Goaltenders have been, and potentially always will be, the toughest position to evaluate and project a development curve for in hockey.
They have proven to be far more inconsistent than a forward or defenceman, and their performance often rides heavily on their team’s success.
It’s tough to show a scout great potential while playing for a bottom feeding team and allowing four goals each night. On the other hand, it’s extremely easy to overhype a goalie who is reaping the benefits of playing behind a top tier team, putting up great numbers despite only facing 20 shots per game.
At all levels of hockey, the highest drafted goaltender doesn’t always end up being the best one down the road. Even the NHL’s best scouts often can’t pin down an accurate list of the top goaltenders for each draft. More often than not, it’s a lower round pick that becomes the top goalie from a draft, not the hyped up first rounder.
Goaltenders also take a longer time to develop than position players, often hitting their peaks around the age of 30. As a result, some of the top goaltending prospects in the league today were drafted as far back as 2012. A stark contrast to the expectations placed upon forwards and defencemen, who are generally anticipated to be in the NHL within two years.
With that being said, let’s take a glimpse into a group of the top goaltending prospects in the NHL.
The Top 12
Listed in order of draft year, from 2013 up to the 2017 NHL Draft.
Tristan Jarry – Pittsburgh Penguins
- Age: 22
- Drafted: 44th overall in 2013
- Size: 6’2″ & 194 pounds
In Tristan Jarry’s second AHL season, he improved his numbers greatly, featuring a 2.15 goals-against average and .925 save percentage over 45 games as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins starter. With the signing of Antti Niemi, Jarry will likely be a starter in the AHL again in 2017-18. Jarry, along with his backup Casey DeSmith, was the recipient of the 2016-17 AHL Best Goaltending Duo. His NHL estimated arrival date should be the 2018-19 season, likely to serve as Matt Murray’s backup.
Linus Soderstrom – New York Islanders
- Age: 20
- Drafted: 95th overall in 2014
- Size: 6’4″ & 198 pounds
A massive goaltender, Linus Soderstrom got his first season in the SHL in 2016-17, for the league champions, HV71. He posted incredible numbers over 22 games, with a league best 1.34 GAA and .943 SV%, as well as similar marks over 16 playoff games. The Swede is signed with HV71 through 2017-18. Islanders fans can expect to see Soderstrom in the NHL around 2019-20.
Ville Husso – St. Louis Blues
- Age: 22
- Drafted: 94th overall in 2014
- Size: 6’3″ & 205 pounds
Ville Husso experienced his first year of North American hockey in 2016-17, splitting time between the ECHL and AHL. In his 22 games with the Chicago Wolves, the Finn sported a promising 2.37 GAA and .920 SV%. Husso will likely battle Jordan Binnington for the starter’s spot in the AHL for 2017-18. Husso’s expected arrival date in the NHL should be in time for the 2019-20.
Thatcher Demko – Vancouver Canucks
- Age: 21
- Drafted: 36th overall in 2014
- Size: 6’4″ & 192 pounds
In Thatcher Demko’s first full year of AHL action, he played in 45 games, posting a 2.68 GAA and .907 SV%. With the signing of Anders Nilsson, Demko will likely be the Utica Comets starter again in ’17-18, and you can expect a jump in his individual numbers. Demko will likely play two more years of successful AHL action before jumping to the NHL for 2019-20.
Tyler Parsons – Calgary Flames
- Age: 19
- Drafted: 54th overall in 2016
- Size: 6’1″ & 185 pounds
A year removed from being a Memorial Cup champion, Tyler Parsons continued to better his numbers with the London Knights. Over 34 games, he had a 2.37 GAA and a .925 SV%, the best mark in the OHL. Parsons is expected to spend next year battling for starts in the AHL with the Stockton Heat. In what has become a crowded crop of goaltending prospects in Calgary, Parsons can expect to be playing NHL hockey by 2020-21.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen – Buffalo Sabres
- Age: 18
- Drafted: 54th overall in 2017
- Size: 6’4″ & 196 pounds
Another goaltender with great size, Ukko-Pekka Luukonen is coming off of a championship season with HPK U20 of Jr. A SM-Liiga where he posted a 1.78 GAA and a .917 SV%. The Finn is signed with HPK through the 2018-19 season, and hopes to earn some starts in Liiga during next season. After posting the top goals against average in both the regular season and playoffs, Luukkonen’s time is now to jump to Liiga. He could be expected to make his NHL debut by 2020-21.
The Top 6
Again, listed in order from oldest draft year to most recent.
