The 2020 NHL Draft will mark eight years since a Canadian goaltender was taken in the first round. It was online dating return of knigs Malcolm Subban in 2012, going 24th overall to the Boston Bruins. He wasn’t even the top goalie selected in his draft class.
In that time, Canada has produced three first-overall picks ( dating over 50 nebraska Connor McDavid, Aaron Ekblad, Nathan Mackinnon), and have had ten defencemen selected in the top-10 of the NHL Entry Draft.
Obviously, goalie prospects aren’t as prevalent at the draft tables by NHL teams as other positions, and it appears that selecting goalies in the first-round is a downward trend that continues to grow in that direction over the years. We have to consider that there is an entirely different dynamic to drafting goalies, and part of that falls into the unpredictability of their development trajectory.
However, with all the elite level forward and defencemen prospects Canada has produced, it raises the question: is there an underlying reason they aren’t producing goalies at a similar level? This article is going to take several different angles to explore that topic and look to when Canada will finally find it’s next great goalie prospect.
Is Canada falling behind the rest of the world at producing elite goalie talent?
Despite the increasing hindrance of NHL clubs to invest their first-round picks into goalie prospects, the United States and Russia have still been able to produce two first-round goalie talents each since the last Canadian goaltender was selected in the first round. Spencer Knight (USA, 19th, 2019), Jake Oettinger (USA, 26th, 2017), Ilya Samsonov (Russia, 22nd, 2015), and Andrei Vasilesky (Russia, 19th, 2012) have all forced NHL teams with their elite talent level to go against the norm and select them within the first-round.
Even in this year’s World Junior Championship, Canada lacked a highly touted goalie prospect compared to other elite countries. Joel Hofer had a great World Juniors and went on to win the best goaltender of the tournament, on top of that he has put up unbelievable numbers this season in the WHL for the Portland Winterhawks. However, the Winnipeg native wasn’t drafted until the fourth round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. His counterpart Nico Daws, who began the tournament as the starter for Team Canada and is currently a dominant force in OHL, was passed up in his draft year. Although he is currently the number one ranked North American goaltender by NHL Central Scouting, Daws is still likely to go as a mid-round pick at the 2020 NHL Draft as a 19-year-old.
It should also be noted that Daws has dual citizenship as both a Canadian and German. Before Daws was on the radar as a serious contender to get the starting position for Canada right out of camp, his agent reached out to Team Germany to see if they would be interested in his services for the World Junior tournament. The Germans passed and elected to go with Hendrick Hane, Tobias Ancicka, and Philipp Maurer instead. None of which have been drafted in the NHL or is under an NHL contract. It’s not like this was a Team USA that passed up Daws, it was Team Germany — a club that was forced to faceoff against Kazakhstan in a relegation round to avoid being moved down to Division 1 next year.
Heres a look at a comparison of what the big five hockey nations creases included at the 2020 World Junior Championship:
- Canada: Joel Hofer (4th round pick), Nico Daws (undrafted), Olivier Rodrigue (2nd round)
- USA: Spencer Knight (1st round pick), Dustin Wolf (7th round pick), Isaiah Saville (5th round pick)
- Russia: Yaroslav Askarov (top prospect for 2020 NHL Draft), Amir Miftakhov (undrafted), Daniil Isayev (undrafted)
- Sweden: Hugo Alnefelt (3rd round pick), Jesper Eliasson (3rd round pick), Erik Portillo (3rd round pick)
- Finland: Justus Annunen (3rd round pick), Jasper Patrikainen (undrafted), Kari Piiroinen (undrafted)
It’s hard to take a lot of information from this considering it’s mostly looking at depth prospects; they are all goalies — so it’s going to be a while before we know who develops to be the real studs are of this group. From an overall standpoint, Canada isn’t able to compare anything close to the USA’s top prospect of Spencer Knight, and Russia’s top prospect of Yaroslav Askarov. After that, Justus Annunen and Hugo Alnefelt are the next to come in as the top goalie prospects, with Joel Hofer close to being within that same tier.
It’s hard to critique Canada’s development of goaltenders when they currently hold the highest percentage of starting goaltenders in the NHL. In 2018, The Hockey News accounted that 39% of NHL goaltenders were Canadian. But that number has significantly dropped since 1990 when 80% of NHL goaltenders were Canadian, and down from 43% in 2013. The Americans are now coming in close behind Canada. They have significantly lessened the gap between the two nations, accounting for 24% of NHL goaltenders in 2018, which is significant growth from 17.7% in 2013. The rest of the world also continues to catch up year by year (per Quant Hockey).
Canada may still be number one at producing NHL goaltenders, but what happened to the kid prodigy — the star Canadian goalie prospects that NHL teams are lining up to select at the draft?
Canada’s recent top goalie prospects
Zachary Fucale, Carter Hart, and Mackenzie Blackwood are the latest Canadian goaltenders to come into the draft with any real hype around them. Fucale was expected to be primed as Canada’s next premier goalie prospect, and received a lot of highly touted praise from some of the most respected media personnel in the industry, with TSN’s Craig Button even describing him as a top-10 talent just weeks before the 2013 draft.
