August 30 2012 10:18AM
That sound you’re hearing is every hockey scout in North America gritting their teeth as they come to the realization that we here at Canucks Army have ranked a goaltender as the second best prospect in the Vancouver Canucks' system. I should point out that I didn't actually participate in the rankings, as I wasn't part of the team back then.
Personally, I would have had Lack somewhere in the 5-to-7 range. But that has nothing to do with the player in question, nor his skills. It's more of a testament to my philosophy, which I will get around to explaining in just a second. With that being said, I can clearly see the reasoning behind his ranking. In short, it has to do with the simple fact that he's extremely good at stopping pucks from entering his team's net. I'd say that's a relatively useful quality.
What makes him so impressive, though? And beyond that, what can kind of role and contributions to the team can we expect from him in the near future?
Click past the jump for more.
I'm a strong believer that goaltenders generally tend to be overvalued by the general public, and mainstream media. Sure, there's probably no better weapon than a hot goalie come playoff time. He's the one player on the ice that can almost single-handedly win your team a game. But the art of goaltending is fickle, and there's hardly any rhyme or reason to it. Time and time again we see goaltenders play at otherworldly levels, only to come crashing back down to earth soon after.
I could go on and on, but really, Corey Pronman has already laid out my exact sentiments on the subject rather beautifully. The only difference worth pointing out is that Lack isn’t just a raw, project anymore. We have enough of a sample size to suspect that he will probably be pretty darn good. The question is just how good will he be?
Frankly, I have only had the opportunity to watch Eddie Lack twice since he came to North America. His numbers are certainly impressive, but I don’t feel all that comfortable being a ‘box score scout’. As with every matter relating to goaltenders, I’ll defer to what Kevin Woodley has to say on the topic. At this point, he has established such an impressive track-record that he could tell us that Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick aren’t really NHL-caliber goalies, and we’d be forced to believe him.
Canucks Army’s own, Thomas Drance, had the privilege of speaking with Woodley, who was quick to point out the fact that Lack is quite the late-bloomer in relation to other goaltenders.
Lack always relied on his raw athleticism while growing up a goalie in Sweden, and didn’t begin to refine his game from a tactical and positional standpoint until he arrived in Brynas IF and began working with Pecca Alcen. Keep in mind that was just one season before he was signed by the Canucks as an undrafted free agent, and he was already 21-years old – an astonishingly late age to be told for the first time that he ‘played like he was 5-foot-3’.
In case you missed it, I chatted with Lack himself earlier this week and he admitted as much. He told me that at this point of his career, he is now able to use his size as a resource in staying deeper in his net. He began focusing on limiting his movements, so as to minimize the holes that a goaltender of his stature naturally creates, and has continued to do so under the tutelage of Rollie Melanson.
Woodley believes that Lack’s late development is actually a blessing in disguise for the young Swede.
We have seen this in other ‘late-blooming’ Scandinavian goalies. He didn’t have the skill and instinct coached out of him, becoming too reliant on his size. Now that he’s learning how to use that size and technique more efficiently and effectively, it should improve his consistency. Most importantly, he has maintained that extra layer of skill, especially with the hands, and the willingness to throw technique to the wind and scramble if necessary. That’s needed to succeed long-term in the NHL.
Let’s look at the stats he has accumulated for a second. Below are the top five AHL goaltenders from this past season, sorted by ‘save percentage against NHLers’ (min. 300 shots faced).
That should not come as a surprise to you. Lack has been sparkling in both of his seasons in the AHL, and firmly placed himself amongst the elite in the league. He really has nothing left to prove at that level. Working under the assumption that Roberto Luongo will not be wearing a Canucks uniform by season’s start, the team will need someone to play behind Cory Schneider. Will they feel comfortable handing that gig to Lack, or would they prefer to sign a veteran ‘tender to a one-year deal, to bridge the gap?
If things stay on the path which they are currently on, this could all unfold perfectly for Lack. He recently signed a two-year extension with the team, with the first year being one of the two-way variety. As Darren Dreger first reported, Lack will see his figure rise from $85,000 to $650,000 should he make it to the NHL.
Considering he made $67,500 in each of the past two seasons, it’s a more than reasonable figure.
And if the goaltending thing never works out, Lack may be able to hack it as a member of the media:
If the NHL season gets shortened to somewhere in the ballpark of 55-60 games, starting in December, Lack will have the luxury of starting his season in the AHL. It will provide him with the action that a young goaltender requires to continue on his developmental path. Once the NHL season starts, he can come up to Vancouver, and start roughly 10 games for the Canucks. It would truly be a picture perfect transition.
When Drance got around to speaking with Justin Goldman of the Goalie Guild, he naturally asked him whether he thought Eddie Lack was ready for the NHL.
You’re never truly ready for the NHL until you’ve played in an NHL game. You can look like you’re 100% there, you can have all the skill and upside in the world, but you can’t know until you’ve been there. The preseason could be the time that Lack proves to the coaching staff, and the goalie coach, that he’s really ready for NHL action. So I’d say he’s 95% of the way there and the only reason that’s not 100% is that he has yet to play in an NHL game.
As I said, I would have had Niklas Jensen, Brendan Gaunce, Jordan Schroeder, and maybe even Kevin Connauton ahead of Lack on this prospects list. In my eyes they have a better opportunity to have a larger impact for the Vancouver Canucks. I’ll take the impact skater over the goaltender every day of the week.
Still, Lack’s potential contributions to the team cannot be overlooked. Jonathan Quick started 69 games for the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings this past season. But that’s an anomaly. In fact, it’s the first time that a Stanley Cup participant has featured a goaltender who had started more than 61 games during the regular season, since the last lockout.
There is definite value in having a reliable, cheap backup goaltender in today’s NHL. The league has moved away from the era of ‘workhorses’ between the pipes. Chances are that the fresher your starting goaltender is come playoff time, the better your odds of succeeding when it matters. Lack could prove to be a valuable asset to the Canucks in the following seasons, even if he doesn’t reach his full potential until he’s wearing something other than the ‘blue and green’.
Other Prospect Profiles in this Series:
- #20 David Honzik
- #19 Darren Archibald
- #18 Jeremy Price
- #17 Adam Polasek
- #16 Yann Sauve
- #15 Alex Grenier
- #14 Patrick McNally
- #13 Billy Sweatt
- #12 Anton Rodin
- #11 Alex Friesen
- #10 Joe Cannata
- #9 Alexandre Mallet
- #8 Joseph LaBate
- #7 Frank Corrado
- #6 Kevin Connauton
- #5 Jordan Schroeder
- #4 Brendan Gaunce
- #3 Nicklas Jensen