quickness you’d usually see from a smaller goalie. As a younger goalie he does run into moments where it’s obvious he knows what advantages his size gives him so he’ll let out a rebound he could have moved into a non-dangerous area. Or not play the puck carrier in a smart way knowing he covers a lot of net and can recover easier than most goalies due to his edge work.
Where Knight excels is through sheer knowledge of the goaltending position. He’s already figured out the best way to make use of physical and mental gifts leaving each step along the way of his development a bit easier than the average goalie prospect. First example of his is in his challenging. It’s not common to see Knight set up at the top of the crease. He knows he can sit back and still take up the majority of the net allowing him now to have a better chance on pass-shot situations. His stance is on the taller side so he can make better use of his footwork. What gives Knight his lazy look from time-to-time is how he reads the play and tracks the puck. Both of these skills give Knight the ability to be very patient. He doesn’t need to react to every single direction change in the puck because he has a very good idea as to what’ll happen next. He also knows where the puck is the majority of the time so if there is danger he sees it coming and has the reaction speed to properly deal with the threat. When it comes to puck handling he’s strong in essentially every aspect of it. He can clear it, make accurate passes, and more often than not will make the correct decision with the puck on his stick. In short he keeps coaches hair from turning grey too quickly.
On the statistical part of the game Spencer Knight hasn’t really had a chance to explode onto the scene in the USHL. However he is off to a good start and currently is in line to have one of the better USHL season we’ve seen from a US NTDP goalie recently. Knight is currently sporting a 0.347 GSAA/30 which is better than Drew DeRidder’s 0.020 GSAA/30 from last season and Dylan St. Cyr’s 0.132 GSAA/30 from 2016/17. Just looking at raw SV% you’d have to go back to Oettinger’s 2015/16 season to find a USA NTDP goalie with a higher raw SV% than Knight’s as Oettinger ended that year with a 0.919 SV% in the USHL whereas Knight is currently sporting a 0.914 USHL SV%. Yes Knight is playing on a very good team however he can only work with what he’s given and he’s doing very well with his workload so far.
2. Hugo Alnefelt - HV71 J20 – SuperElit
There’s always at least one international goalie that puts his name on the radar with the Hlinka Tournament and this year that goalie is Hugo Alnefelt. What stands out about Alnefelt is a (happily) reoccurring theme within this draft class which is Hockey IQ. Without it he wouldn’t be anywhere near this high on the list. With his high Hockey IQ he becomes an extremely efficient goalie that exemplifies some of the best aspects of Swedish goalie development. There’s nothing Alnefelt does that doesn’t have a good reason behind it and make him a more effective goalie. You see it in his challenging. He has a set box of movement that he sticks to for as long as he can as it makes effective use of his pro sized frame and to cut down on the need to make long distance movements giving him a better chance on pass-shot situations. Alnefelt knows that the longer he stays in his box of movement, the less chance he’ll end up behind the play or in a situation where he needs to scramble.
His positioning is just excellent. Through his ability to read the play he knows where to best position himself in the crease in order to give himself the best opportunity to react to whatever happens with the puck. His excellent positioning also extends to his technical ability. It’s hard to score on a goalie with a pro-sized frame that doesn’t allow additional holes open up and for Alnefelt he keeps his frame tight because he understands what can happen once the puck leaves the puck carrier’s stick. His puck tracking is another strength that shows through particularly when it comes to being patient on his edges. Alnefelt has his eyes glued to the puck so well that he doesn’t need to react until the puck leaves the stick in a dangerous way. And while his puck tracking is a strength it’s not without its downsides. When it comes to screen’s he goes down early relying on his positioning and size to make the save trusting his tracking to pick up the rebound.
