Should Gillis Always Draft One Goaltender?

Jeff Angus
November 24 2011 08:54AM


Joe Cannata is having a stellar season in the NCAA, but was he a good value pick at 179th overall?

Mike Gillis has made it a point to draft one goaltender each year since taking over the Canucks back in 2008. With so many late-blooming goaltenders making an impact at the NHL level in recent years (Niklas Backstrom, Antti Niemi, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Jonas Hiller, most notably), the question needs to be asked: is it worth using a draft pick on a goalie? The Canucks signed their top goaltending prospect, Eddie Lack, after he was passed over a few times at the draft. Projecting how a 17 or 18 year old goaltender will look at the NHL level in a few years is much harder than doing the same with a forward or defenseman.

The average age of a starting goaltender in the NHL is 29, according to this analysis done by the House of Puck. More from the above piece:

“In the 5-year period from 1997-2001, 14 goalies were drafted in the first round. Apparently this number satisfied some type of equilibrium, because it stayed exactly the same from 2002 to 2006. Then suddenly things changed. In 2007, not a single goalie was taken in the first round – the first time this had occurred since 1992. Then it happened again in 2009, and again this past year. Collectively, only 4 goalies were drafted in the first round between 2007 and 2011. Why?”

Starting in 2008, the Canucks have drafted Morgan Clark 191st overall (awful goaltender, but is the son of then-goaltending coach Ian Clark, and the move was likely made for non-hockey reasons), Joe Cannata 173rd overall (Cannata has developed into one of the better NCAA goaltenders), Jonathan Iilahti 175th overall (playing in Finland), and David Honzik (playing in the QMJHL) with the 71st pick in the most recent draft.

Cory Schneider was picked out of high school in the first round way back in 2004. He only started to pay dividends for the Canucks six years after being drafted. Is it worth using a pick on a player you have to wait six years for? Schneider has turned out about as well as hoped – picking any player out of high school is a risk, especially a goaltender.

Relying entirely on scouting underrated and unknown goaltenders is far from easy (or all teams would be doing it successfully), but the Canucks have shown under Gillis that they aren’t afraid to spend money to find these kinds of players. I consulted Justin Goldman, the guru behind the Goalie Guild and the Goalie Post, and he weighed in with his thoughts.

Goldman:

In my opinion, I think the best "draft strategy" for goalies is to have no strategy at all. Instead, resources need to be spent on scouting and developing the prospects you already have. Goalies are such a crapshoot. There are no lineal or clear-cut trends. Whether you draft a goalie early, or draft a goalie late, or don't draft one at all, it's all situational.”

I would agree with the above. The same player may bust in one organization and blossom in another. With goaltenders, playing time and level of competition is so important. The Red Wings drafted Thomas McCollum in the first round in 2008, and he’s on his way to bust territory. They picked him one spot before Jacob Markstrom, too.

Goldman:

I think the draft a goalie every year isn't a bad one, but it comes down to the specific goalie you are drafting. I'm sure you know that drafting goalies is like paper stock. There's a ton of perceived value out there, but if you aren't willing to put in the time to develop that asset, it's just toilet paper and holds no value. This is what is happening with the top-ranked International goalie from 2010 Sami Aittokallio, as he is just rotting away in the Colorado system due to their lack of a full-time goalie coach.

So taking a goalie every year – well that's good to cover your bases, but is there a system in place to take that goalie and put them in a position to succeed? Not every goalie is going to succeed, but once they turn 20 or 21, they need to be put in a place where they can play. Look at the Islanders. TWO three-headed monsters, both in NHL and AHL, and now Koskinen had to be loaned back to Finland because he's not playing at all in Bridgeport. So while it's great to have this awesome collection of prospects that are five or six deep, if they don't get any playing time, they aren't going to pan out.

A great point. The Canucks have done a great job of this – Schneider is with the big club and Lack was brought in to replace him. Once Schneider is eventually/unfortunately traded, Lack will be up with the Canucks, and Cannata will likely be with the Wolves. Cannata is having a sensational season at Merrimack College – he has a 7-0-1 record with a stellar 1.48 goals- against-average and a .940 save percentage. Ilihati was supposed to play this season in Vancouver (WHL), but he chose to remain in Finland for at least another year.

I asked Justin for his thoughts on Lack, and Canucks fans will like what he has to say.

Goldman:

Lack has long-term starter upside. His positioning is excellent, he has a very mature mindset, he has a calm "Price-like" demeanor in the net, he does everything well, he competes, he battles, and he still has a lot of developing to do in terms of reading plays on the smaller ice surface. This year will be an adjustment and obstacle for him since it's the sophomore season, but his perceived value is really high, and the Canucks know they have a gem with him developing. He worked with Belfour during the NHL lockout in Sweden; I think that is going to play a huge role in terms of how Lack performs under pressure when he becomes more of a full-time NHL goalie. Lack is a Top-10 Prospect on my rankings and will stay there. Swedes are dominating, and he's right up there with everyone else.

Interesting point about Lack working with Belfour. I think we all see the potential in Lack, especially with how quickly he has adjusted to the North American game. I wouldn’t say using a draft pick on a goaltender is a waste, but I’d opt only for the absolute studs (Price), or a player who slips well past where they should (Markstrom). Using a third or fourth round pick on a player who has a low percentage shot at helping the team in six or seven years doesn’t sound like a viable long-term strategy.

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Jeff shares his Canuck-related thoughts with the Army a few times per week. His work can also be found over at DobberHockey.com, as well as his personal blog, AngusCertified.com. Give him a follow on Twitter @anguscertified.
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#1 Mantastic
November 24 2011, 10:52AM
Trash it!
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props

when i think long term strategy, 6 or 7 years fits into that very well into that range. on average, drafting forwards will have better short-term (0-4 years) gains to the club at the NHL level, drafting d-men will have mid-term (3-6 years) gains for the NHL club and goaltending having long-term (5+ years) gains. once you're getting into the 3rd-4th round picks, the likely hood of even getting someone that will play in the NHL is less than roughly 10%? so it really is worth risking picks for long-shots at that point anyways

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#2 Jer
November 24 2011, 03:05PM
Trash it!
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trashes
+1
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props

The Canucks have never had a lot of luck filling out their roster with expensive free-agents and will rely upon saavy drafting and trades to fill out their pro rosters.

Drafting a position for the sake of drafting seems a little ridiculous, but I doubt it's a situation of; "Oh crap, we haven't drafted a goalie yet.. quick who's left?".

... sounds like my last fantasy draft.

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