Delivering the Sauce: Mike McMahon on Joe Cannata

A few months ago, I analyzed an interesting draft strategy employed by Mike Gillis – selecting one goaltender per draft year, usually in the mid-to-late rounds. One of the goalies I mentioned, Joe Cannata, is having a fantastic season in the NCAA for the Merrimack Warriors. Cannata was selected 173rd overall back in 2009, and he is currently in his fourth year with the Warriors. Through 31 games this season, he has compiled a 15-9-7 record with a 2.13 goals-against-average and a .926 save percentage.

He’s likely to join the Chicago Wolves next season, likely in a backup goaltender capacity, depending on how he plays and how the Cory Schneider situation unfolds.

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Since we don’t hear much (or anything) about most of the Canucks college prospects, I consulted an expert on Merrimack hockey for a firsthand take on Cannata. Mike McMahon is the author of the Mack Report, a website covering all things Merrimack hockey. McMahon can also be found on Twitter (@MikeMcMahonET). Mike had some great insights to offer me, including a Cam Ward comparison, and what we can expect from Cannata for the next few years as he adjusts to the professional game.

Mike, which current or former NHL goaltender does Cannata best compare to in terms of playing style?

Tough question. I’d compare him to Cam Ward. I know he’s current, but he is just never out of position. He doesn’t wow you with flashy saves (most of the time) but that’s because he doesn’t have to. He stays square to the puck, moves well laterally and makes the stops. Generally speaking, he doesn’t get beat on first chances. The past two years, I can really only thing of four or five times he’s been beaten on the first shot (and two happened two weekends ago). When teams beat him, it’s second, third chances. Greasy goals.

The Warriors have slowed down a bit as of late, but they got off to a terrific start to the season. How much of that was Cannata, and how much of it was the team playing well in front of him?

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Their fast start was all him, in my opinion. Lately, their scoring has really slowed. They’re only a little over 2.0 GPG the last 18-20 games and have scored 3.5 in the first part of the year. Key stat in relation to Cannata — when Merrimack scores 2 or more goals, they have TWO losses all year. TWO GOALS!! Doesn’t seem that hard, right? Since Jan. 1, when they score more than 2 goals, they’re 4-0-0. Less, 0-6- 3. He hasn’t been the problem, Merrimack’s scoring has been. Honestly, I think he’s one of, if not the best goalie in the country.

Is he likely to join the Chicago Wolves of the AHL next season? Assuming so, how far away is he from NHL action?

I think so. Many times, goalies take time to develop, and especially college goalies, as they have to get used to the heavier game load. Jimmy Howard played at Maine and he was a few years in Grand Rapids before he was ready. Same thing with Vancouver and Cory Schneider. Given the history of goalies taking a bit longer to develop in the system, I’d say two-to-four years away from an NHL spot. Seems to be typical.

What is his top end upside? Can he become a star goaltender in the NHL?

I think he’s a starting goalie in the NHL in terms of top end upside. Comparable to Schneider, in my opinion.

What are his strengths and weaknesses (physically, mentally… and so on)?

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He’s the most mentally tough goalie I’ve ever seen, at any level. He gives up a goal and it just doesn’t affect him. Teams don’t score in bunches against him because he shakes it off. It’s amazing. The kid has ice water running through his veins. He literally takes the game one shot at a time. Physically, like I said earlier, he can move really well laterally for a bigger guy. He takes up a lot of the net but moves well to protect it too. His biggest weakness is playing the puck. He’s come a long when since his freshman season, too. He’s not terribly fast on his skates when coming out to play it, and his stick work, while greatly improved … he won’t be mistaken for Marty Brodeur when it comes to playing the puck … But really, his job is to stop it.

Who have been some of the recent notable alum to come through the Merrimack Hockey program?

Recently, Stephane Da Costa is the most prominent. He signed a deal with Ottawa last season. Kyle Bigos is a drafted defenseman of the Oilers that’s on the roster right now. Matt Foy signed five or six years ago and was a Minnesota pick. He had some troubles and is in the ECHL now, but he had some time in the show with Minnesota a few years ago. Marco Rosa was having a great career in the AHL, and even getting NHL looks (he was at Vancouver’s camp and played in some exhibition games) but has been sidelined with a concussion.

Back in the day, they had guys like Jimy Hrivnak, who played net for a few NHL teams. Jim Vesey played for the Blues and Bruins …

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They’re a team that has come on lately after some lengthy struggles.

I’d like to thank Mike for taking the time to answer my questions.

Give him a follow on Twitter if you want to find out more about one of the Canucks best (and least well known) prospects – Joe Cannata.