A part of his game that will need some improvement at least as Alnefelt develops is in the physical skill category. He’s not quick but he’s not slow either, he’s about average in terms of overall quickness. So if he keeps within his box of movement he’ll generally be fine but if he needs to make consecutive quick movements on his knees or just need to rely on his physical skills he’ll find himself in trouble. He needs to keep his focus high in order to ensure there’s no wasted movement as it’s not easy moving his type of frame as a young goalie. Now Alnefelt’s hold on this spot is a tenuous one as he’s off to a less than ideal start in the SuperElit league with a 0.892 SV%. He’ll have his chance to keep this spot through international tournaments but not succeeding in your home league raises a few eyebrows.
3. Hunter Jones - Peterborough Petes – OHL
In the 2018 Giants in the Crease Goalie Guide Hunter Jones was one of five goalies named to watch for this season even after he posted a DY-1 stat line of 12 starts, 0.333 QS%, and a -0.838 GSAA/30. The reason he was named one of the five goalies to watch for this year was because of potential and opportunity. Watching him last year it was obvious he had the tools, especially in tracking the puck and moving well enough for a large goalie. What he struggled with was consistency and the awkwardness of still growing into his body. Learning under Dylan Wells who has NHL camp experience is an opportunity not every goalie gets. Now finally being draft eligible Hunter Jones is taking full advantage of being a late birthday, being given the starting position, and learning under Dylan Wells he’s started the season on fire. Right now Jones is in a 4-way battle for top goalie in the OHL with Michael DiPietro, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, and Kyle Keyser posting an incredible stat line of 18 starts, 1 SO, 34.28 SA/60, 0.778 QS%, and a 0.978 GSAA/30. If Jones were to keep up this pace it would be one of the best Draft Year’s statistically out of the CHL in a while. Even if we account for Jones being a late birthday and just look at 18yo season’s across the CHL he still matches up well statistically with Carter Hart’s and Dylan Wells’ 18yo CHL seasons.
What drives the success of Jones on the ice though? He’s a patient, positioning master. He trusts his positioning, his tracking, and his technical ability so he can hold his positioning as long as necessary. It’s imposing to shoot against a goalie that is giving you as little as possible and is giving you the option of making the perfect shot or making the pass to a player who has a better angle. The issue with that is Jones often has himself in a position where he can move and get set for a pass-shot situation. And his form rarely sees additional holes opening up when he’s moving. The next player that gets the puck doesn’t have that much of a better chance at scoring compared to the original puck carrier. Jones forces players into situations where they need to take more time than necessary to try and make a scoring chance happen. This is also where his tracking comes in as Jones does not let the puck leave his sight for long if at all. He doesn’t need to guess or react early because he knows what is happening with the puck.
Jones knows he can’t rely on his physical skills to carry him far. He’s good enough on his feet that he’s able to move himself around the crease without too many issues. His patience also extends to how well he holds his edges. It’s not always easy to hold your edges and still be able to move without your form coming apart. Moving forward the task for Jones will be to improve on his physical mechanics as he has the base to improve on; it’s just not anything to write home about right now. Another aspect you’d like to see Jones improve on is his RVH usage. Currently it’s inconsistent as some moments it looks like he’s applying it correctly while others he’s dropping into it too early or getting out of it too late as he defaults into trusting his size a little bit too much. This is natural though for young, large goalies who want to play to their easy strengths.
4. Dustin Wolf – Everett Silvertips – WHL
There are a lot of smart goalies in this draft class so it takes an impressive goalie to set themselves from the pack with their intelligence which is what Dustin Wolf has managed to do this season. Goaltending is not an easy position to understand which is why goalie coaches are so important. What makes a goalie coach’s job easy though is having a goalie that gets it, that gets the position. In the case of Dustin Wolf he has the most advanced understanding of the position and how best to succeed as a goalie, a side benefit of having played under Carter Hart last season. What’s abundantly apparent is that Wolf knows the disadvantage he is at size wise and plays a style that has a chance of allowing Wolf to one day play in the NHL. That’s why Wolf plays the majority of the game on his feet because being beaten over the shoulder is a real danger and any loss of height gives up more room up top than what you’d see from the average goalie.
