Goaltenders have been, and will likely always be, the toughest position to evaluate in hockey. How many high draft picks haven’t panned out? How many late-round selections did?
Usually, the highest drafted goaltender doesn’t always end up being the best one down the road. Each team has their own opinion on what makes a goaltender great around the draft and how they’ll develop down the road.
This year, Spencer Knight was a different story, but more on him later.
Goaltenders also take a longer time to develop than position players, often hitting their peaks around their late-20s. As a result, some of the top goaltending prospects in the league today were drafted as far back as 2014. A stark contrast to the expectations placed upon forwards and defensemen, who are generally anticipated to be in the NHL within two years.
The Red Wings, for example, tend to select netminders who intend on taking the college route or play overseas. While these goalies may not be the best available, they’ll have longer development timelines than their CHL counterparts who are thrust into professional action at 20 or 21 years old. College and European goaltenders typically turn pro a few years later.
In addition, scouting has slowly become more consistent, with goalie specialists viewing games of draft-eligible players. More time is also being devoted to conditioning, health, and tape review to address bad habits.
With that being said, let’s take a glimpse into a group of the top goaltending prospects in 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.
- Pyotr Kochetkov – Carolina Hurricanes
- Filip Larsson – Detroit Red Wings
- Alex Nedeljkovic – Carolina Hurricanes
- Linus Soderstrom – New York Islanders
- Mads Sogaard – Ottawa Senators
10. Filip Gustavsson – Ottawa Senators
- Age: 21
- Drafted: 55th overall in 2016
- Size: 6’2″ & 183 pounds
Filip Gustavsson’s first full season in the AHL didn’t go smoothly. However, that wasn’t due to his skill set – he’s a phenominal goalie. Part of the Derick Brassard blockbuster, Gustavsson plays a compact style and moves efficiently in the crease. He’s played well internationally and will look more at home next season in the crease.
9. Michael DiPietro – Vancouver Canucks
- Age: 19
- Drafted: 64th overall in 2017
- Size: 6’0″ & 201 pounds
A star in the OHL, Michael DiPietro already has NHL-level footwork in the crease. The spring before he was drafted by Vancouver, the netminder led his junior team to a Memorial Cup championship as the host team using quick, efficient movements to get in position for every shot.
DiPietro is definitely a new-age goaltender, considering his size and desire to stay down on the ice with play in tight – similar to how Tuukka Rask plays for the Boston Bruins.
8. Thatcher Demko – Vancouver Canucks
- Age: 23
- Drafted: 36th overall in 2014
- Size: 6’4″ & 192 pounds
NHL-ready at this point, Thatcher Demko is another outstanding goalie prospect for the Canucks. The Boston College alum has terrific lateral movement, including secondary and tertiary pushes to stay in position as play progresses. Demko does have a propensity to go paddle down when play is in tight – something that may be exploited at the next level.
He’s projected to play behind Jacob Markstrom next season and may end up starting 30-plus games for the Canucks as a rookie.
7. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen – Buffalo Sabres
- Age: 20
- Drafted: 54th overall in 2017
- Size: 6’4″ & 196 pounds
Buffalo’s top goaltending prospect had quite the 2018-19 campaign. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen helped his native Finland capture gold at the 2019 World Junior Championships, posting a .932 save percentage along the way. After returning to the Sudbury Wolves, Luukkonen picked up where he left off and finished the season with the best save percentage in the OHL. He also took a few honors:
- OHL First Team All-Star
- OHL Goaltender of the Year
- Red Tilson Trophy (Most Outstanding OHL Player)
There’s a lot to like about Luukkonen, who turned pro after the 2018-19 season. In net, Buffalo’s netminding prospect has a great poke check and smooth lateral movement to compliment his large frame.
6. Cayden Primeau – Montreal Canadiens
- Age: 19
- Drafted: 199th overall in 2017
- Size: 6’3″ & 181 pounds
It looks like the Montreal Canadiens found a hidden gem in the 2017 NHL Draft. After one subpar season in the USHL, the son of long-time NHLer Keith Primeau enrolled in Northeastern University took Hockey East by storm by producing a 1.92 GAA and .931 save percentage in 34 games. He 2018-19 season was nearly identical, and that was all the Canadiens needed to sign Primeau to an entry-level contract.
