Sure, the Jack Hugheses and the Kaapo Kakkos of the world generally get the bulk of headlines and coverage during NHL Draft weekend, and probably rightfully so, being that these are the cornerstones around which franchises build for the future. But there’s no denying—and as a goaltender, I’m completely unbiased in this opinion—that the last man back is the most important player on the ice.
So, if they’re so important, why do goalies tend to get drafted late… or often not at all? Well, for one thing, it’s widely accepted throughout the hockeyverse that goaltenders are longer developmental projects than forwards and defensemen. This makes it difficult for teams to justify spending extremely valuable high-round draft chips on backstops, as GM’s across the league tend to put less emphasis on a position that probably won’t be ready to contribute for at least three years.
Case in point, this year’s Stanley-Cup-winning St. Louis Blues were backed by Jordan Binnington, who burst onto the scene midway through the year and put his team on his back. Binnington was called up from the AHL, and delivered his team to the promised land as a rookie… at 25 years old.
Former Everett Silvertip, Carter Hart, bucked the trend this past season when circumstances for his NHL team, the Philadelphia Flyers, led to an earlier-than-expected call-up to the NHL level. Hart won his first two starts as a twenty-year-old, and later went on an impressive streak that nearly pushed his team into the playoffs, winning the hearts (Harts?) of Philadelphia’s usually difficult fans along the way. It was an impressive start for the youngster, but one can expect that there will still be some growing pains before he can officially be anointed the team’s full-time number one. Goaltenders of such a young age making it in the NHL are practically unheard of, though, which makes Hart’s rookie season all the more impressive.
Aside from the fact that there are currently only 31 starting NHL goalie positions in existence (32 once Seattle comes around)—meaning the situation and timing has to be absolutely perfect to crack the league—the longer development curve is a real challenge for goalies and teams alike. Still, even with the overarching concern for the development curve, 22 goaltenders were selected in total in last weekend’s NHL Draft in Vancouver.
These are all of the goalies selected…
And these are the netminding picks I found to be most intriguing…
Spencer Knight – First Round – Number 13 Overall – Florida Panthers
It was no surprise that the US National Team Development Program’s Spencer Knight took the honors as the top netminder selected in this year’s draft. He was projected to go as high as the top ten, and almost did break into that group, landing at number 13 overall with the Florida Panthers. This is the first time that organization has ever taken a goalie in the first round, so they must have had a hunch that Roberto Luongo was planning to retire. Knight, who earned oodles of respect and praise in the months leading up to the Draft, was called a “surefire starting goalie in the NHL” by ESPN’s prospect guru, Chris Peters, on the Sound of Hockey Podcast last week.
During his post-draft media scrum, I asked Knight what he expects from his own development, and he said, “So for me, I’m obviously just going to take it year by year, and I’m not going to try to get ahead of myself. I’m just going to really try to develop and focus on the ‘now’ instead of, you know, a couple years down the road.” From that, you can tell that even Knight himself is trying not to put too high of expectations on making it to the NHL right away.
The GM of his future team, Dale Tallon, set similar expectations. “He’s going to go to Boston College and hopefully play a lot there and get stronger and develop, and we’ll go from there. But right now, it’s a matter of… he’s in our system and we love him, and we think he’s got a bright future. And it was a need for our franchise, so we thought it was a great pick.”
On his own career and when he started to believe he could play at the top level, Knight remembers, “When I was younger, like peewees or bantams, I started to realize that it could be a possibility, and obviously after every year you kind of produce more and more, and now you’re here, so it’s pretty cool.”
Though it may take him a few years to get to the show, whichever team drafted Knight was going to get a good one, and that’s what has happened here for the Panthers. Knight climbed the draft rankings while playing behind the likes of Jack Hughes, Cole Caufield, Alex Turcotte, and Matthew Boldy with the star-studded NTDP team, but the sky is the limit for him in the NHL.
Pyotr Kochetkov – Second Round – Number 36 Overall – Carolina Hurricanes
The second netminder taken in the draft was a Russian who has been toiling away in some of the second tier leagues in his motherland, but is expected to play with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL next season. Pyotr Kochetkov, an over-ager at 20 years old, finally heard his name called in his third and final chance at getting drafted.
Kochetkov really made a name for himself at the last World Junior Championships, where he led his country to a bronze medal and posted an eye-popping 1.45 goals against average and .953 save percentage in five games, earning honors as top goalie in the tournament.
With size, athleticism, and perhaps already a bit more development under his belt than his goalie brethren, simply due to his age, the Hurricanes may have snagged a real good one here who could be ready sooner than others.
