Opinions from the desk
I grew up with my dad watching the Toronto Maple Leafs. There were many nights in the pre-Shanahan era where my dad would be yelling at the T.V. because of how poorly his team would play. After the game was over, he always commented on the goaltending. Whether it was Vesa Toskala, Jonas Gustavsson, or Andrew Raycroft, the Leafs could never seem to find a legitimate starting goaltender that had a career save percentage above .902%. My dad would proclaim that the answer to this problem was to scout and draft an absurd number of goaltenders. While my dad might have been overreacting, I agree that NHL teams clearly undervalue the importance of drafting goaltenders.
As a scout, it has been explained to me why teams do not draft goaltenders early or often in the NHL draft. The general consensus is that goaltenders are very erratic in their development, making it hard to project if they will play in the NHL. This assumption leads to two conclusions.
#2 - Since goaltender development is tough to project, teams would be wasting their draft picks if they drafted more than one goaltender each draft. The majority of a team’s draft picks should become NHL players, and drafting forwards and defensemen with a more accurate development projections gives them that chance. They also are trying to draft goaltenders with NHL potential, but they do not want to use as many draft picks because of how unlikely that possibility is.
Also, it is worth mentioning NHL franchises only have so many goaltender jobs available. There are two in the NHL, two in the AHL, and some teams have two in the ECHL. Ultimately, teams do not want to draft goaltenders that they may never use.
Drafting goaltenders is considered a crapshoot. Teams will spend plenty of time scouting goaltenders, but at the draft, they are very hesitant to draft more than one goaltender. I understand these team's viewpoint, but I believe that they have the wrong approach when drafting goaltenders. I would argue that since drafting goaltenders is such a risk, I would target the top goaltenders and draft a minimum of two goaltenders each draft. My rational being, since it is so hard to draft goaltenders, teams should give themselves the best chance to draft a NHL caliber one.
If teams drafted goaltenders early, they would be acquiring the best talent, which should translate into a clearer projection and a high percentage chance they play in the NHL. This line of thinking is refuted by Corey Pronman, who I highly respect as a scout and contributor for The Athletic, in his tweet. He does acknowledge in responses to his tweet that there have been goaltenders drafted recently in the second round that have NHL jobs. I would agree that if you look at the goaltenders drafted in the early rounds, you find very few playing in the NHL today. My response to Mr. Pronman's tweet is that because of the consensus scouts have around goaltending prospects, it recently has led to a tradition of waiting until the second or third round before drafting potentially elite goaltenders.
Without diving into advanced analytics, which you can find here by NHL Numbers that proves my point on the value of drafting goaltenders early, let us dive into the success rate of goaltenders drafted from 2000-2009 using basic numbers. Evaluating this era will give enough time to know if these goaltenders have developed into NHL goaltenders. For comparison, 50 games played in the NHL will be the threshold used to determine the success of each pick, as Travis Yost did in his article. The average percentage of NHL forwards and defensemen drafted in the first two rounds using the aforementioned criteria was 62%. The percentage of goaltenders that were drafted in the first two rounds with the following criteria was 53%. The chance of drafting a NHL goaltender is 9% less than the total average of NHL forwards or defensemen selected in the first two rounds. Even with the difficulty of drafting goaltenders, teams only have around 15% less of a chance to draft a NHL caliber goaltender. This proves that drafting goaltenders early in the draft creates the best chance of drafting a NHL goaltender.
The whole conversation around the number of goaltenders drafted per team is confusing. I understand the common logic of not using a lot of your picks on goaltenders because their careers are hard to project. Yet, I have come to the conclusion that drafting many goaltenders over time gives teams a better chance of drafting one that will play in the NHL. This is exemplified by the Philadelphia Flyers. In the 2015 draft, they drafted three goaltenders. Even though it is too early to predict, it seems that none of these goaltenders are NHL caliber. Despite this, the Flyers selected Carter Hart in the 2016 draft, and he is slowly developing into an NHL starter. This supports my theory that more goaltenders drafted means a higher chance that one becomes a NHL goaltender. Teams are always desperate for starting goaltenders, but they usually only give themselves one chance each year to solve that issue. I would like to see a team consistently draft two or more goaltenders each draft, and then look at the results.
Another previously addressed issue regarding drafting goaltenders is that NHL franchises only have so many goaltender jobs available. They do not want to draft goaltenders that they may never use. However, a simple solution to this problem would be to draft a high number of goaltenders, and do not to sign them if they are not developing properly. Then, the number of jobs available would never be an issue.
Given the evidence, I am surprised that more teams do not share my viewpoint. Many NHL teams clearly do not have a legitimate starting goaltender, but only select one goaltender in the 5th round of the draft each year. This is purely illogical. The best goaltenders are drafted in the early rounds, and since it is so tough to draft goaltenders, more should be drafted, not less.
As my Stanley Cup starved dad always says, “You can never have too many goaltenders.”
- The Scout