It’s an exciting time when a prospect is making their way over from across the sea to North America to start their journey to the NHL. Sometimes you get players/goalies who will bypass the AHL/ECHL and go straight to NHL. Unless the player is a total star they’ll probably need to go through the AHL to get their shot at the NHL. In the case of the Colorado Avalanche this season’s shiny new toy coming from Europe is Adam Werner, a gigantic Swedish goalie who so far is the de facto no. 3 on the roster. Now you might remember Werner from two seasons ago when he briefly joined the San Antonio Rampage for 4 games, 3 starts posting a 0.333 Quality Starts % and -0.810 GSAA/30. Not stunning numbers but that was a bad Rampage team he joined out of the blue. On-ice play wise Werner showed some promise (that you can read about HERE) and hey it’s a small sample size. We got a taste of him and he left us wanting to see more. Now more is here and Werner is the topic of today’s thought exercise.
The first place this thought exercise will take us looking at how past Draft Year+5 AHL rookies have done to give us an idea of what we could see from Adam Werner as he will be joining the AHL as a rookie in his DY+5. In the chart above information was gathered on 27 goalies that made their AHL debut in their DY+5 seasons in the past ~10 seasons. Of those 27 goalies there were only 9 of them that managed to post a GSAA/30 below 0. So the bar is set at a decent height as more often than not the rookie goalie will be a positive for his team. That puts a bit of pressure on Werner however in regards to his NHL chances a season where he posts a negative GSAA/30 isn’t the end of the world as Linus Ullmark, Keith Kinkaid, and Alex Stalock all posted GSAA/30 below 0 yet are in the NHL.
Now once the season has ended and the final stats are totaled will there be any indication as to what to expect from Werner in terms of his pro chances? If you look to the chart above AHL DY+5 rookie success doesn’t mean a whole lot when it comes to the NHL. If anything all this part of the thought exercise proves is how hard it is to be a NHL goalie. 18 goalies posted positive GSAA/30 numbers as rookies in their DY+5 yet only 14 goalies have significant NHL time (registered enough SA to warrant a GSAA number on Hockey Reference) and of those 14 goalies only 11 posted positive GSAA/30 rookie numbers. And if that’s not enough only 3 of 14 goalies named here have positive NHL GSAA/30 numbers: Jeff Zatkoff, Frederik Andersen, and Cal Petersen. What matters more is what happens after the AHL rookie season which we’ll get to later on.
For now though we have a slight issue to amend. 27 goalies have had data collected on them for this project yet the majority of them come from the NCAA (12) and after that it’s the ECHL (6). The SHL only accounts for four goalies making a direct transition from the SHL to the AHL in Frederik Andersen, Eddie Lack, Linus Ullmark, and Marcus Hogberg. It’s a bit of a small sample size if we’re just directly comparing Werner to these four so let’s widen the field a bit.
These are the goalies that in the last ~10 years have made the move from the SHL straight to the AHL. That’s why it’s missing goalies such as Robin Lehner and Anders Lindback who took different paths. It’s a fair amount of information to parse through but we can do it! First off it’s not a whole lot of goalies however it’s more to work with than the 4 goalies we previously had to deal with. I’ve also included Adam Werner with the goalies to show how he compares to the other goalies that made the direct AHL jump. Werner was a tandem goalie last season but damn he was a good one. A 0.413 GSAA/30 puts him fourth among this group of goalies so when Avs fans become excited about how he did this past season based on the numbers they have some reason to at least.
As with everything in this thought exercise does having a good SHL season matter once you make it to the AHL? The answer to that question by looking at the chart above is having a good SHL season doesn’t hurt however it certainly doesn’t make much of a difference. Another observation you could make is maybe when a goalie plays above average rather than Goalie of the Year worthy they are more likely to continue that play rather than continue being amazing. Now that’s not to say there aren’t exceptions to the rule as we see from Frederik Andersen he ran the SHL then ran the AHL. Does the transition matter though as when the goalie makes the jump? Not really. Of the top 7 goalies in SHL GSAA/30 only one made their AHL debut in their DY+3 (Jacob Markstrom) yet only 2 posted positive GSAA/30 AHL rookie numbers.
Is there any explanation then other than “goalies are voodoo” as to why SHL goalies have interesting times when transitioning to the AHL. The easiest answer is the competition ramps up. The AHL is at least the 3rd best men’s hockey league in the world. No matter how small the step may be it’s still a step you have to take. Then there’s the transition from international ice to NA ice. A lot changes as a goalie when you make that transition. The angles change, the shots come from different spots, and there’s more traffic. If you look at the chart above it’s possible that these goalies just aren’t prepared (or can’t be prepared until they actually see it) for an increased workload. Now raw Shots Against are rarely helpful in telling what kind of shots goalies are facing. However it’s all we have so we can work with it a bit. What’s interesting is that the larger the difference in SA/60 from the SHL to AHL there’s also a fairly large difference in the SHL GSAA/30 to AHL GSAA/30.
At the end of the day what does all of this mean for Adam Werner? Well even with the limited data available we can do some conversions and get an idea of what the baseline for Werner is based on what other goalies have done before him. So say Werner faces the same SA/60 and his play carries over. The (very raw) SHL to AHL GSAA/30 conversion puts Werner at a 0.148 GSAA/30 in the AHL. If Werner sees the same workload he saw in the SHL then he’ll post an AHL GSAA of somewhere in the 4.372 vicinity. All good numbers however the team Werner will be joining is the Colorado Eagles whose goalies last season saw 33.3 SA/60. That’s a little less than six shots more than Werner saw in the SHL. Three SHL goalies saw relatively the same difference in SA/60 as Werner potentially will all posted GSAA/30 below what the conversion rate had them at. Lars Johansson saw his GSAA/30 drop by 0.632, Johan Gustafsson dropped by 0.559, and Joacim Eriksson dropped by 0.299. So if the Eagles shot leaking ability continues and Werner follows in the footsteps of those before him we’re looking at Werner posting a GSAA/30 anywhere between 0.100 and -0.100.
Going off of that assumption how will Adam Werner fare among other DY+5 AHL rookie goalies? If his GSAA/30 is between 0.100 and -0.100 that’ll have him posting a rookie season equivalent to any of these goalies: Marek Mazanec, Jean-Francois Berube, Cal Petersen, Alexander Salak, Alex Stalock, and Landon Bow. If you look at the image above ending up there hasn’t exactly been historically great but not historically bad either. Alex Stalock has managed to earn himself some NHL seasons, Berube kind of made the NHL, Salak got a NHL season, and Petersen is earning himself some trade value that could see him earn a NHL opportunity somewhere.
The last question is when should the Avalanche expect Werner to make his NHL debut if he will at all? I did some research on this previously so it’s slightly out of date but not by much. As seen (once again) by the chart above DY+5 AHL rookies if they are making the NHL typically don’t do it right out the gate. Taking into account the way Werner plays and how history has played out Werner will spend anywhere from 3-4 seasons in the AHL. Now years 3 and 4 can include some NHL games but if he’s still doing the AHL thing in year 5 of being in NA that’s essentially it. However that is looking quite far in the future so let’s see how the first two seasons go before we know where we’re going with Werner.
At the end of the day Werner will earn his spot through good play and opportunity. Good numbers in the AHL are helpful but not the be all, end all. Best of luck to Werner this year and hopefully the Eagles give him a bit more help than they gave Pavel Francouz.