Mads Søgaard – Second Round – Number 37 Overall – Ottawa Senators
Just one pick after Kochetkov, Mads Søgaard, the 6’7” monster from the Medicine Hat Tigers, heard his name called by Ottawa. Søgaard made headlines locally this past season when his WHL team visited the Everett Silvertips during “Snowpocalypse.” It was a weird game that night, because with the frightful weather outside, attendance at Angel of the Winds Arena was quite sparse. The Silvertips dominated the entire game, yet Søgaard stopped all 41 shots he faced and somehow stole a 1-0 victory for his team.
The performance was truly something to behold, and left me wondering at the time where/when he might get drafted. I asked Søgaard if he remembered that game against Everett and what his mindset was that night. He said, “You know, I think that I try to
prepare myself as best as possible for everything and for every game… I do remember that game, and going into it, I had a good feeling about it and I just saw the puck very well and made some good stops early. It kind of gave me a good feeling about that game.” He added, “Whether you face 40 or 10 shots it doesn’t matter. You gotta stop the puck and that’s what I’m trying to do. I think I’m really strong mentally and that helps me to be good in both kinds of situations where if it’s 40 shots or 10 shots I think I’m pretty confident.”
Søgaard put up a solid 2.64 GAA and .921 save percentage in 37 games for the Tigers this past season.
Hunter Jones – Second Round – Number 59 Overall – Minnesota Wild
Hunter Jones of the OHL’s Peterborough Petes is an interesting pick for Minnesota, which was one of two teams to take two netminders during the Draft (St. Louis was the other). I heard rumblings in the media risers—and I don’t even remember who said it, so take this with a grain of salt—that Jones may end up being the second-best goalie in this draft behind Knight. So, for the Wild to get a kid like that deep in the second round, it could end up being a big-time steal of a pick.
My favorite little tidbit that I heard about Jones is that his Twitter handle, @ShutoutJones, was temporarily blocked after he got verified by the site. This happened because in the process of getting verified, Twitter found out that he had started his account when he was 12 years old, which goes against their age policies. Thankfully, @ShutoutJones is back up and running, with blue checkmark and all.
Jones played 57 games for the Petes last season, and posted a 3.31 GAA and .902 save percentage.
Roddy Ross – Sixth Round – Number 169 Overall – Philadelphia Flyers
From a Seattle perspective, it would be slightly ironic to see former Silvertip Carter Hart sharing his goalcrease with current Thunderbird Roddy Ross in a few years, wouldn’t it? That’s suddenly very possible, though, as Ross heard his name called by the Philadelphia Gritties in the sixth round.
Ross’s story is an impressive one, as he wasn’t even protected by a WHL team when last season started. Instead, as NHLtoSeattle’s own Andy Eide learned, Ross was playing in the Alberta Junior Hockey League for the Camrose Kodiaks. There, he caught the attention of one of the owners of the Thunderbirds, who also just happens to own an AJHL team, the Spruce Grove Saints. Ross played great in a game against the Saints, which led to him being signed by the Thunderbirds and joining the club on New Year’s.
Ross helped turn Seattle’s previously downtrodden season around and eventually led the team to the playoffs with a 2.76 GAA and .919 save percentage in 25 games. He will be back with the Thunderbirds this season, and is worth the price of admission.
Dustin Wolf – Seventh Round – Number 214 Overall – Calgary Flames
While Ross’s ascension to the Draft was rapid in Seattle, Dustin Wolf was on the radar all year long in Everett, where he put up an absurd stat line of 1.69 GAA and .936 save percentage in 61 games for the Silvertips. There was never a question as to whether or not Wolf’s numbers and skill should earn him a Draft selection, but his size—5’11”, 156 pounds—was enough to put teams off almost until the bitter end.
I personally was really pulling for Wolf to get drafted, because there isn’t a doubt in my mind that he had earned the opportunity. I actually walked past Wolf and his family outside of Rogers Arena on the morning of Day 2 of the Draft. Several of them were wearing his Everett jersey, and you could see the excitement on all of their faces. It would have been devastating to see Wolf go home without getting selected, and it really did go down to the wire, before the Calgary Flames selected him with the fourth-from-last pick.
When his name was finally called, I was out in the bustling media area in the concourse. Despite the din of my surroundings and the stands being almost completely empty at that point, I could still hear a loud cheer from the lower bowl, indicating that perhaps I wasn’t the only one in the building pulling for Wolf that day.
Wolf was visibly emotional in his press scrum, calling it, “A long day, but definitely one worth waiting for.”