As last year’s playoffs showed, it’s important for teams to have good goaltending depth in their organization. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins, both of whom made it to the conference championship, were struck by injuries at inopportune times, with Ben Bishop and Marc-Andre Fleury going down late in the season and missing time throughout the end of the regular season and playoffs. However, thanks to the emergence of talented young netminders Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay) and Matt Murray (Pittsburgh), the teams didn’t miss a beat.
Elite goaltending can be the backbone of a successful team, but it’s becoming harder for teams to find a solid option. Bottom-dwellers such as the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Edmonton Oilers have long had issues in net, due in large part to their ineptitude in finding talent in the draft. While drafting and developing goalies can be as difficult as voodoo, the potential reward is apparent. Goaltending is becoming increasingly important with the decrease in league-wide scoring, and these 10 young netminders appear to be the future of the crease for their respective teams.
So who will be the next great NHL goalie?
10. Igor Shestyorkin, New York Rangers
The Rangers have been backstopped by Henrik Lundqvist since his debut season in 2006, but with “The King” rapidly approaching the twilight years of his career at 34-years-old, New York has begun to stockpile young netminders in hopes of finding their goalie of the future. In 2014, general manager Glen Sather spent the final pick of the second round on highly touted American backstop Brandon Halverson. Halverson has been plying his trade with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL for the past two seasons, and appears set to join the Rangers’ AHL affiliate in Hartford for the upcoming season. However, Sather scooped up another goalie in the fourth round of that same draft and he’s become one of the top young goalie prospects in the entire league.
Igor Shestyorkin, the second of two Rangers fourth-round picks in 2014, has gotten off to a blistering start in the KHL this year and has become not only one of Russia’s best young goalies, but one of the top goalkeepers in the entire KHL. Backstopping one of the league’s top teams in SKA St. Petersburg, Shestyorkin sports a 1.86 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage through the first 12 games of the season. With good size (6 feet 1 inch, 190 pounds) and an impressive pedigree, Shestyorkin certainly has the look of a future NHL starting goaltender. It remains to be seen if he can translate his success to North America, but at just 20 years of age, he’s got some time to prove he can take the crown from Lundqvist in the future.
9. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers have a real gem here:
The 2016 NHL Draft saw the value of goaltending prospects plummet, and there wasn’t a netminder picked until the Philadelphia Flyers scooped up CHL Goaltender of the Year Carter Hart with the 48th overall selection. Hart was initially projected to be a candidate for the back end of the first round, but concerns over his size caused him to slip to the Flyers in the middle of the second round. The Flyers’ goaltending is in a state of flux, with both halves of their 2015-16 goaltending tandem, Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth, set to hit free agency in the summer of 2017. While Philadelphia has a nice stable of young netminders, headlined by Anthony Stolarz and Felix Sandstrom, Hart has the ability to be the best of them all.
Despite standing just 6 feet 1 inch and weighing in around 180 pounds, Hart’s great season as the starting goalie for the Everett Silvertips made him the first draft-eligible goalie to win the Goaltender of the Year award since Chet Pickard in 2008. A netminder with an unflappable demeanor and great athleticism, Hart appears to be an early favourite for the role of Team Canada’s starting netminder at the World Juniors. While the 18-year-old is still probably several years away from contending for a starting spot with the Flyers, Hart’s success and pedigree up until now bode well for the future of the Flyers’ crease.
8. Alex Nedeljkovic, Carolina Hurricanes
The third goalie off the board in the 2014 NHL Draft, Nedeljkovic has become one of the top goalie prospects in the entire league following a successful junior career in the OHL. Playing behind a lowly Flint Firebirds (formerly Plymouth Whalers) team, Nedeljkovic put up solid numbers en route to a couple of OHL All-Star team selections. Nedeljkovic truly put himself on the national radar with his tremendous performance for the bronze medal-winning USA squad at the 2016 World Junior Championships. In six games with the Americans, Nedeljkovic posted a save percentage of .943, cementing himself as one of the top young goalies America has to offer.
