Goaltending can be a fickle thing. It is by far the toughest position in hockey to project long-term, not just because goalies tend to develop at a later age, but also because so much of it is a mental game. But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. And so it’s time again to rank the top NHL goalie prospects.
As far as criteria goes, a goaltender is no longer considered a prospect if he has played more than 25 NHL games in any single season, more than 50 career NHL games or is older than age 24 as of Jan. 1, 2019. This means goaltenders Laurent Brossoit, Casey DeSmith, Tristan Jarry, David Rittich and Linus Ullmark are not eligible.
10. Cal Petersen, 24, Los Angeles Kings
Injuries to Jonathan Quick and Jack Campbell forced Cal Petersen to make his NHL debut a little quicker than anticipated, but he has shown why the Los Angeles Kings are so high on him, with a .924 save percentage (SV%) in 10 NHL starts. The 24-year-old, who is one of the few goaltenders who catches with his right hand, is still with the big club backing up Quick because Campbell is on injured reserve.
Cal Petersen: 🆒 as ❄️
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 24, 2018
Petersen signed as a free agent with the Kings out of college in 2017 after the Buffalo Sabres failed to sign him within three years of drafting him. In his three seasons with the University of Notre Dame, the 6-foot-1 goalie played in 110 games, sported a 55-39-15 record, a 2.30 goals-against average (GAA) and a .924 SV%. He was named to the Hockey East all-rookie team in 2014-15 and was named a Hockey East first-team all-star in 2016-17.
His 41 games last season for the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League helped Petersen prepare for NHL duty this season. He won 23 games and registered a very respectable .910 SV% in his first pro season. With some uncertainty surrounding Quick’s health, the Kings may need Petersen sooner than anticipated.
9. Michael DiPietro, 19, Vancouver Canucks
The only teen on this list, 19-year-old Michael DiPietro was named the Ontario Hockey League goaltender of the year last season and is currently starting for Canada at the World Junior Championships.
The Amherstburg, Ontario native has an impressive OHL resume, with an 87-49-8-5 record, a 2.52 GAA, a .914 SV% and 16 shutouts. Almost all of those wins occurred with the Windsor Spitfires, who he backstopped to a Memorial Cup title in 2017 on home ice. DiPietro holds Windsor franchise records for the most wins, most shutouts and most games played in his career, while his 16 shutouts are one shy of an OHL record.
The 19-year-old was traded from his hometown Spitfires to the Ottawa 67’s a day after being invited to Canada’s selection camp in early December, which means he’s likely in for a lengthy playoff run on a stacked Ottawa team. He is also just six wins away from entering the top-10 all-time for OHL goaltenders.
After his illustrious junior career, DiPietro will head to the AHL’s Utica Comets until he’s ready to challenge Thatcher Demko as the Vancouver Canucks’ goalie of the future.
8. Jake Oettinger, 20, Dallas Stars
Perhaps most well-known for decking out his gear in red, white and blue at the 2018 World Junior Championships, Jake Oettinger is in his junior season with Boston University. Although the team is struggling this season (6-8-2), he has been his usual steady self, with a 2.59 GAA and .924 SV%.
In his first two seasons at BU, the Minnesota native had save percentages of .927 and .915, respectively. Last season, he was named most valuable player of the Hockey East tournament. The Dallas Stars’ first round pick from 2017 won a gold medal as the third stringer at the 2017 World Juniors and won a bronze medal at the 2018 World Juniors, when he split time with Joseph Woll.
Because he hasn’t turned pro yet, the 20-year-old is at least a couple of years away from competing for NHL time. At 6-foot-4, he has good size, as does fellow Stars prospect Colton Point. Point left college a year ahead of Oettinger, going from Colgate University to the Texas Stars so he is ahead of Oettinger on the depth chart. However, Oettinger has more potential to be a starter.
7. Filip Gustavsson, 20, Ottawa Senators
Filip Gustavsson is just 20 years old and is already a starter in the AHL. The Pittsburgh Penguins took him with their second round selection in 2016 before trading him to the Ottawa Senators for Derrick Brassard in February.
