Your team has signed a goalie prospect, whether it’s someone your team has drafted or has signed as a free agent it doesn’t matter, all you want to know is when should you expect this prospect to make the NHL or when time has run out on their “make it to the NHL” clock. What we do know is that the usual goalie development is longer than the average forward or defender but how long should an organization and its fans be waiting for their goalie prospect to finally make it?
Through this exercise we’ll be looking at ~20 years’ and 67 goalies worth of data we will be looking at. To start we’ll point out some exceptions to this exercise such as Mikko Koskinen and Anders Nilsson who joined the NHL after brief stints in the AHL followed by going overseas then coming back. Because of this unusual path to the NHL they have been exempted from the exercise however they are being mentioned here because as both have shown it is possible to leave the AHL and still come back to secure a spot in the NHL. Before going in just want to make clear that this is just a general overview and not something overly deep (that comes later). So without further ado let’s get down to business to figure out what the general expectations should be of a goalie prospect that joins the AHL.
The first question we’ll ask is there ever a time where you can give up on a goalie or is there every a point in a goalie’s AHL career that it becomes too late to become a NHLer? Based on the data collected you can really never say that a goalie is completely out of time to join the NHL if they’re still in the AHL. The time period to get a full-time NHLer (+10 GP in the NHL, >10 AHL GP that season) ranges from a goalies DY+3 to DY+10 (Note: In the case of Mikko Koskinen he finally became a full-time NHLer in his DY+13 though if he was in the AHL this whole time and posting equivalent AHL numbers to his KHL numbers he’d have been in the NHL before his DY+13). So based on when the goalie is drafted you typically have before they are 28/29 before you can fully write off an AHL goalie as becoming a full-time NHLer. Typically though if you are going to get a NHLer you’ll get them between their DY+5 and DY+7 seasons with another big shot at getting a NHLer during their DY+9 season.
Based on that the next question is why is there a spike during the DY+6, and even more intriguing, a spike of NHLers in their DY+9 seasons. Looking at the goalies that made the NHL in their DY+9 season’s 9 out of 13 of those goalies saw time in the NCAA before joining the AHL. The other four goalies are Jack Campbell who came in from the OHL, Antti Raanta/Antti Niemi who both came from the FEL, and lastly Anton Khudobin who had an interesting career path where he joined the WHL in his DY+2, went back to the KHL for his DY+3 then slogged through the AHL for five years before earning a spot in the NHL. When you talk about late bloomer goalies these DY+9 goalies show that late bloomers are real and not exactly rare. Are they late bloomers in terms of needing a lot of AHL time? We have one goalie who took 7 AHL seasons, another who logged 6, two who logged 5, three goalies who logged 4, two who logged 3, three who logged 2, and lastly there was one goalie who logged one AHL season before joining the AHL. How that compares to all goalies involved in this exercise in terms of number of AHL seasons acquired before joining the NHL is shown in the charts below.
Going by the chart goalies who become full-time NHLers in their DY+9 do fit the definition of late bloomers not only in terms of how long it takes them in terms of their whole career to hit the NHL but how long they need in the AHL compared to their peers. Goalies who hit the NHL by their DY+9 account for all goalies who take six and seven seasons to make it in the NHL as well as accounting for 2 out of five overall goalies who took five seasons to make the NHL. Looking back at the chart once more let’s take a closer look at all goalies involved in the exercise rather than just the goalies who made the NHL in their DY+9 seasons. Going back to the title of this piece and asking the question “How much time is left on the clock?” while looking at this chart it looks like the clock starts ticking quickly. 55.22% of goalies who make the NHL only acquire 2-3 AHL seasons. After that you have 19.4% of goalies acquiring four AHL seasons and then every other amount of AHL seasons acquired is below 10%. You actually have a higher chance of a goalie only acquiring 0-1 AHL seasons before making it to the NHL compared to getting a NHLer that has acquired 5-7 AHL seasons. So while on the whole a goalie will take longer to make the NHL than a skater you can count on a goalie to either make it or not quickly.
What that general overview chart doesn’t account for is the chart skewed by goalies that make their AHL debut later therefore coming into the AHL more mature and able to quickly handle the AHL? Thankfully we have another chart for that question! The information below looks at how many seasons a goalie acquired based on when their first AHL season was.
Going by this new chart the goalies who join the AHL later in their careers (DY+6 to DY+8) it skews the result slightly as of those nine goalies who had late starts in their AHL career none of them acquired more than four AHL seasons. However those are only 9 of 61 goalies who acquired AHL seasons before joining the NHL full-time. More goalies whose first AHL season was in their DY+3 acquired three or less AHL seasons than those who acquired four or more AHL seasons (17 to 8). In fact there’s only been six goalies accounted for who only acquired one AHL season before joining the NHL, four of those six acquired their first and only AHL season in their DY+3. Something else we can learn from this chart is that those who join the AHL in their DY+3 have a bit more time on their hands compared to those who join at other points of their career.
Another question we’d like to explore is does it matter when a goalie joins the NHL? Or in other words does a goalie becoming a full-time NHLer in their DY+4 indicate that they’ll have a better career than a goalie that joins the NHL in their DY+7 for example. Looking at the goalies listed making it in your DY+3 or DY+4 indicates at least you’ll have a respectable NHL career. All eight goalies were at least average starters for a period of time. When you get to the DY+5 goalies there’s still a large chance that you’ll end up with a respectable starter for a few seasons at least. Goalies who make it in their DY+6 are more of a mixed bag. The majority are still starters or were at some point but it’s a smaller majority than the DY+4 and DY+5 set of goalies. The further you go the more mixed bag the set of goalies get however it still goes to show that you can get a starter who joined the NHL later on in their career compared to their peers.
So based on this exercise what goalies should we be expecting to make their debut soon and which ones should we keep an eye on? We’ll start with an easy one in Collin Delia. He joined the AHL in his DY+6 and currently has acquired two AHL seasons. Based on his play in the NHL and AHL we can assume he’ll make the NHL next year. If he doesn’t make it in the NHL full-time next year that’s alright as DY+6 goalies who make it in the NHL acquire three AHL seasons before their first full-time NHL season. Delia is right on time and even has a bit more time if he needs to. What about someone like Ville Husso? He’s done well in his first two AHL seasons but his third AHL season isn’t going so hot. Is there cause for concern? Not entirely. As DY+4 goalies do typically only need 2-3 AHL seasons it’s not unprecedented for a DY+4 goalie to take four or five AHL seasons. If you’re a team looking in the AHL for a goalie to snatch up potentially at the trade deadline there are two targets that might be of interest: Eric Comrie and Tristan Jarry. Eric Comrie is in his 4th AHL season and has been trending up every season. As a DY+3 goalie he will be looking to make his full-time NHL debut soon. Tristan Jarry is in the same boat as Comrie and he even comes with NHL experience. While data collection hasn’t been overwhelming large yet someone to keep an eye on is Josef Korenar, the San Jose prospect. He’s in his DY+3 and posting a 0.333 GSAA/30 which is slightly above what John Gibson and Juuse Saros posted in the same situation. Then the last goalie I want to bring up is Kaapo Kahkonen. He’s joined the AHL in his DY+5 and has a 0.116 GSAA/30. It’s a very promising start and as a DY+5 goalie they typically don’t make their NHL landfall until they’ve acquired 3-4 AHL seasons.
And with that we’ll end this exercise. Hope you all enjoyed looking at charts and reading words. The next time we look at this topic we’ll have more numbers to look at so we can better predict which goalies we should expect to see in the NHL.