The NCAA playoffs are getting underway this weekend, and there will be plenty of intriguing unrestricted college free agents out there that teams will look to add upon the conclusion of those playoffs. One of those names is Yale sophomore goaltender Alex Lyon, and it was reported earlier today by News 1130 that the Canucks are one of 15 teams interested in the his services:
The #Canucks are 1 of 15 teams in the NHL showing interest in 23 year old Yale goalie Alex Lyon, 1 of the best goalies in NCAA.
— NEWS 1130 Sports (@NEWS1130Sports) March 1, 2016
The amount of interest in Lyon is not surprising, because as mentioned above, he is one of the best goalies in the NCAA. As much as Canucks fans love Thatcher Demko (myself included), Lyon has better stats in every category except wins and shutouts.
Lyon is currently first in the NCAA in save percentage (0.941), with Cam Johnson (North Dakota) in second and Demko (Boston College) in third. First in GAA (1.51), which you guessed it, just ahead of Johnson and Demko again.
Yale is only averaging 2.76 goals per game, so they are not the offensive powerhouses like Boston College and University of North Dakota is. So the margin of error for Lyon is much smaller. He has given up three goals in 3 of his 28 appearances, and 4 goals on 2 occasions. So he has only given up 2 goals or less in 82% of his appearances.
I reached out to Greg Balloch from In Goal Magazine for a scouting report on Lyon:
Alex Lyon has become something of a workhorse for Yale University this year. The notoriously strong program has been hit hard with injuries, and have relied on Lyon more so than usual. The 23-year-old hasn’t wavered, and is posting the best numbers of his collegiate career.
Lyon’s strengths are his hands and his ability to adapt and develop. He uses his posts well, and makes smart, confident decisions with his save selections. His hands also play an important role in his game, because he doesn’t have the natural skating ability that you would like to see from a goaltender with average size. When he is caught out of position, he is able to make up for it with above average tracking skills.
Although he has made considerable improvements each season, it’s hard to say what his ceiling is. His willingness to learn certainly helps his case, but the pro game will be his toughest challenge. As the speed of the game around him increases, he will need to make positional adjustments to account for his skating ability. There’s obvious risk involved with that, but he’s a prospect that is worth a look because of his raw skills and reputation as a hard worker.
The Yale goaltender was also named to Team US for the World Championships last year. He did not see any action as Dallas Stars goaltender Jack Campbell and Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck split the duties. But being named to the roster as an undrafted and unsigned free agent is impressive. Although he never played, the experience and practice would’ve been extremely beneficial.
For comparison’s sake, Matt O’Connor, whom the Canucks were pursuing heavily last year finished his final year with Boston University with a 2.18 GAA, and 0.927 SV%. So Lyon is leaps and bounds above that, and you can see why he is generating so much interest.
With that, the question is why are the Canucks interested when they already have Demko in the system?
First obvious point – free prospect. No asset (other than money) given up to add a prospect to their system. It’s the right way to go about it. If he doesn’t pan out, then no lose other than some money.
Second, is that although possible, there are no guarantees that Demko will sign this summer. Thus it would leave the Canucks with only Richard Bachman in Utica, and something they would need to address in the summer regardless. So, trying to add Lyon would be a way to hedge their bets and add one of the best unsigned free agent goaltenders in advance and then can focus on adding Demko after.
There is another wrinkle to this though, and News 1130 tweeted it:
Lyon played with #Canucks draft pick Thatcher Demko in Omaha of the USHL.
— NEWS 1130 Sports (@NEWS1130Sports) March 1, 2016
In 2011-12, Lyon and Demko were teammates in Omaha with Lyon, 18 at the time, playing 48 games and 15-year-old, Demko playing 15 games. So there is some familiarity there and it’s a safe thought process that the Canucks hope they can use that as part of the ‘offer’. Since Lyon would be signing an entry level contract, there are maximums in place with regards to the compensation, so the familiarity of knowing Thatcher is one of those things that can play a part in a players decision.
It does seem a little odd, as it has been reported that the Canucks are planning to get Demko under contract this summer and already have Bachman under contract next season. But the Canucks are likely hoping to get both under contract and have them ‘duke’ it out for starts in Utica, with fans hoping that Bachman is the one moved out to make room for the two NCAA goalies.
We are getting ahead of ourselves here, as the Canucks are just one of fifteen teams with interest, and we don’t know their level of interest. But based on their chasing of O’Connor last year and this report, it’s clear the Canucks are at least trying to add another goaltender in the system through the UFA NCAA route.