Nedeljkovic was dealt at the deadline to the Niagara IceDogs, who then went on to become OHL Eastern Conference Champions thanks to the Cleveland native’s playoff heroics against top seeds Kingston and Barrie. Despite his undersized frame (6 feet, 190 pounds), Nedeljkovic’s solid positioning and great technical skill have allowed him to emerge as a potential goalie of the future for the Carolina Hurricanes.
7. Ville Husso, St. Louis Blues
One of the latest in a long line of talented Finnish netminders, Ville Husso is set to begin his first professional season in North America after plying his trade with HIFK of the Finnish Elite League for three years. Long considered one of the best young talents in Finland, Husso was passed over in his initial draft year due to a lackluster performance in the top Finnish junior league. However, he quickly proved his value after the snub, cracking the top league and playing 41 games, posting an impressive .923 save percentage and capturing a gold medal with the Finnish World Junior squad.
Husso’s most recent year in the Finnish Elite League was undoubtedly his best, holding the best GAA and save percentage in the league and subsequently winning the Urpo Ylonen Award as the league’s top goalie. He also led his squad to a second-place finish in the league with the best playoff GAA of any netminder. A big (6 feet 3 inches) and strong (205 pounds) goalie, Husso’s first year in North America could be the first step towards a long career in the NHL. While the Blues recently signed Jake Allen to a long-term extension, the Blues’ future in the crease looks bright with Husso in the pipeline.
6. Malcolm Subban, Boston Bruins
Has Subban’s time come and gone?
Subban’s name has been on the NHL radar for years now thanks in part to his older brother P.K.’s success with the Montreal Canadiens. However, Malcolm is an elite prospect in his own right, and though the 2012 first rounder has taken several years to develop his game across the OHL and AHL levels, he’s knocking on the door to the big club and could be a regular backup to incumbent Tuukka Rask as soon as this year. Following a fantastic junior career with the Belleville Bulls, Subban graduated to the AHL ranks in 2013 and has since led the Providence Bruins to three consecutive playoff appearances. Subban even earned a one-game injury call-up to the NHL in 2015, though he yielded three goals on just six shots and was removed before finishing the game.
Subban’s career appeared to hit a major speed bump last season when he was struck in the neck with a wayward shot and was forced out of the lineup with a fractured larynx. However, he has since rebounded and appears to be as prepared as ever to compete for an NHL roster spot. The athletic 6-foot-2-inch specimen has posted top-notch stats at every level he’s played and is still young at 22-years-old (as of opening night). Rask has suffered through two consecutive down seasons playing behind a lackluster Bruins defense, and if he again fails to lead Boston to the playoffs, the cries for Subban to get another crack at the NHL level could be louder than ever.
5. Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators
The NHL as a whole is moving towards larger goaltenders. Last season, there were only two goaltenders in the NHL shorter than 6 feet tall, and Jaroslav Halak was the lone netminder to play more than 30 games. It’s even apparent in the draft — Carter Hart and Tyler Parsons, despite being the first two goalies off the board, were the only ones drafted who were under 6 foot 2. With the size of goalie pads bound to shrink this upcoming season, the rush for larger goalies makes sense.
Meanwhile, 2013 draft pick Juuse Saros is making a name for himself in the AHL, and at the ripe age of 21, has already made his NHL debut with the Nashville Predators. The most noteworthy part? Saros is smaller than any NHL starter at just 5 feet 10 inches and less than 180 pounds. Despite his small stature, his world-class athleticism has Saros primed for an NHL future. In his first North American professional season, Saros kept a clean 2.24 goals-against average and placed ninth in the AHL (min. 30 games played) with a .920 save percentage. Saros, who already had two years of experience starting in the Finnish Elite League, is well ahead of the development curve for his age and is in the conversation to be Nashville’s backup this season. While Nashville has Pekka Rinne locked in as their starter long-term, Saros appears to have developed faster than anyone could have imagined.
4. Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders
Is Sorokin now NHL ready?
