With the 2016 NHL Draft approaching, fans are reading the latest rankings and learning who the top prospects are, as well as who their favourite team might select.
However, work has already begun in setting up the 2017 NHL Draft rankings, over a year in advance of the big day.
Goaltenders are always the toughest position to judge, with plenty of uncertainty surrounding each aspect of their development.
However, one 2017 NHL Draft eligible goaltender seems destined for stardom. The 17-year old is fortunate enough to have already played two full seasons as a starting goaltender in the WHL.
Stuart Skinner, currently with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, is a name that hockey fans need to remember for the future of goaltending.
Skinner’s Minor Hockey Journey
Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Skinner grew up playing in the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL) as a 13- to 15-year old, for the South Side Athletic Club Lions. In his second year of major bantam, Skinner played lights out, posting a .929 save percentage in the regular season and a .947 save percentage during the playoffs.
Thanks to that outstanding season, Skinner was selected 17th overall by the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft.
Skinner would graduate to the Alberta Midget Hockey League (AMHL) for the 2013-14 season, again representing SSAC. He would also be given the honour of earning a four-game stint in the WHL with Lethbridge. In all, he would post an impressive .916 save percentage in his midget season, proving to the Hurricanes that he was more than ready to make the transition to the WHL.
Skinner played his rookie WHL season in 2014-15 for Lethbridge, getting in between the pipes for 43 of the 72 regular season games. Despite the Hurricanes’ severe struggles as a team, finishing 20th out of 22 teams in the standings, Skinner solidified some very strong numbers. He would finish with a 3.69 goals-against average, a reflection of Lethbridge’s poor defending all year long, but still held a .909 save percentage, equating to an average of over 40 shots against per game.
However, the Hurricanes saw vast improvements in the 2015-16 season, vaulting up to fourth in the league standings and capturing the Central Division title. Skinner was a significant reason for their success, finishing fourth in the league with a .920 save percentage, while lowering his GAA to 2.73, nearly an entire less goal per game than in 2014-15.
Unfortunately, Skinner’s first taste of the WHL playoffs was a bitter one. Heading into the postseason, Lethbridge was one of the favourites in the league, looking destined to at least crack the Conference Finals, if not more. However, the Hurricanes were upset in the first round by the wild-card Regina Pats, losing in just five games.
But, Skinner will be back again next year, returning as one of the veterans of his team, and Lethbridge will look to make further improvements, hopefully featuring a deeper playoff run.
One of the most memorable moments in Skinner’s WHL career came late this season. On March 18, the Medicine Hat Tigers were in town, and the Lethbridge Hurricanes were on their game. After jumping out to a 6-3 lead, the Tigers would pull their goalie with five minutes to play. After Colton Kroeker scored on the empty net to make it 7-3, the Tigers would pull their goalie for a second time.
That’s when a puck would rim around the end boards to Skinner, who looked up and saw a clear lane down the middle of the ice all the way down to a yawning cage. He let a wrister go from behind his own goal line that sailed over the heads of every player on the ice and down into the empty net.
Stuart Skinner had scored his first career WHL goal.
As a Member of Team Canada
Skinner was a member of Canada’s 2015 U17 team, representing Canada Black, one of three Canadian teams in the tournament. Unfortunately, the team struggled, going 2-2-1 over the course of the tournament. Skinner’s numbers reflected that, with a 4.05 GAA and a .859 save percentage over three games.
But, Team Canada still liked what they saw, included with his performance over the 2015-16 WHL season, and added him to their U18 team. Skinner is currently competing in the tournament and has compiled a 1.50 GAA and a .917 save percentage thus far.
After representing Canada as both a U17 and U18 member, Skinner’s next stop could potentially be in the World Junior Championships (U20). His addition to multiple Canadian teams goes to show the respect that he has garnered for himself, both on and off the ice.
Skinner is a big goalie, standing at 6 feet 4 inches, who uses his frame to effectively cut down shooting angles. His experience in the WHL has taught him the advantages of being calm and poised between the pipes. Skinner is exceptional at reading developing plays, which allows himself to be in position at all times and be able to quickly react to any rebounds or deflections.
He has solid rebound control, being able to direct shots into the corners and away from traffic. He is a good puck handler as well, as is evident from his 200-foot goal. He could slightly improve by not overreacting on a few rebounds, but at 17 years of age, Skinner is playing well ahead of his time and should certainly be one of the top goaltenders at the 2017 NHL Draft.
2017 NHL Draft Projection
Speaking of next year’s draft, Skinner has positioned himself well heading into his draft eligible season. Currently, the top goaltenders for 2017 appear to be Michael DiPietro of the Windsor Spitfires (2.45 GAA, .912 save percentage), Ian Scott of the Prince Albert Raiders (3.24 GAA, .892 save percentage) and Skinner. DiPietro and Skinner seem to be at the head of that class, and both will be the starting goaltender for their respective team in 2016-17.
With that being said, Skinner would currently be projected to go anywhere between 25-50th overall, as teams are always extra cautious drafting goaltenders, and his 2016-17 campaign will go a long way to determining his final ranking.
In all, Skinner should be considered one of the top two goaltenders available at the 2017 NHL Draft and is primed for a huge year in Lethbridge next season. For the fun of taking an extra early look at the top prospects for 2017, Stuart Skinner is a name you need to remember.
Note: All stats are courtesy of eliteprospects.com.
Contributor for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Prospects. Scout with the Oakville Blades of the OJHL. For questions, concerns, or comments, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @SlawsonTHW.