Who is the NHL’s Top Goaltending Prospect?

If NHL teams collect and possess assets, then elite goalie prospects are like Vincent van Gogh paintings: They’re either extremely rare or—in most cases—a knock off.

Top-notch goalie prospects are valuable because netminders develop somewhat unpredictably. As you’ll see in the list below, draft slot does not always equal talent. Some of the NHL’s best netminders were selected in later rounds. On the flip side, there have been plenty of first- and second-round busts over the past decade.

NHL's Top Goalie Prospects
Below are the NHL’s top 10 goalie prospects. (The Hockey Writers)

With that being said, the NHL’s best goaltending prospects rose up through a variety of developmental paths. Some were highly touted netminders at an early age. Others took the road less traveled to become elite prospects.

Related: The Best Goalies in NHL History

To identify the NHL’s top young goalies, I evaluated several netminders on an array of physical and technical attributes using a 20-80 rating scale, with 50 being average. Below are my top 10 goalie prospects, plus a few who just missed the cut.

Graduated to the NHL

Two goalies from last year’s edition of this list have now established themselves in the NHL:

  • Jake Oettinger – Dallas Stars
  • Ilya Sorokin – New York Islanders

Which netminders will be the next to graduate to the NHL?

Just Outside the Crease

These goalies were close to cracking the top 10, but ultimately fell short. Fear not, they still have bright futures ahead of them.

  • Lukas Dostal – Anaheim Ducks
  • Michael DiPietro – Vancouver Canucks
  • Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen – Buffalo Sabres
  • Erik Portillo – Buffalo Sabres
  • Daniil Tarasov – Columbus Blue Jackets

10. Justus Annunen – Colorado Avalanche

  • Age: 21
  • Height: 6-foot-4
  • Weight: 209 pounds

2020-21 Stats:

  • Kärpät (Liiga): 24 GP – 2.43 GAA – .884 SV%
  • Colorado (AHL): 2 GP – 2.93 GAA – .900 SV%

There’s a lot to like about Justus Annunen. The Colorado Avalanche prospect has great lateral movement and tracks the puck well. In addition, his crease adjustments are very smooth as he’s following play in close. If there’s a knock on his skating, it’s that he tends to overcommit and lose the crease from time to time, though he’s generally economical with his movements. His rebound control could be better as well, but that’s something that can be refined over time.

Annunen will remain in North America for the 2021-22 season and skate for the Colorado Eagles of the AHL, where he’ll likely split time with Jonas Johansson. With Philipp Grubauer no longer with the organization, Annunen could be the long-term solution in net for the Avalanche. He’ll need some seasoning in the AHL, though.

9. Pyotr Kochetkov – Carolina Hurricanes

  • Age: 22
  • Height: 6-foot-2
  • Weight: 179 pounds

2020-21 Stats:

  • Nizhny Novgorod (KHL): 6 GP – 2.63 GAA – .931 SV%
  • Vityaz Podolsk (KHL): 4 GP – 2.69 GAA – .909 SV%
  • HK Ryazan (VHL): 5 GP – 2.46 GAA – .904 SV%

Statistically speaking, Pyotr Kochetkov put together a strong 2020-21 season. He bounced around between Russian teams and leagues for the second consecutive year, before finally sticking with Nizhny Novgorod, where he’ll play during the 2021-22 season.

Pyotr Kochetkov Carolina Hurricanes Draft
Pyotr Kochetkov after being selected by the Carolina Hurricanes at 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

But from a technical standpoint, Kochetkov is quite talented. He uses his edges very well to adjust around the crease and burst laterally. In addition, his tracking and reflexes jumped out as above average. Kochetkov also has a wide butterfly and covers the bottom half of the net well, giving shooters little room in tight.

That said, the netminder still has room for improvement. Kochetkov tends to stretch for the puck out of his butterfly in response to a broken play rather than adjusting within his butterfly stance. This can leave him vulnerable sprawled out on the ice. I’ve also seen him favor the short side on a few occasions following a cross-ice pass. Nonetheless, Kochetkov has the athleticism to be an effective NHL goalie down the road – he just needs to polish a few aspects of his game.

8. Cayden Primeau – Montreal Canadiens

  • Age: 22
  • Height: 6-foot-3
  • Weight: 198 pounds

2020-21 Stats:

  • Montreal (NHL): 4 GP – 4.16 GAA – .849 SV%
  • Laval (AHL): 16 GP – 2.10 GAA – .909 SV%

In net, Cayden Primeau plays big. And that’s not just because he’s 6-foot-3. Stylistically, Primeau resembles Ben Bishop. He also plays like Tuukka Rask in the sense that both stay in butterfly on the ice as long as possible, unlike other goalies who prefer to pop back up to their feet right away.

