The NHL Entry Draft has long been the NHL’s pipeline for talent. While teams draft players in the hope that they will one day be in their NHL lineup, there are a number of players that are passed over in the NHL Draft only to be signed as free agents down the line. This article considers the best undrafted goaltenders.
Despite the fact that many drafted goalies have somewhat of a route paved for them when it comes to ascending the ranks to the NHL level, a number of undrafted goalies have made a name for themselves over the years. Though they never had the joy of hearing their name called during the draft, their dreams of playing in the NHL never died.
There have been a number of undrafted goalies who have had successful NHL careers.
Undrafted NHL Goalie #10: Glenn Healy
Glenn Healy might not have had the best statistics throughout his playing career, but the goalie was more than serviceable as a member of the Los Angeles Kings, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leafs. Healy’s most memorable playing moments probably came during his time in the New York area as he helped the New York Islanders during their surprising 1992-93 Stanley Cup Playoff run and won a Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers in the following year.
While Healy was an instrumental part of the New York Islanders’ playoff run during the early 90s, the goalie might just be remembered for the way that he played with the New York Rangers while the team’s number one netminder, Mike Richter, was injured. Despite the fact that Healy never really established himself as a “go-to” number one goalie in the NHL, he was always a goalie that could shoulder any workload presented to him, and one that rose to the occasion when his team needed him the most.
Healy ranks 10th all-time in wins (166 in 437 games played) among draft-eligible goaltenders since 1969 who were not drafted.
Undrafted NHL Goalie #9: Jon Casey
Jon Casey spent twelve seasons in the NHL and was a staple in the Minnesota North Stars’ crease for eight of his 12 years of NHL service. While Casey finished off the latter portion of his career as a member of the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins, his best moments undoubtedly came as a North Star as the goalie took the team to the 1991 Stanley Cup Final.
Although Casey never won a Stanley Cup in his playing career, he was an integral part of the North Stars during the mid-to-late 80s and early 90s as he helped the team reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs four years in a row from 1988-1992. Throughout his time in the NHL, Casey posted 170 total regular season wins and added 32 more wins in the postseason. Even though Casey might not have been an elite netminder during his time in the NHL, he sure was quite a find for an undrafted goalie of his time.
Casey ranks ninth all-time in wins (170 in 425 games played) among draft-eligible goaltenders since 1969 who were not drafted.
Undrafted NHL Goalie #8: Chico Resch
Glenn “Chico” Resch played for a total of three teams during his 14-season NHL career. While Resch is currently the New Jersey Devils’ television color commentator, the goalie was an instrumental part of the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils during his playing career. As a member of the Islanders, Resch not only won a Stanley Cup with the team in 1980, he helped build it into a contender.
To this day, Resch’s name still carries immense weight with all types of Islanders fans, and much the same can be said about the goalie in relation to his status with the Devils and their fan base. Despite the fact that Resch’s statistics took a hit as the Colorado Rockies relocated to New Jersey, the netminder never gave up on his team – regardless of the product on the ice or the results that followed.
Resch ranks fifth all-time in wins (231 in 571 games played) among draft eligible goaltenders since 1969 who were not drafted.
Undrafted NHL Goalie #7: Jonas Hiller
The Anaheim Ducks took notice of Jonas Hiller after he won Swiss championships in 2002, 2004, 2005, and 2006. In fact, the Ducks were so high on Hiller that they put back up Ilya Bryzgalov on waivers to make space for him. Hiller took the job from J.S. Giguere in 2009 and has held it through the 2013-14 season.
Hiller was a key member of the Anaheim Ducks, playing 326 games across seven seasons. As a member of the Ducks, Hiller amassed a 162-110-32 record and went 12-12 in 24 playoff games for Anaheim. He then walked away as an unrestricted free agent and joined the Calgary Flames in 2014, playing in 78 games spanning two seasons.
Hiller is currently the most successful Swiss goalie in the NHL and has set the bar in every statistical category for Swiss netminders. His 197 wins in 404 games played rank him sixth among undrafted goalies.
Undrafted NHL Goalie #6: Antti Niemi
There is no doubting the fact that Antti Niemi has come a long way since being a Zamboni driver in his native country of Finland. He was undrafted in 2008 but then signed with the Chicago Blackhawks, helping lead them to a Stanley Cup in 2010–the first Finnish goaltender to do so.
Niemi’s time in Chicago might have been limited, but the goalie has shown why he was worth signing as he has he had tremendous success with the San Jose Sharks for the next five seasons. If Niemi’s performance during his first two seasons with the Sharks wasn’t enough to win over fans, the goalie certainly put in a convincing effort during the 2012-13 season as he won 24 of the 43 games that he started and kept his GAA (2.16) and SV% (.924) to a very respectable clip.
Niemi joined the Dallas Stars in 2015 for two seasons and has since bounced around the league, seeing limited action with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens. He ranks third in wins all-time among undrafted goalies.