Gustavsson made waves at last year’s World Junior Championships, when he was named best goaltender after recording a 1.81 GAA and .924 SV% in six games, and led Sweden to a silver medal. He also had a more than respectable .918 SV% in 22 games in Sweden’s top league, the SHL, last season.
But that wasn’t all he accomplished last year. The 6-foot-2 goalie was also the third stringer on Sweden’s goal medal winning team at the World Championships and suited up in seven games for the Belleville Senators in the AHL at the end of the 2017-18 season.
With the Senators having to use a hodge podge of goaltenders so far (five different goalies have dressed in a game), it can’t be easy on Gustavsson, who has been the one constant with 21 games played, a 3.54 GAA and an .888 SV%. But he is just 20 and is unquestionably the Senators’ goalie of the future. It’s probably best that he doesn’t get a call-up this season.
6. Ville Husso, 23, St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues desperately need goaltending help and they may have their man in Ville Husso. The 2013 fourth round pick is struggling this season in the AHL with a 5-13-1 record, 3.33 GAA and an .885 SV%, so it makes sense that the Blues have not called him up yet. But once he finds his game (more a ‘when’ as opposed to an ‘if’), he’ll get his chance.
The 6-foot-3 goaltender had an excellent 2017-18 for the San Antonio Rampage in the AHL with a 2.42 GAA and a .922 SV% in 38 games. That was after posting a .920 SV% in 22 game in his rookie season in the AHL.
In the three seasons before Husso arrived North America, he posted save percentages of .923, .915 and .927 in the Liiga, the top Finnish league. In 2015-16, his final season in Finland, he won the Urpo Ylonen Award as the league’s top goalie and also led his squad to a second-place finish in the league.
5. Thatcher Demko, 23, Vancouver Canucks
Thatcher Demko just turned 23 and already has more than 100 games of AHL experience under his belt. He may be getting antsy waiting in the wings. The San Diego native was selected 36th overall in the 2014 Entry Draft and is the assumed goalie of the future for the Canucks, at least until DiPietro turns pro and starts to fight him for it.
Demko had an outstanding college career with the Boston College Eagles. In his final NCAA season in 2015-16, he won the Mike Richter Award as the nation’s top collegiate goaltender and was also a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award for top collegiate player after leading BC to the Hockey East regular season championship with a 1.88 GAA and .935 SV%.
The 6-foot-4 goaltender had an incredible 2017-18 for the Comets, with a 25-13-7 record along with a 2.44 GAA and .922 SV%. He only has a .908 SV% in 14 games this season, but that’s likely due to the concussion he suffered at practice in late September that forced him to miss nearly two months, as it takes some time to get back in the swing of things after such a serious injury.
With Jacob Markstrom currently playing well and Anders Nilsson’s contract expiring at the end of the year, Demko has a shot at the backup role next season. It really all depends on how he fares in the second half of the AHL season, which the Canucks will surely be monitoring closely given the concussion.
4. Igor Shestyorkin, 23, New York Rangers
The New York Rangers’ fourth round pick from 2014 is having yet another phenomenal season in the Kontinental Hockey League. In 20 games for SKA Saint Petersburg, he has a 16-4 record, a 1.35 GAA, a .941 SV% and six shutouts. The 23-year-old has a jaw-dropping career stat-line as well: a 71-19-15 record, a 1.77 GAA and a .932 SV%.
Part of his success has to do with his club; SKA Saint Petersburg is one of a few KHL teams with an endless budget and often has a stacked lineup. In 2016-17, they won the Gagarin Cup with Shestyorkin serving as Mikko Koskinen’s backup. Even so, with the KHL arguably the best league in the world outside the NHL, these numbers cannot be ignored. Shestyorkin has a strong technical game and is also athletic. Just watch this save from the other day.
— Хоккейный клуб СКА (@hcSKA) December 27, 2018
The good news for Rangers fans is that his contract expires after this season so there is a good chance he comes over next fall to backup Henrik Lundqvist, or even split time with him, while he learns the North American game.
