Mock drafts are seriously the bee's knees.
They're not only fun to debate and compare, but right now, they're everywhere to be found. Some will carry more clout than others, but even the ones posted by fans and bloggers can help you gain more information on the top 30 prospects projected to be selected this Sunday in New Jersey. Now more than ever before, there's a wealth of information out there, and that's always a good thing.
From my perspective, however, I can't gain much information from a mock draft. I already have a pretty good idea of who is widely considered as the top goalie available, and that's pretty much it for the first round. Maybe we'll see two goalies selected in the first round, but nobody knows for sure.
As a result, I've often imagined a world where we publish a mock draft just for the goaltenders. And not just for one or two rounds, because that's only three or four guys. No, I mean a mock goalie draft for all seven rounds.
"Uhh...Not a chance in hell!"
That's not only my first response to said idea, but the response of many others in the scouting realm.
Don't get me wrong, it'd be a fun brain exercise. But I don't think there's any way a draft expert could get past the third round with any type of solid accuracy. There are too many unknowns at the position, and once you get past the fourth round, there's less confidence to be had in Central Scouting's rankings. Not because they aren't accurate, but because for most NHL teams, CSS' goalie rankings are more of a guide.
Teams are also way more likely to draft lower-ranked guys in a later round because it's less of a science and more of a collective hunch or "gut feeling" that they really like a guy, or their sample size for one goalie is much larger than someone else's, thus giving them more confidence to pick a guy that may be ranked much lower.
If someone were able to predict a near-perfect mock draft of every goalie, that would be like winning the lottery. But that's the true nature of goaltending, and that's the battle I will forever fight as someone who exclusively scouts the most volatile and foggy position in hockey.
THE TOP-5 GOALIES AVAILABLE
Now for the 2013 NHL Draft, I think most people would have no problem agreeing that the top five goalies available are pretty clear-cut. In order, here's how I expect it to shake out:
Zach Fucale, Eric Comrie, Tristan Jarry, Spencer Martin, and Juuse Saros.
Saros could drop due to his lack of size, and if he does, I expect he would be trumped by USHL prospect and Notre Dame commit Cal Petersen.
From there, while I do feel strongly that the next five goalies are pretty straightforward, a lot depends on how long it takes for the first five to get selected. I'm not sure why I chose to focus on this aspect of drafting, but it seems like the best place to start if one were to try completing a full mock draft for goalies.
As a goalie, it's just like playing a game...you don't focus on the whole 60 minutes, you break it down into smaller pieces, maybe in five or 10-minute intervals. So if you're like me and you enjoy projecting these things using past drafts, here's some recent history for you to ponder.
In last year's draft, two goalies were selected in the first round (Vasilevski, Subban), two more went in the second round (Dansk, Stolarz), and then Joonas Korpisalo was selected 62nd overall to kick off the third round.
In the 2011 draft, Magnus Hellberg and John Gibson went back-to-back in the second round at 38th and 39th overall, Christopher Gibson was selected 10 picks later, Samu Perhonen went 62nd overall, and then David Honzik went 71st overall. If you thought the top five guys were "no-brainers" each year, think again. Gibson (Chris), Perhonen and Honzik were all left unsigned earlier this month, so they are once again draft-eligible.
In the 2010 NHL Draft, Jack Campbell and Mark Visentin were selected in the first round, Calvin Pickard and Kent Simpson in the second round, and then Scott Wedgewood in the third round at 84th overall.
With so many people under the impression that teams are afraid to draft goalies high, especially in the first two rounds, we've actually seen the top five goalies get snatched up in just 62 picks last year, down from 71 picks in 2011, and then 84 picks in 2010. In the 2009 draft, the fifth goalie taken was Matt Hackett, 77th overall. In 2008, Tyler Beskorowany was the fifth goalie selected, just 59th overall. In 2007, Timo Pielmeier was the fifth goalie selected at 83rd overall.
