As the Boston Bruins look towards the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, they find themselves with a wealth of impactful prospects already at their disposal.
At forward, youngsters like Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Anders Bjork, and Ryan Donato all earned NHL time this past season. On the back end, there is Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Matt Grzelcyk, who all solidified starting roles during the 2017-18 campaign.
But the state of the crease has been a bit underwhelming in comparison. Zane McIntyre, Daniel Vladar, Jeremy Swayman, and Kyle Keyser make up the entirety of Boston’s goalie prospect pool. While some of these netminders’ roles are beginning to become clear, others’ ceilings remain blurry.
Considering the fact that the Bruins have a plethora skaters ready for the jump from the AHL in addition to their already solid NHL squad, General Manager Don Sweeney has every reason to pick up a goaltender this June—and early.
The Era of Malcolm Subban
The Bruins drafted Malcolm Subban 24th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. In his first NHL start in a black and gold jersey, the brother of star defenseman P.K. Subban earned a goals-against-average (GAA) of 5.81 and only saved three of the six shots he faced in 31 minutes of play. Subban wasn’t all that impressive throughout his four seasons with the Providence Bruins either, going 56-45-15 in 116 decisions.
This persuaded the Bruins to place Subban on waivers this past offseason where he was picked up by the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 3, 2017. Boston had essentially folded on a first-round pick, severely altering the climate of the team’s prospect pool. Back in 2012, Subban was widely considered the heir to Tuukka Rask’s throne. At the very least, he was expected to one day become the team’s backup. This left fans and media asking one question: what now?
If trading a first-round pick for thin air wasn’t a hard enough pill for the Bruins to swallow, consider this: since joining the Golden Knights, Subban has taken on the role of an NHL backup. In 22 games, the 24-year-old earned a record of 13-4-2 while maintaining a .910 save percentage (SV%) and 2.68 GAA.
While the decision to put Subban on waivers made a lot of sense at the time, the Bruins were left with a gaping hole in terms of goaltending prospects closing in on the NHL.
Bruins Goalie Prospects
Even with the departure of Subban, the Bruins have some gas left in the tank. While it may not be the premium stuff, it’s enough to keep Boston on the road of development for the time being.
McIntyre is arguably the goaltending prospect Bruins fans know best and the one who is most likely to appear in the NHL within the next two seasons. After earning a record of 58-24-9 during his collegiate career with the University of North Dakota, the netminder was drafted 165th overall by the Bruins during the sixth round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
The 25-year-old has been the AHL Bruins’ most consistent goaltender for the past three seasons. He forged a record of 26-15-2 this past year in 47 appearances, maintaining a 2.52 GAA and .914 SV%. But McIntyre has yet to impress at the NHL level. During the 2016-17 season, the crease dweller went 0-4-1 and earned a 3.97 GAA and .858 SV% in eight appearances in Boston threads.
The North Dakota native is now reaching the latter stages of his development. While many hoped the former Hobey Baker finalist would make a run at a starting role, McIntyre has been showing more signs of a backup in recent years. While the netminder is now considered the heir of Boston’s current backup Anton Khudobin, it doesn’t seem as if he will become much more.
Vladar’s ceiling is slightly higher due to his age. The 20-year-old goaltender does not have the most impressive stats but has plenty of time to develop.
Vladar was drafted by the Bruins in the third round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft before backstopping the Chicago Steel of the USHL during the 2015-16 season. Most of his minor-league career, however, has been in the ECHL with the Atlanta Gladiators. This past season, the Czech native went 17-18-1 with a 2.96 GAA and a .911 SV%.
Between the past two seasons, Vladar has also appeared in 12 games with Providence, registering a 6-2-1 record. In this season’s stint in the AHL, the netminder maintained a 2.23 GAA and .924 SV%—a cluster of stats that will surely raise some eyebrows.
Vladar hopes to play in Providence next season. This will give fans in New England a better look at the netminder and see how he stacks up against other NHL-bound players night in and night out. At the moment, the role of an NHL starter is not out of the question.
Swayman is a goaltending prospect who is coming off a stellar year in the NCAA. Playing with the University of Maine, the freshman sported a 15-12-3 record during the 2017-18 season along with a 2.72 GAA and a .921 SV%.
While the record may not be all that impressive, it should be noted that the team left Swayman hung out to dry on more than one occasion. In fact, the netminder was forced to make at least 35 saves nine times in his 31 appearances with the Black Bears, only losing a third of those matchups. One weekend, the 19-year-old was forced to make 95 saves in just two games. He claimed wins in both contests.
Before being drafted by Boston in the fourth round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft (111th overall), Swayman stopped pucks for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL. Though he only managed to claim seven victories in 32 appearances, he maintained a 2.90 GAA and .914 SV%.
It is early in Swayman’s development, but he is showing the signs of an NHL starter-in-the-making. The teenager’s ceiling is far from clear considering the length of time it often takes for a goaltender to fully develop. However, it is likely that you will find Swayman between the pipes in the NHL one day, whether that is as a backup or a starter.
The same day that Boston let Subban slip away on the waiver wire, they signed Keyser to an entry-level contract.
The 19-year-old has three OHL campaigns under his belt with both the Flint Firebirds and Oshawa Generals. The Florida native has shown signs of improvement in each and every season. He has gone from a 4-10-0 performance with a 4.37 GAA and .880 SV% during the 2015-16 season to a 28-13-0, 3.16 GAA and 9.04 SV% run this past year.
Like Swayman, Keyser’s ceiling is blurry, to say the least. The goaltender’s next season will paint a clearer picture of what is to be expected of him. After a solid performance last year, Keyser will look to improve upon his stats for the fourth year in a row.
Bruins Need to Add Goalies to Pipeline
With the state of Boston’s goaltending depth aside, it is worth noting that Rask isn’t the young stud he once was when he first claimed the starting role. While the Finish netminder is still elite, he is now 31. That doesn’t mean Rask will be out the door anytime soon, but given the time it takes to develop a goaltender, the Bruins can’t risk betting on their current prospects alone.
Most of the team’s goaltending prospects can’t even drink legally in the United States, so claiming that they will evolve into full-fledged starters is a broad estimate at best. Even if just one of those youngsters—Vladar, Swayman, or Keyser—do earn a starting role, there is no guarantee that they will be able to play at the same level as Rask.
It is very important for Sweeney to add a goalie to Boston’s pool of prospects at the draft this June. Sticking with what he currently has at his disposal is a gamble. Best-case scenario, the Bruins pick up a player that eventually becomes their next starting goaltender. If not, the team will have plenty of depth at the position, allowing them to trade off a prospect who they don’t believe will find success with the team.
Either way, look for the Bruins to pick up a goaltender at the draft—and early. Sweeney has stated that he is willing to nab a first-round pick, so it is possible that Boston will draft a netminder within the first three rounds. When they decide to make that move will depend on who is available at the position when they are called up to the podium.
I cover the Boston Bruins and NCAA Hockey here at The Hockey Writers. Born and raised 10 miles north of Boston, I developed a love for the game of ice hockey at a very young age. There’s really nothing better than this sport, though steak is a close second.