Juuse Saros – Nashville Predators
- Age: 22
- Drafted: 99th overall in 2013
- Size: 5’10” & 179 pounds
Juuse Saros split the 2016-17 season between the AHL and NHL. With the Milwaukee Admirals, he posted a 1.86 GAA and .934 SV% over 15 games. In 21 games with the Predators, he allowed 2.35 GAA and had a .923 SV%. Saros will likely be Nashville’s backup in 2017-18. Far and away the most NHL ready prospect on this list, Saros will be in tough to find consistent starts with the Predators. In any case, he should be prepared to make 60 starts by 2019-20.
Igor Shestyorkin – New York Rangers
- Age: 21
- Drafted: 118th overall in 2014
- Size: 6’1″ & 190 pounds
In 2016-17, Igor Shestyorkin earned his first year as a starter in the KHL for the Gagarin Cup Champions, SKA St. Petersburg. In 39 games behind a stacked lineup, he posted tremendous numbers, including a 1.64 GAA and .937 SV%. Shestyorkin is under contract with SKA through 2018-19. A KHL First Team All-Star, Shestyorkin may not reach the NHL until 2020-21, when he will be 24 years old.
Ilya Sorokin – New York Islanders
- Age: 21
- Drafted: 78th overall in 2014
- Size: 6’2″ & 176 pounds
Ilya Sorokin, the KHL’s goaltender of the year in 2015-16, had another stellar year in’16-17, allowing just 1.61 goals per game while stopping 92.9% of the shots he faced over 39 games. Sorokin recently agreed to a three-year contract extension with CSKA Moscow, meaning the Islanders may not see him for a while still. A recipient of the KHL Goaltender of the Year award in 2015-16, Sorokin projects to come to the NHL for the 2020-21 season.
Carter Hart – Philadelphia Flyers
- Age: 18
- Drafted: 48th overall in 2016
- Size: 6’2″ & 181 pounds
Drafted as one of the youngest players in the 2016 NHL Draft, Carter Hart once again boosted his potential this past year. In 54 games with the Everett Silvertips, Hart posted the league’s best goals against average, at 1.99, and save percentage, with 92.7%. As a result, he was nominated as the WHL’s top goaltender for the second straight season. Hart is due to return to the Silvertips for a final year in 2017-18, and projects to be NHL ready by 2019-20, when he would just be turning 21 year old.
Jake Oettinger – Dallas Stars
- Age: 18
- Drafted: 26th overall in 2017
- Size: 6’4″ & 218 pounds
Jake Oettinger spent his NHL Draft eligible season as a freshman at Boston University. He made an immediate impact, posting a 2.11 GAA and a .927 SV% over 35 contests. The highest drafted goaltender in the 2017 NHL Draft, Oettinger will return for his sophomore season in the NCAA for 2017-18. Estimating two more years with Boston University before one year in the AHL as well, Oettinger may be able to join the Stars in time for 2020-21.
The NHL’s Top Goaltending Prospect
Ilya Samsonov – Washington Capitals
- Age: 20
- Drafted: 22nd overall in 2015
- Size: 6’3″ & 205 pounds
At just 20 years of age, Ilya Samsonov spent his second year in the KHL, earning more ice time with 27 games played and sporting a 2.13 GAA and .936 SV%. Samsonov’s contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk will end after the 2017-18 season, meaning Capitals fans may not have to wait much longer to see the Russian in action. A two-time KHL Rookie of the Week in ’16-17, Samsonov also impressed at the World Juniors. He was a substantial reason for the Russians bronze medal, and was voted an all-star as a result of his 2.11 GAA and .930 SV%.
Should Samsonov decide to come to North America once his current contract in the KHL expires, he would be in a tough position to find starts with the Capitals. With a current duo featuring former Vezina Trophy winner, Braden Holtby, at age 27 and Philipp Grubauer, who could arguably be a starter as well, at age 25, Samsonov will not have a position waiting for him. More likely, he would spend a year starting up to 50 games as an AHLer before making the jump. That would place his arrival date around the 2019-20 season.
What has made Samsonov such a successful goaltender, allowing to set himself apart from the competition, is his athletic ability. He can explode laterally across his crease to cover all parts of the net. With a large frame, Samsonov cuts off shooting angles well and can make instantaneous reactions to developing plays. He often makes desperation saves look relatively easy.
For Samsonov to transition smoothly into the NHL, he will need to find more ice time. He has only seen 46 games in the KHL over the past two years but needs an environment where he can find 50 starts a year. Whether that be in a starter’s role with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, or potentially in the AHL or even ECHL, he simply needs more experience at a high level to become NHL ready.