Welcome back to the fifth edition of this series, where I take on the daunting task of ranking the top 10 current players at each position in the NHL. In case you missed it, there have been four lists so far which have looked at the center, right wing, left wing, and defence positions. Today, I will attempt to do the same with goalies.
As mentioned in the other articles in this series, these lists are very tough to put together given how subjective they are. Nevertheless, they are fun to discuss as we prepare for a new season. With that being said, let’s take a look at who I chose to include.
10. Igor Shesterkin
Prior to making his NHL debut in 2019-20, excitement surrounding goaltender Igor Shesterkin had been growing for quite some time, given the fact he was regarded by many as the best prospect throughout the entire league. Though he has played in just 47 career games to this point, he has lived up to those expectations early on, posting a solid 2.59 goals-against average (GAA), along with a .921 save percentage (SV%) and a 26-16-3 record.
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Some may disagree with this selection due to Shesterkin’s small sample size at the NHL level, but his talent is just too good to pass up. The 25-year-old will be a huge part of a New York Rangers team who has a very bright future, and could really establish himself as an elite level goaltender in 2021-22.
9. Semyon Varlamov
Though he doesn’t often get talked about when discussing the games best goalies, Semyon Varlamov has been a very good starter for some time now. He established himself as a quality number one during his eight years with the Colorado Avalanche, and has been arguably even better in his two seasons with the New York Islanders.
Last season, Varlamov recorded an extremely impressive 2.04 GAA along with a .929 SV% and a 19-11-4 record. Many have argued the fact that he should have been a Vezina Trophy finalist after the great season. There is no denying the fact that playing in a Barry Trotz run system has helped his numbers, but he is a very good goaltender regardless of the team playing in front of him and deserves to be recognized as such.
8. Juuse Saros
For a number of years, Juuse Saros served as the understudy to Nashville Predators franchise icon Pekka Rinne. However, that changed this past season as the 26-year-old took over the number one role and more than lived up to the challenge, posting a 2.28 GAA paired with a .927 SV% in 36 contests, and almost singlehandedly carried the Preds to the postseason.
Saros’ role with the team won’t be up for debate anymore given the fact that Rinne is now retired. He will be the Predators undisputed starter moving forward, and will look to establish himself as one of the games best. He has certainly proved he is capable of doing so in spurts in the past, and it will be interesting to see what he is able to do this season with more pressure on him.
7. Philipp Grubauer
After battling injuries during his first two years as the starting goaltender for the Colorado Avalanche, Philipp Grubauer was able to remain healthy in 2020-21 and put together the best season of his NHL career. In 40 games, he recorded a phenomenal 1.95 GAA along with a .922 SV% and a 30-9-1 record.
To no one’s surprise, Grubauer was named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, though he did not win the award. Many have pointed to how good the team in front of him was for a reason as to why his numbers were as great as they were, and while that is partially true, it shouldn’t take away from how good he was. After signing as a free agent with the Seattle Kraken this offseason, he will have a chance to prove many doubters wrong in 2021-22.
6. Darcy Kuemper
After establishing himself as a top-end starting goaltender, thanks to great 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, Darcy Kuemper regressed in the 2020-21 campaign, though that can be blamed on playing behind a very weak roster in the Arizona Coyotes. He was arguably the biggest winner of any player this offseason, as he was traded to the Avalanche to replace Grubauer, and should be able to have a massive 2021-22 campaign if he can stay healthy.
In 242 career NHL games, Kuemper has a rock solid 2.47 GAA and a .917 SV%. He hasn’t played on a team anywhere near as good as this Avalanche roster projects to be this upcoming season, and he should reap the benefits. Don’t be surprised if his name is being discussed in the Vezina Trophy conversation by the time the 2021-22 season has come to an end.
5. Robin Lehner
Though he hasn’t always been recognized as an elite level starting goalie, Robin Lehner’s numbers have been amongst the leagues best for quite some time now. He never really got the credit he deserved until the 2018-19 season, where he was named a Vezina finalist for his terrific 2.13 GAA and .930 SV% in 46 games with the New York Islanders.
Since that season, Lehner has had to split duties with Corey Crawford as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks and Marc-Andre Fleury with the Vegas Golden Knights. Thankfully for his sake, he will become the undisputed number one goalie in 2021-22, as the Golden Knights chose to trade Fleury this offseason. He is in a great spot to have a fantastic season, playing behind one of the best teams in the entire NHL.
4. Carey Price
After being considered the best goalie in the league for a number of seasons, many began to suggest Carey Price was no longer elite after subpar regular seasons in 2019-20 and 2020-21. He dispelled that notion in the 2021 playoffs, carrying a pretty average Montreal Canadiens team all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, knocking off teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vegas Knights along the way.
During that Cup Final run, Price put up a 2.28 GAA and a .928 SV% in 22 games, and would have undoubtedly won the Conn Smythe Trophy if the Habs had been able to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning. Due to offseason knee surgery, he may not ready for the beginning of the 2021-22 campaign, but he doesn’t sound far off, and last years run should have him feeling very confident.
3. Marc-Andre Fleury
After a down 2019-20 season, 36-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury rebounded in a big way in 2020-21, compiling a 1.98 GAA and a .928 SV%. The fantastic stats earned him his first ever Vezina Trophy in what was without a doubt the best NHL season of his career.
The biggest shock of the offseason came when it was announced the Vegas Golden Knights were trading the face of their franchise, Fleury, to the Chicago Blackhawks. Though he would never admit it to the media, this move has likely put a huge chip on his shoulder, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see him build off of last seasons performance and bring the Blackhawks back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
2. Connor Hellebuyck
While the Winnipeg Jets have one of the better forward groups throughout the league, their blueline is quite weak. Thankfully, they have a truly elite goaltender in Connor Hellebuyck to mask a lot of those issues. The 28-year-old was able to win his first ever Vezina Trophy in 2019-20 after posting a 2.57 GAA and a .922 SV% in 58 games.
Though he wasn’t as good as he would have likely hoped in 2020-21, he was still quite solid playing behind a defensively weak team, putting up a 2.58 GAA and a .916 SV% in 45 games. The Jets were able to add to their blueline this offseason with the acquisitions of Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon, which should help Hellebuyck improve on his numbers and be in the Vezina conversation yet again in 2021-22.
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy
Having Andrei Vasilevskiy in the number one spot on this list is a no-brainer. The 27-year-old is undisputedly the best in the game, and is arguably the most important player on a Tampa Bay Lightning team that has won back-to-back Stanley Cups. He was able to win the Vezina Trophy in 2018-19 after posting a 2.40 GAA and a .925 SV% in 53 games, and was a finalist in each of the past two seasons.
In both of the Lightning’s back-to-back Cup wins, Vasilevskiy has been simply dominant in the postseason. During their 2020 Cup win, he posted a 1.90 GAA and a .927 SV% in 25 games. As good as that was, he was even better during the 2021 playoffs with a 1.90 SV% and a ridiculous .937 SV% in 23 starts. To the surprise of no one, he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for his efforts this past year, and could have very well won it in 2020 as well. What a special talent.
Feedback on List
As I have mentioned throughout this series, feedback is both welcomed and encouraged in the comments section. Whether you believe any particular player is too high, too low, or think someone should or shouldn’t have been included, please let it be known below. Make sure to stay tuned in the coming days to the next edition, which will take a look at the top 10 head coaches in the NHL.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.