Cayden Primeau Gabriel Landeskog,
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Cayden Primeau (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

With this style, Primeau seals off the bottom of the net remarkably well and prefers to play deep in the crease. In addition, Primeau tracks the puck well and displays good edgework while following the play.

However, Primeau’s adjustments to broken plays are a little delayed. The netminder could also stand to be a little more aggressive with play in tight and his rebound control is average at best. That said, Primeau has the lateral push strength and reflexes needed to fix these trouble spots and become a solid NHL starter. The Canadiens are lucky that this talented goaltender fell into their lap in the seventh round of the 2017 draft.

7. Dustin Wolf – Calgary Flames

  • Age: 20
  • Height: 6-foot-0
  • Weight: 157 pounds

2020-21 Stats:

  • Everett (WHL): 22 GP – 1.80 GAA – .940 SV%
  • Stockton (AHL): 3 GP – 3.24 GAA – .895 SV%

Now that Dustin Wolf is in the AHL, I’m curious to see how his game translates. Many have doubted him due to his size, but his WHL stats speak for themselves – he seamlessly stepped in for Carter Hart in Everett and played to his level.

Goaltender Dustin Wolf of the Calgary Flames
Dustin Wolf making a save for the Everett Silvertips. (Christopher Mast/Everett Silvertips)

Wolf absolutely dominated the WHL over the past three seasons, finishing with sub-2.00 GAA every year. The pride of Tustin, California effortlessly glides around the crease and has above-average lateral push strength. Additionally, Wolf has great poise in net. He has confidence in his save selection strategies and decision-making, which are both terrific attributes of his.

To succeed at the next level, Wolf needs to track the puck better through traffic. He already does a good job seeing through screens and reading the play when the puck is in tight – he just needs to apply that tracking better when the puck is around the perimeter. In addition, Wolf’s rebound control needs some improvement. Based on my viewings, he gives up a few too many juicy rebounds off his chest and far-side leg pad. However, these attributes can be addressed through practice. Wolf already has the strength, poise, and intangibles to be a successful goalie. He just needs to refine a couple things.

6. Jeremy Swayman – Boston Bruins

  • Age: 22
  • Height: 6-foot-3
  • Weight: 187 pounds

2020-21 Stats:

  • Boston (NHL): 10 GP – 1.50 GAA – .945 SV%
  • Providence (AHL): 9 GP – 1.89 GAA – .933 SV%

The Bruins have an outstanding young goalie prospect in Jeremy Swayman. The 22-year-old netminder is set to enter his second professional season and will compete with Linus Ullmark for Boston’s starting job. 

A former fourth-round pick, Swayman burst onto the scene last year with two shutouts in a 10-game cameo with the Bruins. This followed three seasons at the University of Maine, where he constantly stood on his head behind an average team.

Technically speaking, Swayman’s tracking, rebound control, and reflexes are his strong points. He stays square to the puck and doesn’t punch too many pucks back out into the slot. He could stand to improve his lateral pushes and in-crease adjustments to be more explosive and precise, though. That said, his style gets the job done with minimal scrambling.

5. Hugo Alnefelt – Tampa Bay Lightning

  • Age: 20
  • Height: 6-foot-3
  • Weight: 187 pounds

2020-21 Stats:

  • HV71 (SHL): 22 GP – 3.16 GAA – .904 SV%

While researching the 2019 draft, I became a huge fan of Hugo Alnefelt. Sweden’s next great netminder has the potential to be an NHL starter and will likely figure into many international competitions over the next decade-plus.

Alnefelt’s greatest strength is his skating. He has above-average lateral push strength and navigates the crease well. But perhaps his best skating attribute is his adjustment to play around him. Alnefelt’s edgework is terrific. He makes tiny adjustments to stay square and seal off the bottom of the net effectively. Alnefelt’s elite pivoting, adjusting, and edgework makes the randomness of hockey that takes place in front of him a little easier to manage.

In addition, Alnefelt gets good depth as he’s tracking the puck in preparation for a shot. His rebound control is solid – his quick glove doesn’t drop many pucks. My one knock on Alnefelt is that he can be somewhat complacent with his stick positioning. Otherwise, he’s as technically sound as they come.

4. Sebastian Cossa – Detroit Red Wings

  • Age: 18
  • Height: 6-foot-6
  • Weight: 212 pounds

2020-21 Stats:

  • Edmonton (WHL): 19 GP – 1.57 GAA – .941 SV%

Finally, the Red Wings have a bonafide “goalie of the future” in Sebastian Cossa. Detroit traded up to select the netminder in the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft and chose him over Sweden’s Jesper Wallstedt.

