The role of an NHL goaltender is one of the most complicated in all of sports. While hockey is a team game, ultimately the success or failure of a franchise can be dictated by goaltending. A great goaltender can steal games that a team has no right winning, while a bad game or two can waste a stellar season from the forwards and defenders in front of them.
For this ranking, starting goaltenders will weigh the heaviest. If you have a good enough starter who can stay healthy, whoever is your backup won’t matter. However, having depth is also important, as injuries happen and you need to have a player who is able to step in and win regular-season games to keep in the championship hunt.
This top-five is a break out from the recently published Ranking NHL Teams By Goaltenders article. If you would like to see THW’s full ranking covering all 32 NHL teams by forwards, please click here to give that article a read.
5) Pittsburgh Penguins
Starter: Tristan Jarry
ANALYSIS: It feels like the Pittsburgh Penguins’ goaltending tandem was one of the best-kept secrets of the previous season. While the duo of Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith rarely stole the headlines, they quietly put together excellent performances night in and night out. Jarry in particular played well above expectations, as he posted a .919 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.42 goals against average (GAA) in 58 games, and if not for injury, likely would have been even better.
If Jarry can take that next step and stay healthy, he will be a legitimate 2023 Vezina threat. The talent is there, and I believe there is still more he can produce on the ice. Also, they have solid depth, with veteran goalie Dustin Tokarski playing for their American Hockey League team who could be called up and take on limited starts at a moment’s notice.
Related: Top 5 Forward Duos in the NHL
Don’t sleep on the Penguins’ goaltending in 2022-23. They will win a lot of games, and they have championship potential if they can stay healthy.
4) Calgary Flames
Starter: Jacob Markstrom
ANALYSIS: It only seems like a matter of time before Jacob Markstrom wins a Vezina Trophy. The 6-foot-6 Swede had his best season yet in 2021-22, posting a .922 save percentage along with a 2.22 goals-against average. These numbers are showstoppers, and if he can improve upon them even just a little bit more, then he may be able to take the title of top goaltender in the NHL.
While Daniel Vladar is a great backup option, it will be Markstrom’s net to run in Calgary. You should also keep an eye on Dustin Wolf, as he played incredibly well for the Flames’ AHL affiliate throughout the 2021-22 season, posting a 2.35 GAA and a .924 SV% in 47 games played. This earned Wolf the title of top goaltender in the AHL, and he could very well be an important part of their future in net over the coming years.
However, at the present, Markstrom is the answer for Calgary. Given his ability, it looks like they will be in good hands for years to come.
3) Tampa Bay Lightning
Starter: Andrei Vasilevskiy
ANALYSIS: When you talk about the Tampa Bay Lightning’s goaltending core, you only discuss Andrei Vasilevskiy. While Brian Elliott performed admirably throughout the regular season in a backup role, Vasilevskiy is considered one of the best goaltenders in the world for good reason. He is truly elite, and while he looked human at times in 2021-22, he still was tied for the league lead in wins with 39. So, I expect him to be right back in the Vezina race once again.
Depth is a bit of an issue, but there’s reason to believe that Elliot will be a capable backup once again in 2022-23. Also, many see Hugo Alnefelt as a prospect with top-end potential, even if he hasn’t shown it yet in the AHL. Goaltenders can take a while to develop, though, so there’s no reason to count him out just yet, either.
2) Nashville Predators
Starter: Juuse Saros
ANALYSIS: As one of the NHL’s goaltending factories, it didn’t take long for the Nashville Predators to find a replacement for Pekka Rinne after he retired in 2021. Juuse Saros stepped into the role without hesitation and immediately played himself into a 2022 Vezina nomination.
However, it’s not just Saros that brings Nashville this high on the list. Behind him is Kevin Lankinen, a castoff from the Blackhawks who played well in front of often terrible teams over the last few seasons. He strikes me as a goaltender that will shine in the Predators’ system, who could put up career-high numbers. So, with this in mind, they not only have an elite starter but a potential elite backup as well.
In the AHL, they have a proven commodity in Connor Ingram, who could step up to the AHL in a pinch, and one of the top goaltending prospects in the world in Yaroslav Askarov. So, as always, expect the Predators to remain loaded with talent in their net.
1) New York Rangers
Starter: Igor Shesterkin
ANALYSIS: The season Igor Shesterkin put together for 2021-22 was truly exceptional. He exploded onto the scene after a slow rookie year, posting a .935 SV% and a 2.07 GAA. This was one of the best goaltending performances in years, and he easily took home the Vezina and even earned a nomination for the Hart trophy, a rare feat for a goaltender.
Not only do the Rangers have the best goaltender in the NHL right now, but they also have a seasoned backup in Jaroslav Halak who understands his role for the franchise perfectly. Overall, this is an incredible duo, and I expect them to help New York compete for first place in the Metro division.
In terms of depth, veteran NHL backup Louis Domingue will be starting the season in the AHL for New York. He is a player who has consistently shown the ability to step into a temporary starting role, win a few games, then fall back on the depth charts as needed. Overall, you can’t beat the Rangers in terms of top-end starting potential and depth.
NHL Goaltending Is In An Incredible Place
Overall, the top goaltenders in the NHL showcase just how deep the league is. You can argue that any starter on this list could win the Vezina next season and that there are three or four more names who will join that list as they continue to develop their game.
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Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.