@trojdogg It's why I think Zachary Fucale is a top 10 talent because he excels at his position. Nate has won & performed at critical times.
— Craig Button (@CraigJButton) June 4, 2013
Despite the high expectations of Fucale being a future star in the league, he still fell to the second round, going 34th overall to the Montreal Canadiens in 2013. As we now know, Fucale’s career featured anything but stardom at the NHL level. At 24 years old, he has still never made his NHL debut. He is struggling just to keep his head above water in the AHL, having spent most of his time since 2016 almost exclusively in the ECHL.
Hart was a stud in the WHL for the Everett Silvertips, and while there were a lot of people that have been high on him from the start, there was never much talk about him being a solidified first-round pick. Hart is probably the closest thing that Canada has had to a premier goalie prospect in the last eight years. Even though he didn’t go in the first round, Hart was still the highest goalie selected in his draft class, going 48th overall to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2016. The netminder has had an outstanding start to his young NHL career, posting a 2.83 GAA and 0.917 SV% in his first year in the NHL, and has solidified himself as the Flyers starting goalie at just 21-years-old. If Hart can string together a long and steady career, he could be one of the best Canadian goalie prospects we’ve seen in what feels like ages.
Is developing top goalie talent trending downward in Canada?
Producing elite goalie prospects used to be the norm for Hockey Canada — with Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Marc-Andre Fleury, Cam Ward, Carey Price, Jean-Sebastian Giguere, Jocelyn Thibault, Devan Dubnyk, Martin Biron, Trevor Kidd, Jamie Storr, Pascal Leclaire, Eric Fichaud, Dan Blackburn, Patrick Desrochers, Brian Finley, Mathieu Chouinard*, and Brent Krahn all drafted in the top-20 of the first-round at the NHL Entry Draft between 1990-2005. That’s 19 top-20 drafted Canadian goalies in a 15-year span. (per Quant Hockey)
Between 2005-present, there has been ONE goalie selected in the top-20 of the NHL Entry Draft. It was Jonathan Bernier going 11th overall to the Los Angeles Kings in 2006. The only other Canadian goalies to be selected in the first round during that time frame are Mark Visentin and Malcolm Subban. The combined NHL games played between the three goaltenders come in at well under 500 GP. Safe to say there has been a pretty significant drop off in the last 15-years.
Possible reasons for the downward trend of elite Canadian goalie prospects
Change in the dynamic of drafting
It’s no secret that teams have grown to avoid investing first-round picks into goaltenders. Goalies have become perceived as boom or bust prospects, and in most cases, they take an extended period to develop into NHL players. This has resulted in teams becoming more comfortable using their high-end picks on a forward or defencemen no matter how highly touted a goalie is coming into his draft year.
Several reasons could have caused teams and scouts to change the way they view goaltenders. For one, there has been a recent history of some high-end goalie prospects becoming busts after going high in the NHL draft. Let’s call this the Rick Dipietro factor.
You have to think that teams have taken note of their abilities to draft and develop goalie talent and consider that failures of the past are warranting clubs to avoid making the same mistake in the future. Executives and scouting staff are fighting to keep their jobs as well as build a great hockey team, and selecting a goalie bust in the first round sticks out like a sore thumb in comparison to choosing a high-end forward bust. Drafting goalies early has become a rare occasion at the draft and is automatically perceived as a risky pick. Hence, a mistake with selecting a goalie warrants a lot more attention then going a different direction at the draft table.
There’s no evidence to prove exactly why NHL teams feel less comfortable selecting goalies at the top of the draft than in the past, but the fact of the matter is there has been a significant drop off of first-round goalie draft-picks in the last 15 years. Teams are becoming less willing to take the risk of investing a high-end pick into a goaltender. Therefore the change in the dynamic of how the league drafts over time is a very plausible reason why we have heard less Canadian goalies hear their names called to the podium early on draft day.
Lower enrollment rates of goalies in Minor Hockey
This is a factor that I originally stemmed from my observation of Minor Hockey in my local area over the years. There has been a substantial increase in teams and registration numbers, but not enough goalies to meet the growth of teams. Many teams near the bottom of the totem pole of associations are left scrambling to find a goaltender, sometimes having to borrow from other organizations, call-up a goalie from the younger age-group, or the worst-case scenario: they have goaltenders rotate between multiple teams.
This may not seem like that big of a deal, considering there is still healthy competition for the limited goaltender spots on the elite hockey teams at the Midget and Bantam levels. However, imagine how much more competition there would be if there was the same growth in the talent pool among the other positions as there was among goaltenders, especially at the Peewee, Atom, and even Novice level.
It doesn’t matter if the increased numbers just result in the need to fill goalie positions for the lower level teams. If there is a larger pool of players developing at the younger levels of hockey, it will yield more competition for roster spots, and therefore more likely to produce higher-quality talent down the road.
So why isn’t the registration of youth goaltenders growing at the same rate as players registration at many Minor Hockey Associations?
The number one reason for this is the staggering costs of being a goaltender in Canada.
