Goaltenders have been, and potentially always will be, the toughest position to evaluate and project a development curve for in hockey. How many high draft picks haven’t panned out? How many late-round selections did?
At all levels of hockey, 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.
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 to develop 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 though, 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.
12. Michael DiPietro – Vancouver Canucks
- Age: 19
- Drafted: 64th overall in 2017
- Size: 6’0″ & 201 pounds
As the backbone of the Windsor Spitfires, 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 Boston.
11. Cayden Primeau – Montreal Canadiens
- Age: 18
- 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. The massive rising sophomore uses his size to track the puck well through screens and seal off the bottom of the net in tight.
10. Ville Husso – St. Louis Blues
- Age: 23
- Drafted: 94th overall in 2014
- Size: 6’3″ & 205 pounds
Though the St. Louis Blues signed Chad Johnson to back up Jake Allen, Ville Husso will push for the No. 2 role in training camp after two solid seasons in the AHL. There, the goalie posted consecutive years of sub-2.50 GAA and save percentages at or above .920. Husso needs to play to continue his development though, so another season starting in the AHL may not be the worst thing.
9. Thatcher Demko – Vancouver Canucks
- Age: 22
- Drafted: 36th overall in 2014
- Size: 6’4″ & 192 pounds
NHL-ready at this point, Thatcher Demko is another outstanding goalie prospect for the Vancouver 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.
8. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen – Buffalo Sabres
- Age: 19
- Drafted: 54th overall in 2017
- Size: 6’4″ & 196 pounds
First of all, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen’s orange pads are spectacular. Second, Buffalo’s netminding prospect has a great poke check and smooth lateral movement to compliment his large frame. Luukkonen is expected to play in Finland’s top league next season to continue his development before coming over to North America in a couple years.
7. Linus Soderstrom – New York Islanders
- Age: 21
- Drafted: 95th overall in 2014
- Size: 6’4″ & 198 pounds
Calm is a good way to describe Linus Soderstrom’s play in net. The netminder is very efficient with his movement and isn’t overly flashy in net – he just stops pucks with sound goaltending. After playing for HV71 in Sweden’s top league the past two seasons, Soderstrom is coming to North America for the 2018-19 campaign to play for the New York Islanders’ AHL affiliate, Bridgeport.
6. Filip Gustavsson – Ottawa Senators
- Age: 20
- Drafted: 55th overall in 2016
- Size: 6’2″ & 183 pounds
After a successful World Junior Championships and SHL season, Filip Gustavsson crossed the Atlantic to finish his 2017-18 season with Ottawa’s farm team. Part of the Derick Brassard blockbuster, Gustavsson plays a compact style and moves efficiently in the crease. He’s played well internationally and shouldn’t have much issue adjusting to AHL and, eventually, NHL speed over the next couple years.
5. Igor Shestyorkin – New York Rangers
- Age: 22
- 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 .930-plus seasons. The netminder is under contract with his KHL team for another year and could consider a jettison to the North American game thereafter, especially if more players from SKA St. Petersburg move to the NHL. Shestyorkin has great footwork around the crease and tracks play well as one of the KHL’s top goaltenders.
4. Jake Oettinger – Dallas Stars
- Age: 19
- 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 sophomore season with Boston University, where he produced a 2.45 GAA and .915 save percentage in 38 games. Oettinger split time with with Toronto’s Joseph Woll at the 2018 World Junior Championships as well with Team USA, appearing in three tournament games.
3. Carter Hart – Philadelphia Flyers
- Age: 19
- Drafted: 48th overall in 2016
- Size: 6’2″ & 181 pounds
Philadelphia’s Carter Hart is finally graduating to the professional ranks after a storied junior career. During his last season with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips, the netminder produced an otherworldly 1.60 GAA in the high scoring league. Hart will need to battle for ice time at the next level though, as the Flyers already have Michal Neuvirth and Brian Elliott with the NHL squad and Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon in the AHL.
2. Ilya Sorokin – New York Islanders
- Age: 22
- Drafted: 78th overall in 2014
- Size: 6’2″ & 176 pounds
In a few years, the Islanders presently abysmal goaltending turn into one of the best in the league with Soderstrom and Russian prospect Ilya Sorokin. Spending the last three 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.
1. Ilya Samsonov – Washington Capitals
- Age: 21
- 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 is finally coming over the North America. After a stellar career with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL, Samsonov will likely start the 2018-19 season in the AHL with the Hershey Bears, though the netminder could challenge for Washington’s backup role now that Philipp Grubauer is in Colorado.
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, especially with all-world goaltending coach Mitch Korn overseeing his development.
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.