3. Carter Hart, 20, Philadelphia Flyers
When 20-year-old Carter Hart splashed onto the NHL scene earlier this month, Philadelphia Flyers fans felt something they hadn’t felt in a long time: hope. Hope that maybe the team’s goaltending woes might come to an end.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) December 21, 2018
By all accounts, Hart is the real deal and his performance is no mirage. Last season was one for the ages for him in the Western Hockey League as he won CHL goaltender of the year for the second straight season and WHL player of the year thanks to a 1.60 GAA and .947 SV%. He also backstopped Canada to a gold medal at the World Juniors and won silver the year before.
The 48th overall selection from the 2016 Entry Draft should not be expected to turn the Flyers’ season around. That would be premature. Let’s remember Hart only has 17 games of AHL experience and had a .901 SV% before his call-up.
But he has all the tools needed to be successful at the highest level: size at 6-foot-2, hockey IQ and athleticism. Hart’s movements in the net are calm and technically sound. He also appears to be mature beyond his years, which should not be understated given how important the mental game is for goalies. It will probably take some time for the Sherwood Park, Alberta native to settle in as a capable NHL starter, but it might happen quicker than you think.
2. Ilya Sorokin, 23, New York Islanders
If only he would come over to North America…Much like Shestyorkin, Ilya Sorokin, the 2014 78th overall pick by the New York Islanders, has been lights out in the KHL, where he is under contract until 2019-20.
Although he is only 23, he has already played in nearly 200 regular season games. He carries a 99-52-18 record, mostly with CSKA Moscow, to go along with a sparkling 1.80 GAA and a .928 SV%. Sorokin has been named a KHL All-Star the last three seasons and this season isn’t expected to be any different, not with his current 19-4-3 record, 1.27 GAA and .938 SV%.
On the international stage, he won silver with Russia at the 2015 World Junior Championships, won two bronze medals at the World Championships in 2015 and 2016 and most recently won a gold medal at the Olympic Games, where he was the backup. It’s likely Sorokin comes directly to the NHL after his current KHL deal expires, at which time he’ll be 25. By then, both Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner’s contracts will be up.
1. Ilya Samsonov, 21, Washington Capitals
It’s pretty clear the Washington Capitals’ 2015 first rounder is struggling in his first season in North America. After signing his entry-level deal this past May, Samsonov was assigned to the AHL’s Hershey Bears, with whom thus far he has an uninspiring 4-10-0 record to go along with a 4.08 GAA and an .858 SV%.
So why does he top this list? Well, first off, he is just 21 and already has two and a half seasons of KHL experience under his belt, playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk. In that time, he posted a 33-16-9 record, a 2.20 GAA and a .920 SV%. Last season, Samsonov went 12-9-1 with a 2.31 GAA and a .926 SV%, all while not playing for SKA Saint Petersburg like Shestyorkin.
Second, Samsonov has a rare combination of size and athleticism. He’s not a giant, at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, but he moves around the net quickly. He has a good glove hand and most importantly, he rarely gives up on a play, often scrambling around the net ala Dominik Hasek to do whatever he can to keep the puck out.
His team is winning 5:0.
It's dying seconds in the 3rd.
And 19-year-old Ilya Samsonov makes THE SAVE. pic.twitter.com/K3xfQ8cLh3
— KHL (@khl_eng) November 21, 2016
Third, he has been on winning teams. In his rookie season, Samsonov won a Gagarin Cup title, although he was the backup and only dressed in six of 22 playoff contests. In 2016-17, Metallurg Magnitogorsk made it back to the league final but lost to Ilya Kovalchuk and SKA Saint Petersburg. He won a silver medal and bronze medal for Russia at the World Junior Championships as well. In 2017, when he won bronze, he posted a .930 SV% in six games.
Let’s also remember that Samsonov shouldn’t be expected to have a seamless transition to North America. He is still learning English and living away from home for the first time. Not to mention, the North American game is different, probably most so for goaltenders because they have to adjust all of their angles due to new rink dimensions.
So while Samsonov is struggling at the moment in Hershey, it probably won’t be long before he’s backing up Braden Holtby. Remember, the Capitals moved on from Philip Grubauer this summer partly because they were confident in his replacement. Yes Pheonix Copley, you’re going to be looking over your shoulder soon.
Just Missed the Cut:
Alex Nedeljkovic, 22, Carolina Hurricanes
Linus Soderstrom, 22, New York Islanders
Adin Hill, 22, Arizona Coyotes