So looking at how the top five goalies have fared since 2007, and knowing that Fucale is likely to be drafted in the first round (possibly even in the top 10), I'm guessing that the fifth goalie will be taken before the 75th overall pick, which belongs to the New York Rangers (from Columbus).
Seventy-five picks down, only 136 more to go. Once you hit the third round, the number of goalies selected in each round is bound to rise, but their order in terms of ranking by CSS often falls.
If I had to guess, I'd say the next five goalies could come in a tight cluster, maybe even in as little as 30 picks. That's where I'd expect to see names like Philippe Desrosiers, Eamon McAdam, Patrik Bartosak, Antoine Bibeau, and Brendan Burke get taken. I can remember drafts where it seemed like clubs were hesitant to pick goalies, but as soon as one went, it would be a domino effect, and more would get plucked in a hurry.
Either way, you should always expect to see one or two unexpected names jump up into the Top-10 mix, or sink down into oblivion (this happened with Olivier Roy a few years ago).
IS SIZE AT A PREMIUM?
Draft strategies for goaltenders will always vary from team to team, but there are always trends to be found, and the most "obvious" trend is drafting size.
I don't think I need to exert much energy explaining why. Not only is size a finite number that can be charted, averaged, and compared each year, but size equals more net coverage, and the better net coverage you have, the more likely you are to stop pucks that you don't necessarily see, or pucks that just hit you without you actually reacting. Hellberg, Mikko Koskinen, Anders Nilsson, Oscar Dansk, and Beskorowany are just a few of the bigger goalies that have been top-five draft picks since 2007.
That trend may be slightly compromised this Sunday, however, because size seems to be at a bit of a premium.
There are only a handful of goalies listed over 6'2, and they are all likely to be mid-to-late round selections. The list includes Evan Cowley (6'4, 12th), Brendan Burke (6'3, 13th), Shane Starrett (6'4, 15th), Jordan DeKort (6'4, 18th), Merrick Madsen (6'4, 26th), and Chad Katunar (6'5, 28th). Marcus Hogberg (6'4, 4th) is the lone big guy for the top 10 international goalies.
*Many consider a 6'2 goalie to have great size, so keep in mind there's a handful of top goalies available listed at that height.
Cowley recently signed an NLI with the University of Denver Pioneers, which could raise his stock just enough to see him slip into the Top-10. That would likely put him in the fourth round, but with size at somewhat of a premium, maybe he lands solidly in the third round. Burke has the goalie genes in his blood due to his father Sean Burke (goalie coach for Phoenix), which may also lend a hand to him being selected earlier than expected.
One of the most interesting goalie prospects in this draft is Starrett, who vaulted 20 spots in the final rankings (35th to 15th). He could be this year's Anthony Stolarz and also get plucked way sooner than expected. Like Stolarz, he's a raw-skilled, lanky goalie with great athleticism...and he's also set to begin the next chapter of his journey at the NCAA level. Starrett is committed to Boston University.
Lending a hand to this draft being full of smaller goalies is seen with the top three internationally ranked goalies -- Saros, Ebbe Sionas and Luka Gracnar. They're all listed under 6'0, and even more surprising is the fact that seven of the 10 international goalies are 6'0 or smaller.
Fucale, Comrie, Jarry, Desrosiers, Austin Lotz, Patrik Bartosak, and Michael Guigovaz all hover in the 6'0 and 6'1 range, so there are only a few 6'2 goalies in the Top-10, and none listed over 6'2.
SIZE ISN'T EVERYTHING...
For teams that don't invest a lot of time and money into goalie development, or may not have anyone on their scouting staff that is experienced in playing or coaching the position, it's easy to get wrapped up in drafting the big guys. Not only is it easy, but it's legitimately a decent default move. If a team likes two guys exactly the same, why wouldn't you take the taller one?
Despite the fact size brings a significant advantage, it is important to realize that there will always be a place at the pro level for smaller goalies. For those that lack size, they understand at an earlier age that they must be that much better in other areas of the position: puck-tracking, reading plays and shot releases, having elite-level foot speed, and overall flexibility and athleticism are must-have traits for a successful smaller goalie.