So far Wolf has been extremely success in his playstyle and is showing that he can make a push for the NHL. As is important for a goalie with his frame he’s very quick, one of the quickest goalies in his draft class. This is why you’ll see him drop to his knees and after you blink he’s back on his feet. He does have the ability to use his edges to move quickly on his knees but he spends a minimal amount of time playing on his knees because of the amount of net that opens up on top. His trust in his physical skills, tracking, and ability to read the play leads to him being very patient on his edges because of the continuing theme of Wolf not wanting to give up more net than he already does due to his size. Wolf’s Hockey IQ also shows up in how he understands the limitations/angles of attack available to the puck carrier. That’s why he’ll set up at the top of the crease but not move to challenge above the edge of it when the threat of a pass is apparent. It’s also why he prefers a taller stance because it allows him to make better use of his footwork which covers for his size disadvantage most of the time.
There’s also Wolf’s tracking ability. It’s impressively high. He’s not just a goalie that knows where the puck is and where the puck is going. His tracking allows him to be highly effective in having the shot end up in a non-dangerous area no matter the situation. He effectively kills opposing teams’ offensive chances on the first shot. Coaches will also appreciate Wolf’s puck handling ability. He’s quick in his decision making and for a smaller goalie he boasts a powerful clear and can complete hard, accurate passes. Now even with Wolf’s exceptional goaltending ability people will have to come to terms with the fact that there will be goals scored on him purely due to Wolf not being big enough. It happened at the Hlinka and it’s happening in the WHL. However Wolf stops more on skill than he lets in based on size and it’s showing up as Wolf is putting up a massively impressive Draft Year statistically. Wolf is currently 3rd in WHL Goals Saved Above Average while sporting a 0.860 GSAA/30 and 0.833 QS%. If Ian Scott wasn’t having such a great breakout season Wolf would have a solid chance at being the WHL’s Top Goalie.
5. Colten Ellis – Rimouski Oceanic – QMJHL
Photo Credit: Cape Breton Post
Last year Colten Ellis burst onto the QMJHL scene as the starter for the Rimouski Oceanic as a 17yo rookie ending up finishing 4th in the league in Goals Saved Above Average being two overagers (Etienne Montpetit/Antoine Samuel) and 19yo Samuel Harvey. As a Draft Year-1 season it was one of the better ones that Giants in the Crease has on record. As a 17yo season it ranks statistically with Marc-Andre Fleury’s 17yo DY season and yes that’s rather good. As is a continuing theme with this year’s draft class, Colten Ellis is another goalie that’s Hockey IQ is a shining feature of his. In fact he sometimes goes through the same moments that we’ve seen from Spencer Knight where it looks like he’s being lazy in net where in fact he’s reading the play so well that he doesn’t need to react to every single bit of movement from the puck. He’s very good at picking the optimal crease depth to meet the current situation knowing he’s big enough that he doesn’t need to challenge aggressively and how effective pass-shot situations are so he puts himself in a position to meet whatever the next challenge is.
On the technical side of the game is where Ellis’ Hockey IQ shines through the most. He understands goaltending, the position, and what possible paths there are that the puck can take to the net. This is why he can give off the appearance of looking lazy because he understands where the dangers are on the ice and how best to prepare for those situations. He continues to implement advanced goaltending techniques into his style of play that you can see for example in how he plays on his posts. His technical portion of his game is at a high level and when he gets into his stance pucks are not going through him. When he seals up and decides to block off a part of the net it’s sealed up which makes it tough for shooters because he’s very good at getting in front of the puck and knowing the limited angles that the puck can take off the shooters stick.