Detroit Red Wings goalie prospect Sebastian Cossa.
Sebastian Cossa skating with the Edmonton Oil Kings. (Andy Devlin/Edmonton Oil Kings)

Cossa certainly uses his 6-foot-6 frame well. He’s able to track pucks over and through traffic and has a wide butterfly that takes up most of the bottom half of the net. In addition, he’s pretty consistent at staying square to the puck and managing his depth. Cossa doesn’t sit back – he can be aggressive with his depth when it’s appropriate. And finally, he has explosive lateral movement – something you typically see with taller goalies.

There is room for improvement, though. His crease management is just average – Cossa could be more efficient and precise with his little movements around the crease. Additionally, he tends to stretch out of his butterfly to follow the play, rather than calmly butterfly-slide into position. His rebound control could use some refinement, too. 

It shouldn’t be too difficult for Cossa to improve these aspects of his game. He has the internal drive and confidence that you often see in elite NHL players who constantly work on their game.

3. Jesper Wallstedt – Minnesota Wild

  • Age: 18
  • Height: 6-foot-3
  • Weight: 212 pounds

2020-21 Stats:

  • Luleå (SHL): 22 GP – 2.23 GAA – .908 SV%
  • Luleå (J20 Nationell): 1 GP – 0.00 GAA – 1.000 SV%

Wallstedt straight up looks like a robot in net, which can be a good and bad thing. First, the good – his crease movement and adjustments to track the puck are outstanding. He’s so precise and tends to make quick, rapid movements look effortless, which they most certainly are not. 

On the flip side, Wallstedt’s positioning can be predictable – he over-relies on the RVH and can focus solely on the shooter, neglecting the threat of players in his periphery. That said, the good outweighs the bad. 

In addition to the positive attributes I noted above, Wallstedt also does a great job of sealing off the bottom of the net when play is in tight. He also tracks the puck very well through traffic.

Overall, the Minnesota Wild have a fantastic goalie prospect on their hands. Wallstedt is certainly a long-term solution in net for the franchise.

2. Spencer Knight – Florida Panthers

  • Age: 20
  • Height: 6-foot-3
  • Weight: 192 pounds

2020-21 Stats:

  • Boston College (NCAA): 21 GP – 2.18 GAA – .932 SV%
  • Florida (NHL): 4 GP – 2.32 GAA – .919 SV%

Even with Chris Driedger in Seattle, the Florida Panthers have a goalie controversy on their hands. That’s how good Spencer Knight is. The netminder just wrapped up his sophomore year at Boston College, joined the Panthers, and started a playoff game over Sergei Bobrovsky.

Spencer Knight BC Athletics
Spencer Knight was sensational for Boston College this season. (Steve Babineau-BC Athletics)

In net, Knight shows tremendous poise. His calmness stems from excellent awareness and angles. Knight always knows where he is in relation to the net and puck.

In addition, Knight has good, but not powerful lateral pushes and generally tracks the puck well. He still needs to learn to follow the puck through traffic and arrive at the shooter square in a consistent manner. But when play is in front of him, Knight knows he has the upper hand. He also covers the net well in tight.

There isn’t much for Knight to improve besides tracking the puck through traffic and getting physically stronger. Florida’s top goaltending prospect has a bright future in ahead of him.

1. Yaroslav Askarov – Nashville Predators

  • Age: 19
  • Height: 6-foot-4
  • Weight: 176 pounds

2020-21 Stats:

  • SKA St. Petersburg (KHL): 9 GP – 1.21 GAA – .951 SV%
  • SKA-Neva St. Petersburg (VHL): 6 GP – 2.12 GAA – .923 SV%
  • SKA-1946 St. Petersburg (MHL): 2 GP – 0.50 GAA – .979 SV%

Make no mistake, Yaroslav Askarov is the real deal. Russia’s next elite goaltending prospect has future NHL All-Star written all over him.

Yaroslav Askarov Team Russia
Yaroslav Askarov was the first goalie taken in the 2020 draft. (Russia Hockey/FHR.RU)

From a technical standpoint, Askarov already displays advanced decision-making and skating for his age.

“He’s a rare talent in net who can steal games. He’s a long, flexible and fast athlete. He has quick-twitch reflexes in net. He has great anticipatory hockey sense and elite movement skills. He’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Marc-Andre Fleury.”

–NHL scout to The Athletic’s Corey Pronman (from ‘Pronman’s scouting report: Why goalie Iaroslav Askarov is a top NHL prospect’ – The Athletic – 6/10/20)

Expect Askarov to be an elite NHL netminder in a couple of years. Nashville certainly has their goalie of the future.

Stats courtesy of EliteProspects.

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