The massive, AHL-bound goaltender uses his size to track the puck well through screens and seal off the bottom of the net in tight. Primeau also received the Mike Richter Award as the top goaltender in the NCAA ranks.
5. Igor Shestyorkin – New York Rangers
- Age: 23
- Drafted: 118th overall in 2014
- Size: 6’1″ & 183 pounds
Playing for high-powered SKA St. Petersburg, Igor Shestyorkin has put together back-to-back-to-back .930-plus seasons, including a .953 save percentage this past season. The netminder is expected to play for the Hartford Wolves this season with Henrik Lundqvist still manning the Rangers’ net. Shestyorkin has great footwork around the crease and tracks play well as one of the best KHL goaltenders in recent years.
4. Jake Oettinger – Dallas Stars
- Age: 20
- Drafted: 26th overall in 2017
- Size: 6’4″ & 218 pounds
After years of subpar goaltending, Dallas’ crease is looking pretty good with Ben Bishop in net and the highly touted Jake Oettinger on the way. The latter just finished up his junior season with Boston University, where he produced a 2.45 GAA and .926 save percentage in 36 games. Oettinger turned pro after the season and appeared in six games for the Texas Stars, where he’ll likely earn the bulk of his minutes next season.
3. Ilya Sorokin – New York Islanders
- Age: 23
- Drafted: 78th overall in 2014
- Size: 6’2″ & 176 pounds
In a couple seasons, the Islanders goaltending situation turn into one of the best in the league with Soderstrom and Russian prospect Ilya Sorokin pushing Semyon Varlamov for ice time. Spending the last four seasons with CSKA Moscow, the goaltender has produced a sub-2.00 GAA each year and racked up a few mantles worth of individual awards. In net, Sorokin resembles Sergei Bobrovsky with his wide butterfly, strong lateral pushes while down, and willingness to compete for every puck regardless of how the play breaks down in front of him.
2. Ilya Samsonov – Washington Capitals
- Age: 22
- Drafted: 22nd overall in 2015
- Size: 6’3″ & 205 pounds
More than three years after the Washington Capitals drafted goaltender Ilya Samsonov, the Russian phenom finally arrived in North America. After a stellar career with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL, Samsonov started the 2018-19 season in the AHL with the Hershey Bears, where he’s expected to play next season with Braden Holtby and Pheonix Copley in DC.
In net, Samsonov has lightning-quick reflexes, strong lateral pushes, a great glove, and a never-give-up attitude on all shots. He is prone to over-correcting and putting himself in awkward situations, but those bad habits can easily be addressed.
It’s easy to see a little bit of Andrei Vasilevskiy in Samsonov’s game, but the Russian goalie prospect plays his own game. He seals off the bottom of the net well when the action is in tight and tracks the puck well for such a young age. Samsonov definitely has the potential to be a top-line NHL starter, but has a little bit of development ahead as he transitions to the North American ice and the game speeds up.
1. Spencer Knight – Florida Panthers
- Age: 18
- Drafted: 13th overall in 2019
- Size: 6’3″ & 197 pounds
Between Bobrovsky and first-round pick Spencer Knight, the Florida Panthers are set in net for the next decade-plus. The Boston College-bound netminder has drawn comparisons to Carey Price with his poise and efficient goaltending.
There’s no panic in the way he plays, yet he can move quickly to get to pucks. When a tough save needs to be made, he’s there, square, in perfect form even if it requires him to move to get there.
–Corey Pronman (from ‘Grading the Florida Panthers’ 2019 draft class’ – The Athletic NHL – 6/22/19)
Knight’s explosive, controlled movement and lightning quick reflexes will allow him to thrive in the NHL – and it won’t be long until he gets there. Expect Knight to be pushing Bobrovsky for time by the 2021-22 season.