Dubnyk, Reimer or Schneider? Part III

Patience will be key for Cory Schneider. He’s also the cream of the crop.
Image courtesy Brendan Hoare.

Earlier this summer, I asked independent goalie scout and hockey writer Justin Goldman (AKA The Goalie Guild) for his take on who was likely to have the best career among James Reimer, Devan Dubnyk and Cory Schneider. He told me he liked all of them, but that at gunpoint he’d go with Cory Schneider. As a Canucks fan I was happy to hear that, but I was unsatisfied by the 140 character limit answer – I needed to know why. So I e-mailed him, and asked if he’d be interested in discussing the matter further with me. What follows is the elaborate answer I was looking for. In part I of the series, we profiled James Reimer over at LeafsNation. In part II we looked at Devan Dubnyk over at OilersNation. Today, we conclude the series with Cory Schneider.

Of the three goaltenders we’re discussing, I’d ask you to rank them in terms of who has the highest ceiling and why?

As of right now, I would definitely go with Cory Schneider first. Then it’s pretty close between Dubnyk and Reimer, but I’d put Dubnyk second and Reimer third. For Schneider, his combination of size, positioning and experience is just a bit higher than what I see with Devan Dubnyk and James Reimer. In general, a goalie’s combination of size, speed and overall experience plays a major role in how I value their long-term upside.

What does Cory Schneider do well, what does he need to work on?

Cory is one of the most well-rounded young goaltenders in the NHL. Everything about his size, speed, angles, positioning, reactions, his visual attachment to the puck…I could go on and on listing all the elements that he’s good at. But what I really like about Schneider is that he’s also mentally tough. He has already proved that he knows how to come off the bench and win hockey games.

If there were two rookie goalies that everyone was watching last year, it was Schneider and Jonathan Bernier. And the one thing that set those two goaltenders apart by season’s end was the fact that Schneider was way more confident coming off the bench, whereas Bernier needed a major chunk of the season to fully adjust.

Schneider’s experience in the previous two seasons allowed him to better embrace the backup role, and he quickly became the kind of guy with that great backup attitude in terms of “I’ll do whatever it takes to get better, whatever it takes to help my team out.”

Overall, I think Cory has a much higher intelligence level than people give him credit for, mainly because they just haven’t seen him play enough hockey. Even going back to his college career, he was just really smart, and I think that’s played a role in his success in a number of situations last year. Whether Luongo was benched or Schneider had a scheduled start, or stepping up during the playoffs – the most pressure packed situation he’s ever experienced – and he played really well and showcased his talent to the rest of the league.

In terms of what he needs to work on – there’s no glaring holes in his game. He just needs to continue to evolve, and continue to work on those things that every goaltender needs to work on – reading plays, understanding shooter tendencies, controlling rebounds, playing through screens, and paying attention to little details like squeezing holes so pucks don’t sneak under the arms, which is something I noticed in a few games last year. To me he’s very close to being "the complete package," and for an NCAA grad, one hell of a good talent.

Of the three goalies we’ve discussed, Schneider is the only one who goes into next season as a backup. What challenges does that present for a young goalie who has already paid his dues?

I think the biggest challenge for Schneider is going to be staying patient. As much as he’s going to want more starts, he has to show the scouts he knows they won’t be dished out like candy. I think it will be essential for him to continue to prove he has the work ethic, durability and competitiveness on a consistent basis this year. And not just in games, but in every practice as well. Just like the Oilers did with Dubnyk last year, the Canucks need to force him to earn his starts.

I’m not a psychologist, but this need to stay patient can be tough for many goalies to accomplish. So I think a big challenge for him this year is himself. His patience and focus will be even more important when trade winds start to pick up. He has to focus only on what he can control, and also have the patience to let the uncontrollable things happen naturally.

To be quite honest, Schneider has learned a ton over the past year, and he’s made some good adjustments to his game. But now the expectations are for him to continue to blow everyone out of the water by playing even better. Nobody of the three goalies we’ve discussed has higher expectations than Reimer this year, but I can think of at least five NHL teams that will probably be scouting Schneider regularly in order to see what he’s truly made of.

What might become a real serious hurdle for Schneider is an 0-2 or 0-3 start to the season. But no matter what happens on the ice or in the standings, he can’t allow himself to lose confidence. There is no mistaking his abilities. His future is intensely bright. He has to realize this, stay patient, and continue to improve his game. He has to see the big picture, stay even-keeled and display the maturity it takes to be an NHL starter. If he can do this, he’s going to be a starter pretty quickly. But he has to stay patient and prove himself every single day until he’s traded.

Game 6 against Chicago – Vigneault sits Luongo and Schneider goes in. He plays well, but one of his usual strengths – puck handling – deserts him, and he gives up two goals on puck-handling errors. There’s also rumblings from his college days when some people questioned his mental toughness – is this nothing, or is there something there?

I think there is something there, because the past is proof of it. But in my opinion, he won’t let it negatively influence his future. Goalies are extremely smart and they learn from their mistakes – the ones that don’t, you’ll know it sooner rather than later. To me, when a goalie has those really tough breaks and they make these crucial bone-headed mistakes, those resonate in the back of their minds for their entire lives.

Chris Osgood is a perfect example of this. He gave up some absolutely brutal goals in his career, especially in the playoffs. But because he’d given up these brutal goals, he knew how to avoid them in future situations. If they did happen again because of some unfortunate circumstance, he knew how to bounce back from them. That’s one of the things pundits forget about Osgood; it wasn’t the weak goals that defined him, it was his ability to bounce back from them. He just knew how to handle intense amounts of pressure. I think that’s what you’ll see from Cory; he’ll bounce back from most of his mistakes and ultimately silence his critics.

A huge thank you to Justin Goldman for participating in the "Dubnyk, Reimer or Schneider?" series. And also to Brendan Hoare for his epic design work on the retro-hockey cards that accompanied the series.