He’s good at getting in front of the puck because of his tracking and efficient movement. He’s not overly quick but he’s able to use his footwork and edges to get himself in position. This is possible because he’s efficient in his movement. There’s rarely any wasted movement from Ellis as he’s good enough now but if he tried to rely on his physical skillset he’d end up out of position. There will need to be improvement in terms of Ellis’ quickness as he doesn’t have the frame to save those extra goals at higher levels and will need an explosive portion to his game for situations that require it. For the most part his rebound control is good. When it comes to long range shots there are noticeable moments where he doesn’t direct the pucks into non-dangerous areas when they should be leading to dangerous situations. On a statistical level Ellis’ season has been average with some inconsistency added in. Just looking at GSAA/30 he’s sitting at a 0.326 GSAA/30 which places him between Tom McCollum’s and Peter Delmas’ Draft Years. His QS% is not in a great place comparatively as Ellis has a 0.529 placing him between what Gravel and Fitzpatrick put up in their Draft Years.
6. Isaiah Saville – Tri-City Storm – USHL
Isaiah Saville is an absolute thrill to watch in net who is currently taking the USHL by storm (pun most likely not intended). Last year as a 17yo Saville did very well in the NAHL posting a 0.927 SV% and this year he’s stepped up his game even more as he’s second in the USHL in Goals Saved Above Average while being first in GSAA/30 with a 0.948. Saville’s GSAA/30 is very close to the GSAA/30 that DY+2 and Detroit Red Wings draft pick Filip Larsson put up last season in the USHL which was a 1.180 GSAA/30. What has made Saville so successful and entertaining to watch so far this season is that he’s very quick. If you want a comparable think back to Tyler Parsons, Michael DiPietro, or David Tendeck who were all highly ranked in the quickness category. Like the aforementioned goalies Saville is able to just float around the crease making it frustrating to score against him because of how quickly he’s able to react to every situation presented to him.
More importantly Saville is in control of all of his movement. This isn’t a goalie that is regularly arriving off-angle or off to the side of the puck or ending up just generally out of position in anyway. There are a good amount of goalies that are quick but the ones that are successful are the ones that know how to control their physical skillset to their maximum abilities. That’s why Saville is succeeding at such a high level in the USHL right now. He’s manipulating his edges in ways that few goalies can do and ending up in very good positioning not just with where he sets up in his crease but with how he keeps his form together. He does not allow his upper body to lag behind or allow additional holes to open up. A big part in how he’s able to so effective in using his edges and quickness is because of his tracking. He’s a capable puck tracker who generally has a good idea of where the puck is and in tracking the shot into his body resulting in above average rebound control.
While he mostly understands the limitations of his size he still has some slip-ups. When anticipating the pass he’ll move back to a much deeper crease depth to have a better play on the pass-shot situation however if there’s a shot he’d be at a disadvantage because of how far back he is. When it comes to the RVH he’s still working on how best to use it. His active stick usage when he’s in his RVH is acceptable and generally does well ensuring that he’s not overextending himself. Where he gets into trouble is when he gets into the RVH either too earlier or stays there for too long putting him at a disadvantage. Hasn’t shown that he wants to play the puck often but when he has played the puck he showed good glimpses of skill.
7. Mads Sogaard – Medicine Hat Tigers – WHL
Mads Sogaard is a goalie I’ve been keying in on recently and is one of the biggest wild card’s coming into the 2019 NHL Draft for me. He’s an interesting story. He’s a late birthday who last year played in the NAHL having a respectable season while also earning a spot as the 3rd goalie on the Danish World Junior Championship team. This year he was drafted into the WHL by the Medicine Hat Tigers during the import draft. It’s hard not to be curious about a 6’ 7” goalie just like a 6’ 7” skater is one you want to see what they can do. Expectations were low, like mentioned before he had a respectable year in the NAHL not anything eye popping so how was he going to handle the transition from NAHL to the WHL? In short early returns have been good from Sogaard. In 8 WHL starts he’s put up a 0.875 QS% and 0.599 GSAA/30 while sitting 9th in the WHL for Goals Saved Above Average.
