Terry Wilson / OHL Images
If you have read any of my work before, you know that I have been a goalie for well over 30 years, and I also enjoy giving back to my community by volunteering to coach young netminders. In saying that, though, I feel there’s a legitimate reason why goalies often take a little longer to develop. That reason is that a goaltender tends to be a rare breed. This job requires a person to be slightly off or even a bit deranged. Think about it: would you be willing to offer to stand in front of someone shooting a large piece of vulcanized rubber toward your head at a rate of over 100 m.p.h.? Most of you probably very quickly said NO to that last question. But for the few of you odd ducks that thought that sounded like fun and can honestly say you have no problem dealing with the extreme stress and pressure of being the last line of defense that often gets blamed for their team losing a game, not to mention having to put your body through the most strain of any other position out on the ice then this may be the job for you!
And since I have the gray hair, bad knees, and horrible posture to prove it. For all intense purposes here, I’ll just go ahead and consider myself more qualified than most so-called sports journalists (who have probably not ever stepped foot on the ice) to critique the next crop of guardians of the blue paint coming out of the 2024 Entry Draft.
For some time now, Eric Olsson from Sweden has been one of the highest rated goalies in this upcoming draft. This is for good reason, seeing that besides being arguably one of the most complete goalies out of this draft, he also has the size teams in the NHL tend to covet. Standing at 6’4 and 183 pounds, this 18-year-old netminder has recently decided to leave his native county where he had so much success to instead get a head start on learning the North American game when he agreed to play for the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League (USHL) this season. So far, that learning curve is proving to be rather steep because, through five games played, Eric is averaging an atrocious 4.97 goals against average (G.A.A.) and a .862 Save Percentage (SV%).
One thing I like about his game is that it is evident that he has been properly trained. Like most top-level goalies coming out of Sweden, Olsson shows good mobility and positioning. Something he needs to work on, though, is his ability to play the puck. Although I like his willingness to come out and play the puck, It doesn’t make him exactly good at it. Olsson has looked tentative at best when coming out to play the puck, resulting in a few missed handles. Overall, if the draft were to take place today, most mock drafts would still have him going in the late 2nd round.
The next goaltender on our list is my favorite of this draft class, and his name is Carter George. This 17-year-old goalie plays for the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and unlike most guys featured in this article, Carter can win games all by himself. Being able to play much larger than his 6’0 frame should be physically capable of has allowed Carter to become unbelievably patient between the pipes. I believe this trait has most scouts drooling because it is George’s innate ability to wait until the opposing player makes a move before he decides to counter it that sees him being labeled a bit of a shootout prodigy. And we all know if a goalie does well in shootouts, then their team will most likely be able to acquire quite a few more points over the course of the season. This sometimes means the difference between a club making the playoffs and one destined to start working on their golf game a little earlier.
George has played in 12 games this season, averaging 2.65 G.A.A. and a .915 SV%, earning himself one shutout and a record of 5-4-1. Regarding international play, Carter recently backstopped Team Canada in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup to a Gold Medal, where he posted similar numbers in five games played. As it stands now, scouts have George being drafted by a team in the third round.
Subsequently, the next goalie projected to be taken in the 3rd round is Eemil Vinni of Finland. Eemil is a 17-year-old goalie that currently stands at 6’2 and 187 pounds. Vinni has received high praise primarily for his efforts while wearing his nation’s colors. Take, for instance, Eemils’ performance in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup last season, where through four games played, he was able to maintain a 1.75 G.A.A. and a .927 SV%.
But those stat lines were some time ago now, for he has struggled playing in the Finland’s junior ranks this season. For example, in the Mestis this season, he has barely been a .500 goalie with a record of 5-4-1. But I guess that’s what kind of production you get when you allow an average of 3.67 G.A.A. and only manage a .868 SV%.
What I like about Vinni’s game, though, is his hands. He has a solid glove and blocker that he uses to react quickly by swallowing up all rebounds into his chest.
But with Eemil still far from being perfect, there are a few things I still feel he needs to work on. First, Eemil likes to keep the puck in play a little too much. Doing this does not allow your team the chance to change personnel and can result in costly turnovers or rebound attempts. Next up is his inability to control rebounds down low. Vinni seems not to be able to control shots on the ice. Instead, he wildly kicks the puck, more often than not right back out into the danger zones, and when he does go down to make a play, his stick comes up off the ice too frequently, resulting in the puck sometimes rolling right up his stick and over his shoulder into the goal. Although still young, he has got to work on controlling the lower half of his body because, as we all know, ice level is where most shots come from.
As it stands now, mock drafts have Eemil being selected late in the third round, but there are a few other goalies I would rather draft if I were a GM before I took a chance on this still-raw prospect.
Here is a guy I feel will see his stock rise as the season progresses. 17-year-old Ryerson Leenders stands at 6’1 and 179 pounds and plays for the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL. Taking the league by storm with his lightning-quick glove hand, refined movements, and shutdown ice-level coverage has earned Leenders multiple goaltender of the week honors this season. Like George, I feel as though Ryerson could be the real deal. On any given night, Leenders has proven that he can will his team to victory by simply standing on his head. Through 12 games played this season, Leenders has recorded eight wins, two of which were shutouts. Currently, Ryerson holds a respectable 3.21 G.A.A. average and a .910 SV%. If he continues on this pace, there is no doubt in my mind that Leenders will see his name rise in the ranks and be taken much sooner than initially expected.
Sticking in the OHL, we now shall talk about an 18-year-old goaltender named Jackson Parsons. Jackson plays for the Kitchener Rangers, and I believe this Canadian goalie will be better than his current 4th Rd. Draft ranking would have you believe. What sets this 6’1, 203-pound puck stopper apart from the rest is that he’s fast enough to get across the crease to stop shots that he shouldn’t. Another skill that Parsons speed has him excel at is recovering from a butterfly position. After a shot occurs that requires Jackson to drop down to the ice, he doesn’t just stay and flop around on the ice; he quickly returns to his feet and reengages the play.
So far this season, these traits have looked to pay off for Parsons and the Rangers, as they currently find themselves in first place in the Midwest Division and the entire Western Conference. In doing so, Parsons has paired a 2.71 G.A.A. with a .907 SV%, acquiring two shutouts along the way.
Although it’s still early, these are just a few quality goaltenders I believe will hear their names called this upcoming summer. In what order will they go, and which team will they be drafted by? Unfortunately, these are all questions that will have to be answered another day, but right now, all we can do is sit back and watch how these young netminders progress.