Undrafted NHL Goalie #5: Niklas Backstrom
Niklas Backstrom came over from Finland and has played nearly his entire career with the Minnesota Wild. He joined them in the 2006-07 NHL season as a 28-year-old rookie and was a staple in Minnesota’s crease ever since he took over the duties of a starting netminder.
His 2008-09 season stood out the most. He appeared in 71 games and had a record of 37-24-7 with an impressive eight shutouts. He also had a .923 SV% and 2.33 GAA and was the second runner-up for the Vezina Trophy.
Though some might point to Minnesota’s trapping and defensive style of hockey as a reason for some of the Finnish goalie’s earlier success with the Wild, hockey fans must remember that Backstrom wasn’t blessed with the best goal support through the years – something that makes his contributions so much more valuable to his team.
Over his ten-year career, Backstrom has played to the tune of a 196-144-50 record and with a 2.49 GAA and .914 SV%. His 196 wins rank him seventh all-time among undrafted goalies.
Undrafted NHL Goalie #4: Dwayne Roloson
During his 16 seasons in the NHL, Dwayne Roloson managed to play for the Calgary Flames, Buffalo Sabres, Minnesota Wild, Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders, and Tampa Bay Lightning. Always known as a fierce competitor, “Roli” endeared himself to fans through determined and tough play.
While Roloson did not win a Stanley Cup during his playing career, he certainly helped many teams get to the playoffs. Not only did Roloson backstop the 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, he was a big reason for the Minnesota Wild’s 2002-03 playoff success as well as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s advancement during the 2010-11 postseason.
While with the Islanders in the 2008-09 season, Roloson became the oldest goalie to start at least 60 games. That season, he set another record by making 58 saves in a matchup against the Leafs (breaking Rick DiPietro’s record of 56 in 2007.
The Ontario-born goaltender compiled a record of 227-257-82. He managed to successfully transcend his craft to the post-lockout (2004-06) era while his attitude, work ethic, and determination made him one of the most respectable netminders that the NHL and its fans have seen over the last few decades.
Ironically, Roloson has a substantially better stat line in the playoffs than the regular season. He ranks fiftth all-time in wins (227) among draft eligible goaltenders since 1969 who were not drafted.
Undrafted NHL Goalie #3: Sergei Bobrovsky
Sergei Bobrovsky was passed over in the 2006 draft. It was a time when NHL teams were reluctant to take the chance on a Russian-born player. He eventually signed with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 and played there for two seasons. His first season with the Flyers was good, picking up 28 wins and posting a 2.59 GAA.
Bobrovsky had an unbelievable 2012-13 NHL season with the Columbus Blue Jackets as he compiled a 21-11-6 record with a 2.00 goals-against average (GAA) and a .932 save percentage (SV%).
Bobrovsky is in his 12th season in the NHL and has certainly demonstrated the ability needed to be a number one starting goalie during his time with the Flyers, Blue Jackets, and Florida Panthers. He took home the Vezina Trophy in 2013 and 2017 and ranks sixth all-time in wins (309 in 557 games played) among draft eligible goaltenders since 1969 who were not drafted.
Undrafted NHL Goalie #2: Curtis Joseph
With 454 career wins and 51 shutouts, Curtis Joseph might have been one of the best undrafted goalies to never win a Stanley Cup. During his NHL career, “CuJo” played for the St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Phoenix Coyotes, Calgary Flames, and Detroit Red Wings. As a member of five of the six aforementioned teams, Joseph recorded 30 or more wins with each of the franchises that he played for, except for the Calgary Flames.
While Joseph was a part of some powerhouse teams throughout his NHL career, he was also a workhorse as he appeared in 60 or more games in ten of his nineteen NHL seasons of play.
Not only did Joseph excel during the regular season, he also shined in the postseason as he managed to amass 63 wins, a 2.42 GAA, and .917 SV% in 133 postseason contests. His name often comes up for consideration for the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Undrafted NHL Goalie #1: Ed Belfour
Ed Belfour has been the most successful undrafted goalie to play in the NHL thus far.
Eddie “The Eagle” Belfour was quite a competitor during his 17 seasons of NHL service. As a member of the 1998-99 Dallas Stars, Belfour won the Stanley Cup after he went 16-7 with a spectacular 1.67 GAA and .930 SV%. Even though Belfour wound up two wins shy of repeating as a Stanley Cup champion during the following season (1999-2000), he put in just as many sterling performances during the Stars’ 2000 postseason run as he did in 1999.
Over the course of his career, Belfour racked up 484 wins and 76 shutouts – numbers that undoubtedly contributed to his nomination to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Much like Curtis Joseph, Belfour also had an impressive playoff resume as the netminder compiled an 88-68 win-loss record over 161 appearances made in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Goalies such as Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur might hold many statistical records that Belfour could not have surpassed during his playing career, but the goalie will certainly be remembered as one of the game’s elite netminders.
He won a pair of Vezina Trophies (1991 and 1993) and a Stanley Cup in 1999 (with the Dallas Stars) and sits third on the all-time goalie wins list with 484. He entered the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011.
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”