The big guys who rely too much on their size, take their size for granted, or simply don't have enough natural athleticism are sometimes more susceptible to being "out-worked" or out-performed by a smaller goalie. And when that happens, a bigger goalie may start to get a bad reputation, and may get left behind.
At the end of the day, since size is a tangible and tactile advantage, and since athletes are getting bigger and stronger, the trend of teams drafting bigger will surely continue. But if a team gets too wrapped up in taking the biggest guy available, they're going to miss out on better, more viable long-term talent.
Size isn't everything, so teams have to do their homework and discover the best way to evaluate what type of skills a smaller goalie has within the traits I described above.
WHICH TEAMS NEED A GOALIE?
No team needs a top-five goalie prospect more than the New Jersey Devils. Not only do they have considerably "weak" depth behind Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg, but those two combine to make the oldest tandem in the NHL. Jeff Frazee is a bust considering he was drafted 38th overall in 2008, and Scott Wedgewood may not pan out because he's on the smaller side. Keith Kinkaid was undrafted, but may find his way into an NHL backup role in a few more years.
The Devils have a perfect chance to draft Fucale ninth overall.
Not only would he fill a massive, gaping hole in the organization, but I think he kind of fits the mold of a Devils goalie prospect. Looking at their current depth chart, interestingly enough, they seem to draft smaller goalies. Frazee, Wedgewood, and Maxime Clermont are all 6'0 or 6'1.
Fucale is listed at 6'1, and I think beyond that, his style could appeal to them as well. He's patient on his skates, he has a good economy of movement, he can play a ton of games in a season, and he has a CHL Title to his name. To me, it seems on the surface that he could be a square peg fitting into a square hole.
But I also think the Devils are akin to developing the type of goalie that can emulate Brodeur, so I'm not sure even Fucale would pan out for them over the next three or four years.
Now that the Los Angeles Kings have finally traded Jonathan Bernier, I believe they will look to draft a top-end goalie this weekend, and possibly one in a later round. They also need to replace Gibson, who was not retained earlier this month. Aside from Gibson, the last time the Kings drafted a goalie was in 2009 when they selected J-F Berube. Remember, Martin Jones was signed as a free agent while with the Calgary Hitmen (WHL).
In terms of who I feel fits the mold of a Kings prospect the best, I'd like to think Jarry could be that guy. Outside of what he brings in terms of skill and upside, the Kings could keep a close eye on him since he's with the Oil Kings, and he'll soon see his workload skyrocket when Laurent Brossoit turns pro. If they continue to pluck guys out of the QMJHL (Gibson, Berube), then I think Desrosiers or Bibeau make good fits.
The other team that needs to draft a top-ranked goalie is Edmonton. Nikolai Khabibulin and Yann Danis are UFA's. Niko Hovinen (RFA) is playing in the KHL next season, and they just abandoned Perhonen. Tyler Bunz is not developing as they had hoped, and I don't think Olivier Roy has the potential to be a long-term starting goalie for them, either.
So those three teams (Devils, Kings, Oilers) stick out to me as the ones with the biggest need for a high-end goalie. Other teams include the Flyers (what else is new), the Canadiens, and the Panthers.
DISCUSSING TEAM DYNAMICS
When it comes to further developing an imaginary goalie mock draft, one way to decipher the later rounds is by looking at a team's needs and developmental approach. This seems an obvious move, but it's not as easy as you think.
Some teams have eight or nine goalies in their depth chart (Tampa Bay, Boston, San Jose) and still may have some holes to fill, while other teams have four or five goalies (Los Angeles, Ottawa, Toronto) and may feel like their short and long-term needs are filled.
Try as you might, there's no magic number to be found. I used to think it was six goalies in a depth chart; two in the NHL, two in the AHL, one in the ECHL, and one in juniors, college, or Europe. But then I found myself debating the "quality vs. quantity" paradigm.