For players, youth equipment starting kits can be found for as low as $100. Sticks and skates will add to that costs, and the price could range anywhere from $300-$700 to get a child fitted to start hockey. The cost does increase quite rapidly as kids get older, and can quickly begin to surpass $1000-$2000 depending on the quality of the equipment.
On the other hand, goalie equipment is in a whole other league of its own. Per United Cycle, these are the ranges for some of the main pieces of equipment a goaltender can expect to buy:
- Pads: $189 – $2200
- Blocker: $80 – $500
- Glove: $95 – $640
- Stick: $60 – $330
- Chest Protector: $110 – $700
- Skates: $175 – $900
- Masks: $180 – $1000
The lower range costs account for bottom-end youth equipment, while the higher range accounts for the high-end senior equipment. For a parent, these can be enormous costs to take on, especially with the already increasing costs of minor hockey registration and the fact that a growing child needs new equipment every 2-3 years in most cases.
This results in a very small pool of parents that can afford to register their child as a goaltender. Additionally, an even smaller amount that is willing to take on those extra costs. So what can Minor Hockey Associations do to encourage more parents to sign their children up as goaltenders in youth hockey?
The associations can’t do anything about the enormous equipment costs, but they need to do more to entice youth to register as a goalie. One solution for associations could involve putting on goalie camps that are included at a subsidized cost with youth minor hockey registration.
Another solution could be offering a discounted registration rate for goaltenders in Minor Hockey. It may initially receive some pushback from other parents, and several complications would follow this change. However, if the associations explain the issues in filling all teams rosters with goaltenders, and present a plan where they believe the lower costs for goalie registration will lead to more parents registering their children as goaltenders in the future, it may just be the answer.
The only way to increase the talent pool of goaltenders competing for spots at the elite levels of hockey is to increase the number of goalies in youth hockey. Right now finding any way possible to make being a goaltender more affordable is the number one way to do that.
An increase in international goalies coming to develop in North America
Today the CHL rosters more international talent than ever before. Especially among goaltenders — that along with an increased number of international goalies joining leagues like the USHL has made it much easier for scouts to have access to watching goaltenders they would typically get very limited viewings of throughout the year. This has increased the competition for Canadian goaltenders among an increased pool of international talent heading into the NHL draft. Along with less home-grown talent playing in the number one development league in the world, resulting in more Canadian goaltenders slipping into the later rounds.
The CHL has taken notice of the downfall of Canadian goalies being promoted from their league to the NHL and actually attempted to help improve the development of Canadian goaltenders in 2014 — placing a ban on teams drafting European goaltenders at the CHL Import Draft. However, this didn’t last long, as the league reinstated the ability of organizations to be able to select European goaltenders at the import draft in 2018.
Here’s the reasoning CHL president David Branch gave in 2018 during an interview with John Matisz of the Toronto Sun behind why the CHL would consider scrapping the European goalie ban at the CHL import draft:
“We have never viewed it as we’ve made a mistake,” Branch said, when asked about the possibility of reinstating the ability for teams to draft European goaltenders.
“We haven’t made any changes yet, quite frankly, but in our discussions (the dialogue) wasn’t about making a mistake. It was about comparing the development program that has been put in place right across the country through the efforts of Hockey Canada and their branches and each of the three leagues. And we’re comfortable that we now have goalie development programs that will serve in the best interest going forward of certainly the Canadian goalie.
“USA Hockey has been doing similar programs to enhance goaltender development. We feel it could be timely for us to not, in any way, remove ourselves from our commitment to enhance and improve goaltending development in North America, but just to enhance opportunities for others around the world and in doing so possibly improve the competition and the level of competition among the 60 teams in the CHL.”
Goalie prospects on the horizon
Sebastian Cossa is a name you should expect to hear a lot more of in the near future. The native of Fort McMurray, AB, has taken the WHL by storm in his rookie season with the Edmonton Oil Kings. Cossa has the complete package of what makes an elite goaltending prospect, coming in at close to 6’6 — and at 17-years-old, he’s already filled out his frame weighing in at 206lbs. Since joining the league full-time in 2019, Cossa has been one of the top goaltenders in the WHL, currently posting a 0.923 SV% and a 2.16 GAA to lead all rookies. He’s a player that is going to be quickly rising up the radars of NHL scouts if he can continue to improve on his already impressive numbers heading into the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.
Once tinidazole over the counter drug Yaroslav Askarov is selected in the first round of the 2020 draft, he will almost inevitably be followed by Swedish phenom Jesper Wallstedt going early in the 2021 draft. This will mark three consecutive years a goalie is selected in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft, which is going to put the pressure on Hockey Canada to find their own premier goalie prospect.
For now, Canada still sits on top of the hockey world in terms of producing talent, but the rest of the countries are catching up at a faster pace than many care to give them credit for. If Canada isn’t able to answer some critical questions about the way they develop goalie talent it may not be long until they are dethroned for rostering the highest percentage of goaltenders in the NHL.
Until then, we ask… who will be the next great Canadian goalie prospect?