The Rise & Fall of Canadian World Junior Star Justin Pogge

Many prospects who shine brightly on the world’s biggest stage for under-20 hockey, that being the World Junior Championship, go onto achieve plenty of success in the NHL. However, sometimes those promising young hockey players don’t quite reach the ceiling that many predicted them to meet. One of those players was stand-out goaltender Justin Pogge. The highly touted netminder was so valued that he unintentionally influenced an entire NHL organization to trade a future star goalie in hopes of him becoming the face of their franchise.

Before Success at the World Juniors

Pogge started his Western Hockey League (WHL) career with the Prince George Cougars. He would go 17-18-2 in 37 games, recording a 2.83 goals against average (GAA) and a .900 save percentage (SV%). That was good enough for the Toronto Maple Leafs to draft the Alberta-native 90th overall in the third-round of the 2004 NHL Draft.

After a very unspectacular first half of the 2004-05 season with the Prince George Cougars of the WHL, Pogge found himself playing in a new venue in January, that being the Calgary Hitmen. He finished the season with .917 SV% and 2.29 GAA through 29 games. He improved on those numbers the following season with a .926 SV% and 1.72 GAA after 54 games. He was named the Canadian Hockey League Goaltender of the Year along with winning the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy as the WHL MVP. He’d rack up a 79-49-13 record in 151 total games in junior.

Greatness at the World Juniors

When Team Canada fans look back on past tournament greats, Pogge is almost always mentioned because of his monstrously stellar play as a member of Team Canada for the 2005-06 World Junior Championship in Vancouver. His play was so impressive that he earned the starting role in net, despite not being invited to the summer camp. For those who don’t remember, that squad was arguably a weak Canada team, despite featuring the likes of Jonathan Toews, Kris Letang and Carey Price.

Justin Pogge Team Canada 2006 World Juniors
Justin Pogge went undefeated in net for Team Canada in the 2006 World Juniors in Vancouver (Dave O from North Vancouver, CANADA; Cropped by Tricia Hall, CC BY-SA 2.0 – – via Wikimedia Commons)

Pogge had to face a boatload of shots game after game. Nevertheless, Team Canada went 6-0-0 in much thanks to his otherworldy performance in between the pipes. He carried Canada to the gold medal with an astounding 1.00 GAA and a .952 SV% in the six games, three of which were shutouts. Things certainly looked promising for the Maple Leafs’ prospect netminder.

Making Moves for the Future

The hype surrounding Pogge grew to new heights after his massive success at the World Juniors. Toronto took that to heart as they were convinced that he was their next franchise goaltender. So much so that they would trade away another one of their elite goaltending prospects in order to pave the way for him. That highly coveted prospect was the team’s 21st-overall selection from the 2005 NHL Draft, Tuukka Rask, which made it more obvious that Pogge was their guy moving forward. This move would certainly not come back to haunt them…

In the summer of 2006, Toronto would ship off the rights of Rask to the Boston Bruins in exchange for former 2004 Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft. Pogge played for the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate team, the Toronto Marlies, a team that struggled mightily to win games night-to-night.

Andrew Raycroft Bruins
Former Boston Bruins Andrew Raycroft went 37-25-9 in first season with the Leafs (Photo: Jouko Laru)

Raycroft started 72 games for the Maple Leafs that season and had a record of 37-25-9 with an abysmal 2.99 GAA and .894 SV%. Not a strong performance from him as the Maple Leafs would miss the playoffs that season and he’d only play 19 games the following season.

Struggling as a Pro with the Toronto Marlies

Pogge turned pro in the 2006-07 AHL for the Marlies. In his first season, he faced stiffer competition in this new league and ended up recording a 3.03 GAA, a .896 SV% in a 19-25-2 record. In his second AHL season, Pogge helped the Marlies break into the postseason with a regular-season record of 26-10-4 through 41 games with a 2.34 GAA and a .908 SV%. In the postseason he would play in four games and finished with a 2.09 GAA and a .918 SV%. He was beginning to show the incredible potential that he had displayed before at the CHL level and on the world’s stage in the World Junior Championship once again, making a strong case for the future starting goaltender role with the Maple Leafs.

However, in his third AHL season, Pogge’s play started showing signs of regression. At age 22, he recorded a 2.70 GAA and a .895% SV% after 53 games. His 26-21-5 record wasn’t too hard on the eyes to look at, but the concern was in his failure to record a single shutout, despite recording seven over the prior two seasons. Although Pogge’s numbers weren’t horrendous, they weren’t amazing either, and certainly did not warrant the label of an up-and-coming star goaltender.