Through his play on the ice Sogaard has backed up the numbers he’s put up so far. He provides a calming presence in net. He’s not a goalie that scrambles often because he knows if he’s ever in a situation where he does need to scramble he’ll be at a disadvantage compared to the average goalie. This sees Sogaard putting himself in position in the crease to ensure he doesn’t need to rely on his footwork or edge work to get back into the play. He can trust that he’ll be in position enough that he won’t need to scramble. This trust is derived from his ability to track the puck. Sogaard generally has a good idea where the puck is on the ice allowing him to make the most of his physical skillset to keep his movements as efficient as possible and preventing the need to overly rely on his ability to recover. His footwork is average but he has the mechanics necessary to improve. His ability to move around on his edges and being able to quickly change directions is impressive for a goalie his size.
While his patience is on the higher end of the scale there is a situation where Sogaard abandons his patience. If the puck carrier is coming in on a sharper angle Sogaard will lean towards the opposite side getting ready for the pass putting him off-balance and slightly out of position if the shot were to come. This is most likely due to the fact he struggles at reading backdoor passes so he starts the movement early to give himself a better chance if he just relied on reading the play. There are also times where he falls into the trap of being a large, young goalie and therefore relies on his size on longer range shots allowing dangerous rebounds when he could have pushed the puck into a non-dangerous area. Not much of a puck handler as he primarily sticks to his crease and will only leave in short situations to make short passes.
8. Mack Guzda – Owen Sound Attack – OHL
While most of the 2019 NHL goalie draft class has been off on good to great starts, Mack Guzda has not seen his statistics see the same shine as the rest of the peers. If this was the 2018 NHL Draft Guzda would fit right in as right now he’s putting up numbers similar to what we saw from Jacob Ingham and Kevin Mandolese last year. And he fits in with those goalies because at the top of his game he’s an incredibly effective goalie that has the chance to be a top 5 goalie in this draft. However right now he’s dealing with inconsistency issues that see him go from a brick wall one game to letting in goals you wouldn’t expect him to every other game. When he’s on his game there’s only one word to describe how he plays, suffocating. Opposing offensive opportunities come to die when Guzda is able to get ahold of the puck off of shots. He’s very good at either gaining possession of the puck or pushing it into the corner no matter the shot situation.
Even though he uses a tight, compact stance his large frame doesn’t suffer from making himself a bit smaller through his compact stance. What his stance does is gives him a good chance to gain possession of every puck that hits him including ones that come off of deflections or pass-shot situations. When he moves around the crease he’s moving as one large unit with holes opening up being a rare occurrence. It’s also important to him that he’s careful with where he sets up in the crease as he has to ensure that his crease depth is at its most optimal because he doesn’t have the quickness to make up for any miscues in positioning. He does have the leg strength to make explosive pushes around the crease. He does not have the ability to make continuous quick movements as he’ll either fall behind or his form will fall apart due to moving into a scramble.
His technical ability combined with his tracking is what elevates him to another level, when he’s playing his best of course. At the very least Guzda knows where the puck is and where it’s going. What hurts him the most is when his shot tracking is off. He’ll either make the save but let out a dangerous rebound forcing him to scramble or just flat out whiff on the shot leading to an easy goal against. A part of his game that isn’t just inconsistent but flat out raw is his post play. He just struggles at playing on his posts in terms of integration and moving from post-to-post on his knees. He knows he’s not the most fleet of foot goalie out there so he picks his spots in when he plays the puck so he’s not caught outside of his crease.
9. Nolan Maier – Saskatoon Blades – WHL
In a draft class so stacked with talent and goalies having successful seasons someone has to be goalie #9. That someone is Saskatoon Blades goaltender Nolan Maier. This was a tough one because there is no doubt Maier is a good goalie. He had the best 16yo rookie season among goalies in the CHL last year taking over the starting position in Saskatoon getting them very close to playoffs. This year he’s back in the starters crease for Saskatoon and certainly showing improvement numbers wise. Last year Maier made 42 starts while having a 0.571 QS% and -0.050 GSAA/30. This year Maier is sitting on 18 starts with a 0.722 QS% and 0.512 GSAA/30. If Maier holds his current GSAA/30 it’ll place him between the Draft Year’s that Chet Pickard and Carter Hart put up. The 0.722 QS% ranks with what Zach Fucale and Alex D’Orio put up in their Draft Year’s.