What good is it to have more than six goalies in a system if they don't get a fair chance to play a lot of games and work their way up the professional ladder? Since every goalie matures and develops differently, how much does playing time actually matter after they are drafted? With only a few years to decide whether or not to retain a draftee, maybe it's better to deal with less goalie prospects.
In that regard, I love what teams like Los Angeles (Quick, Bernier, Jones) and Ottawa (Robin Lehner and Chris Driedger) with the limited goalies they've had in their systems.
On the other hand, with Tampa Bay hoarding quality prospects like Jaroslav Janus, Adam Wilcox, and Vasilevski, the more goalies you stockpile, the more likely you might be to land that true hidden gem and elite long-term starter.
Because so many team dynamics influence the actual value of a drafted goalie, there is just too much chaos and no real way to control it. This is without even beginning to explain how a goalie coach will influence a scouting staff's short-list for goalies, and how his coaching philosophy can influence the relationship between the goalie's style and the style that is most effective for a goalie coach to work with.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to one simple point -- draft what you need and draft what you know. Ignore the urge to try and correlate when a goalie is selected with what their expected value may be. Even if you do all sorts of background research and look at the history of goalies selected, where they came from, and how they panned out, one golden rule will forever exist: Good goalies come from everywhere.
Good goalies come from everywhere. That point alone opens up the ultimate Pandora's Box when it comes to the draft -- is it even worth drafting a goalie at all?
ELEVEN BURNING QUESTIONS
I'd like to close my draft preview by posting 11 burning questions regarding the goalies. Some of these questions are more hypothetical than others, while some may never be answered. But these are the things at the front of my mind heading into the weekend.
1. Will Eric Comrie's injury cause him to fall in the draft? Is he a late first-rounder or an early second-rounder?
2. Do the Devils dance with the idea of taking Fucale ninth overall? They desperately need a top goalie prospect.
3. Where does Antoine Bibeau go? He wasn't ranked in CSS' midterm release and was ninth in the final rankings.
4. Who goes first between McAdam and Petersen? Both teammates were solid this season and have similar size.
5. How many goalies will the gongshow Flyers select this weekend now that Ilya Bryzgalov has been bought out?
6. Will we see a significant number of goalies drafted from one league? The QMJHL appears to be strong this year.
7. How many goalies will the Kings draft now that they have finally traded Bernier and released Chris Gibson?
8. Will we ever see a goalie-specific scouting combine? I believe there needs to be one to test vision, reactions, etc.
9. Will my two top sleepers -- Adam Clark (BCHL) and Fredrik Bergvik (SWE) -- be selected in a later round?
10. Will we see NHL teams begin to hire "goalie-only" scouts to assist the rest of their staff with drafting goalies?
11. Will any of the older goalies get selected? Etienne Marcoux, Eetu Laurikainen, or the re-entry goalies?
Of all these questions, #8 is the one that has stuck with me for the past three years.
I really believe there should be a goalie-specific scouting combine. If you want to take the guesswork out of drafting goalies, you need to test things beyond strength and stamina with things like flexibility, ability to track (eye attachment), fast-twitch muscle reflexes, hand and foot reaction speed to different stimuli, the ability to recognize patterns, and their eye-hand coordination.
That's where Dynavision comes into play. If you don't know what that is, check out this video. This, to me, is a key component to the future of evaluating and scouting goalies before they are drafted. Or it could be something way more simple, like how long a goalie can juggle, or how fast they throw a ball against the wall and catch it cleanly in 30 seconds.
Maybe it's a pipe dream, and maybe it's unrealistic. But if I'm an NHL GM and I'm getting ready to invest a high draft pick on a goalie, I'm not doing so unless I have their scores on the Dynavision board...and have a ton of other scores from other goalies to compare it with.
Thanks for reading my lengthy 2013 NHL Draft preview! Be sure to follow along on Sunday as I host a live blog to break down all of the goalie action in New Jersey!