Finally in the Saddle

He was called up to play for the Maple Leafs for the 2008-09 season and finally got some playing time this time around. Unfortunately, Pogge wasn’t the saviour that many fans hoped he’d be. He played in seven games, allowing 27 goals during that time. It was appalling in the numbers department as he finished with a 4.36 GAA and a .844 SV%.

Justin Pogge had a a 4.36 GAA and a .844 SV% with a record of 1-4-1 starting for the Maple Leafs. (THW Archives)

Now, he wasn’t entirely to blame for the inconsistency between the pipes as the head coach at the time, Ron Wilson, made some strange decisions from time-to-time, which led to incompetent plays on the part of Pogge’s teammates in front of him. Justin managed one win in the abysmal 1-4-1 record he had during his time with the Maple Leafs.

In Out and Around the World

That summer the Maple Leafs head office had to read the writing that was on the wall — their “goalie of the future” wasn’t going to pan out. They shipped him off to the Anaheim Ducks for a 2011 sixth-round pick. He played a grand total of zero games for them, and was dealt in a minor deal to the Carolina Hurricanes and never laced up for them either. In 2011, he signed a one-year deal with the then-Phoenix Coyotes but would play a year in their AHL affiliate team the Portland Pirates.

Before Pogge knew it, his NHL career was over, so he decided to pack his bags and head to Europe after additional AHL seasons and zero NHL ice time. He’d play for eight other teams, which included his current squad, the Kölner Haie of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga league (DEL). Now at age 34, his current record is 6-6-0 with a 3.24 GAA and a .900 SV%.

Adding Salt to the Wound

Going back to the Rask-for-Raycroft trade in 2006, it is truly a sore spot for Maple Leafs fans as Raycroft would struggle to rekindle his flame in the net that helped him win the Calder Trophy in 2004. Rask on the other hand would become an amazing goaltender for Boston to put it extremely lightly. Rask is still the starting goalie and is one of the best goalies in the NHL. He won the Vezina Trophy for his stellar play as the best goaltender in the league during the 2013-14 season. He also captured the William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals scored against his team in the 2019-20 season.

Tuukka Rask Boston Bruins
Tuukka Rask, traded from Toronto to the Boston Bruins for Andrew Raycroft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He’s made three Stanley Cup appearances with the Bruins, capturing the Cup back in 2011 against the Vancouver Canucks. The other two were lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013, and the St. Louis Blues in 2019. Still, an amazing career for a player whom Toronto gave up. On top of that, Toronto and Boston would face-off many times in the playoffs in recent years. Boston always came out on top winning the Eastern Conference Final in 2013 in seven games and also winning the first-round match-ups from the 2018 and 2019 playoffs in, lets say it all together now, seven games. Boston won the trade twice with the failure of both goaltenders and Rask leading them to the promise land in a Stanley Cup victory. 

Why He Didn’t Pan Out in the NHL

It’s hard to pin-point why Pogge didn’t work out in the NHL. He was a young goalie that showed tremendous promise at the different levels of hockey he played at. He had one of the greatest performances in World Junior Championship history. The hype surrounding him coming out of the tournament was so massive that it convinced an NHL franchise to prematurely trade away a future star in order to make room for him. Since Raycroft became the starting goalie in Toronto, maybe more of the focus was on his success instead of Pogge’s growth.

Justin Pogge played a grand total of zero games for the Anaheim Ducks and the Carolina Hurricanes (Photo courtesy Gregg Forwerck, Carolina Hurricanes)

Unfortunately, playing for a struggling Marlies team might have initially hurt his development and confidence. Pogge was called up once before the 2008-09 season, but wasn’t played and when he finally arrived to start the season for Toronto, he struggled immensely. He was called up at age 21, maybe not mentally mature enough for the Toronto market. His time at that level was extremely short-lived as he’d only play in seven games! I get that the stat line of 4.36 GAA and a .844 SV% and going 1-4-1 is horrendous, but it was way too early to hit the panic button.

Another possible reason was that Pogge played during a terrible period for Toronto with their team performing poorly and less-than-desirable player development. He had so much potential but was ultimately held to unreasonable expectations while being hampered by the poor teams in front of him. Pogge will remain one of the biggest “what-if’s” in the Maple Leafs’ history book as they haven’t brought a Stanley Cup to the people in “the six” in 54 years.