How do Maier’s numbers translate to on the ice play? Well he’s damn quick in net. He’s a goalie that loves playing on his edges and frustrating shooters by always ending up in front either early or just in the nick of time. It doesn’t matter if he’s using his footwork either; he’s going to move around the crease quicker than most goalies in his age group. He’s never really out of a play because he’s able to recover then quickly manipulate his edges to put him back in position. And what’s necessary for a goalie that plays as quick as he does is a high level of control which he’s able to pull off. It’s just not a high level of control in regards to how quick he moves around the crease. It’s a level of control that extends to keeping his form together. It’s rare to see his upper body dragging along out of position or for his hands to be out of position at all when he’s moving. This helps to cut down the size disadvantage he is dealing with.
Being this quick he wouldn’t be successful without his ability to track the puck around the ice and track pucks into his body. He’s quite good at both of these aspects which is why he’s had the success that he has had. Where we see Maier falter is that he doesn’t quite understand the disadvantage he’s at or he just doesn’t care yet. Either way there’s the beginning problem where Maier will be beaten purely because of his size. Now he is good enough goalie that he saves more goals via skill than he does let in via size but it something NHL teams are going to have to come to terms with. He creates a few more issues for himself by playing the RVH for too long and he prefers to slide around the crease more than is advisable.
10. Ethan Anders – Red Deer Rebels – WHL
If there’s a goalie flying completely under the radar and fits the “going to need about 100 views of this guy to get an accurate read on if he’s for real or not”. He’s just been an incredibly effective goalie in his short WHL career so far. Last season, his Draft Year-1 season, he made 37 starts posting a 0.568 QS% and 0.241 GSAA/30. This year he’s quietly been one of the best goalies in the WHL as he’s second in the WHL in Goals Saved Above Average while posting a 0.750 QS% and 0.649 GSAA/30. Because Anders is a late birthday, specifically September, we’ll compare his current numbers to other goalies who played in their 18yo seasons. If Anders continues to keep his numbers where they are both QS% wise and GSAA/30 wise he’ll have a season statistically similar to what we saw from Michael DiPietro in 2017/18 and Stephen Dhillon in 2016/17. I’m not sure if he’ll hold onto his position in the rankings for long but at the very least he deserves some recognition for the WHL career that he’s had so far.
He’s not just quietly making an impact on the stats sheet but he plays a quiet style on the ice as well. His edge work is the biggest strength in his game. He just floats around the crease on his edges putting himself in position quickly and effectively. It’s a quiet style of play because of his size. He’s not moving a 6’ 3”/200lbs frame around the crease, he’s moving at most a slightly below average frame in position. It’s not easy to do so but he obviously manages quite well. And that’s in part to keeping his form tight when he’s moving. He can’t allow additional holes to open up because it’ll make his size more of a problem than it already is. So when he moves around the crease his body moves as a single unit. His technical ability also translates to how he understands the game happening in front of him. That’s why you’ll see him moving around in a taller stance so he can make better use of his physical skill set and when the shot comes from a high or medium danger area he’ll get a bit wider in his base understanding that the puck can only come in at a limited amount of angles.
On the tracking side of the game he was great in tracking the puck when it was above the goal line. It allowed him to keep up with the puck and ensure he had the best positioning possible. This tracking went into how well he handled shots as he has been good at controlling his rebounds because he’s following the puck in and being active in ensuring that the puck stays out of dangerous areas. When the puck gets behind the goal line though is where Anders’ tracking drops in a noticeable way as he is much slower to react when the puck changes directions behind the net. Being a smaller goalie he does generally well in ensuring that his size doesn’t affect him too much in keeping pucks out of the net. He does have an odd tendency though to drop into the paddle down too early for my liking. He doesn’t like to leave the net often to play the puck and when he does it’s to settle the puck down.