Sorokin, along with Igor Shestyorkin of the New York Rangers, is part of a new wave of top-notch Russian goaltending prospects. Since being tabbed by the New York Islanders with the 78th overall pick in the 2014 Draft, Sorokin has done nothing but reward the Islanders’ faith in him after going undrafted in his initial draft year (2013). Prior to being traded to CSKA Moscow midway through the 2014-15 season, Sorokin was probably more well known as one of the two Russian goaltenders used in Russia’s loss to Canada in the 2015 World Junior Championship finals.
Backstopping one of the KHL’s top teams (CSKA Moscow) since being traded midway through the 2014-15 season, Sorokin has turned in some of the hottest goaltending performances in KHL history, despite his young age of just 21-years-old. Last season, he was named the KHL’s Best Goaltender after playing his way to an astounding 1.06 goals-against average and .953 save percentage. Off to another hot start in 2015-16, Sorokin has certainly played his way into the Islanders’ future plans. With goaltending tandem Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss both set to hit unrestricted free agency this upcoming summer, the Islanders have a blank slate to work with in the blue paint. Sorokin may not be ready to take over the reigns as a starter next season, but his early success in one of the toughest professional leagues in the world has New York’s future in net looking more than secure.
3. Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks
Taken just one pick before Alex Nedeljkovic in the 2014 NHL Draft, Demko recently turned pro at the young age of 20 after an outstanding college career with the Boston College Eagles. In his final season at Boston College last year, Demko staked his claim to the title of best goalie prospect in the NHL by winning the NCAA’s Mike Richter Award as the country’s top goalie. He was also nominated as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award after leading the Eagles to the Hockey East Regular Season Championship with a 1.88 goals-against average and .935 save percentage.
Demko’s large, athletic frame allows him to cover a lot of the net and consistently make big saves for his team. Standing 6 feet 4 inches, 192 pounds, Demko has developed well in his college career and appears to have the inside track on a starting role with the Canucks’ AHL affiliate in Utica. The Canucks certainly are headed towards a rebuilding phase with the Sedin twins in the twilight of their careers, so having Demko develop in the AHL for multiple seasons could be in the cards for the San Diego native. With Ryan Miller inching closer to retirement and Jakob Markstrom proving unreliable as the team’s starter, Demko looks to be the Canucks’ goalie of the future.
2. Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals
The overall value of goalies in the draft has been on the decline for quite a few seasons now, with three of the past four drafts failing to deliver a goaltender picked in the first round. Samsonov, however, was tabbed by the Washington Capitals with the 22nd overall pick in 2015, thanks in part to outstanding performance in the 2015 World Under-18 Championships. With a rare combination of size and athleticism, Samsonov was one of the youngest starters in the KHL last season for Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Despite dressing mostly as a backup for the eventual KHL champions, Samsonov still made quite an impression in his 25 total games between the regular season and playoffs.
Washington, last year’s President’s Trophy winners, appear set in the crease with Vezina winner Braden Holtby locked up for the next four seasons. Samsonov, the youngest member of this list at just 19-years-old, still has a long road ahead of him to crack an NHL lineup. However, his rare ability to steal games for his team certainly makes Samsonov an intriguing player to watch in the coming years.
1. Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins
Matt Murray was unquestionably the story of this year’s playoffs. Thrust into late-season action following an injury to Marc-Andre Fleury, Murray seized the crease for the Pittsburgh Penguins and led them on an improbable run to a Stanley Cup championship. Murray’s name has been known far longer than this spring to the hockey fan, however, as his dominance in the AHL over the past two seasons had him near the top of lists of young goalies. Murray’s impressive performance included consecutive AHL All-Star appearances, the 2015 AHL Goaltender of the Year award, and a new AHL shutout streak record.
A tall and lanky goalie, Murray’s calming presence in the crease was a huge factor in the Penguins capturing their first title since 2009. In addition, Murray’s incredible run made him the first rookie since Cam Ward in 2006 to backstop his team to a Stanley Cup championship. While Fleury is once again healthy and looks to have the inside track on the starting gig for Pittsburgh, Murray certainly appears ready to take the reigns at the tender age of 22. He may not earn a full-time role this season, but if Fleury falters, Murray is more than capable of picking up the slack.