As the NHL Entry Draft looms ever closer, I thought it would be wise to list my top five players from each position who will be available to be selected this June. In this particular article, I will name my top five guardians of the blue paint. Now, we all know goalies are a special breed and thus take a little longer to develop than most other positions. I mean, even the great Marc-Andre Fleury, who was taken #1 overall in 2003, was sent down to Jr’s his first year and played parts of three seasons in the AHL before becoming one of the most dominant goaltenders of all time. Because of this, you’ll find that over the years, most teams find their future franchise goaltender late in the draft. For instance, Hall of famer Dominik Hasek wasn’t selected until the 10th round back in 1983. Or how about Henrik Lundqvist, who the Rangers took in the 7th round in 2000.
So, I guess what I’m saying is after playing this position for over thirty years and spending a good deal of time giving back to the game by coaching the youth who are brave enough to strap on the pads. I would suggest teams forget about the current position trend or who “experts” say is the most NHL-ready and look at their overall game. Does this player excel at just a few things and still have glaring holes in other areas? How they prepare for a start. Do they arrive late and rush to get dressed to get out on the ice, or are they there hours before a game stretching or running through the opposition’s tendencies as they envision themselves making those stops? Or even something as easy as scouting how they can rebound after a bad outing. Will their confidence be shot, so they carry it over to the next game? Or can they shake it off and come out and be that solid backstop you need them to be?
That’s why, considering all these factors, I must warn you my list WILL defer from others out there. For instance, you will not see Michael Hrabal on this list seeing that I believe the league as a whole has developed an unhealthy fascination with goalies who have more size than skill. Hrabal, who currently plays for the United States Hockey League’s (USHL’s) Omaha Lancers, is predicted by most so-called experts to be the first goalie to be taken off the board in the upcoming draft, primarily because he stands 6’6 and weighs in at 209 pounds. These attributes may have some teams drooling, but not this writer. Hrabel is averaging well over three goals a game and maintaining a sub .900 save percentage (SV%), leading him to a record of just six wins, ten losses, and four overtime losses in the USHL. So, with that being said, let’s base this list on pure skill alone, shall we?
5th Jacob Fowler
In my option, the fifth-best goalie in this upcoming NHL draft is Jacob Fowler, a Florida native who is currently 18 years of age and stands at 6’2 and 201 pounds. If you haven’t heard of him before, you can find Jacob suiting up on a nightly basis for the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms, where he has repeatedly proven that he is both positionally sound and has one of the best glove hands in this draft. This season Fowler has played in 30 games where he has averaged a respectable 2.36 goals-against-average (GAA) and a .921 save percentage (SV%). This has earned him a record of 18-8-3 so far, with 5 of those wins coming by way of a shutout. For his efforts, Jacob will be attending Boston College next season to play for the Eagles. I believe Fowler will get drafted in the later rounds this summer but will develop relatively quickly in the fast-paced NCAA next season.
4th Adam Gajan
At number four, I have the 18-year-old Slovakian goaltender Adam Gajan. Measuring between 6’3- 6’4 and 176 pounds, Gajan is getting accustomed to the North American style game while playing for the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL. Where in 6 games played, he holds a record of 5-1-0. Through those six games, Adam has managed to maintain a 2.48 GAA and a .906 SV%. Something that the University of Minnesota-Duluth will be happy to hear, seeing that he is committed to playing for them next season. Now, most people have Gajan ranked much higher on their list because of his recent success playing for his native country at this past World Juniors. I am more worried about his struggles back home when asked to move up to the Slovakia 2 league, his country’s third-tier pro league. The sign of most elite prospects coming from European nations is that they have been able to dominate the junior ranks to the point that their club has called them up to the pro level as early as, say, 16 or 17 years old. When Gajan was asked to do so on occasion throughout two different seasons, his goals-against-average sky rocketed into the double digits each time. Now, Adam is on this list for a reason why he may not yet be ready to play professionally; he has shown he can outshine players his own age like he did when playing in that game against Team Canada at the WJC. Adam’s willingness to never give up on a play and ability to react only after the shooter has decided to send the puck his way will easily move him into being named a team’s top goaltending prospect in just a few years.
3rd Calvin Vachon
This next goalie is possibly my favorite on this list. A hidden gem in my mind who is currently tucked away up in Faribault, Minnesota, playing for a little Preparatory High School named Shattuck St. Mary’s. A team who brought you such players as Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Zach Parise, and defenseman Jack Johnson. His name is Calvin Vachon, a classically trained goaltender with a fantastic pedigree of his own. Calvin is the grandson of Hall of Fame goaltender Rogie Vachon, who you may remember being a dominant force for the Los Angeles Kings back in the 70s. In fact, Calvin has been so good for such a long time that you might be able to get away with calling him a bit of a phenom seeing that he has been putting up jaw-dropping numbers since he was 13 years old. For example, back in 2018-2019, while playing for the Los Angeles Jr. Kings 13U AAA Team, Calvin posted an unfathomable goals-against-average of just 0.59, which he paired with a .902 save percentage through an incredible 57 games played. Now, some time has passed, and Calvin has to play much more challenging opponents, but still, he sees success. Calvin has six shutouts through 23 GP this year and is a perfect 18-0-0. While at the same time averaging 2.04 G.A.A. and a .927 SV%. Because of where he plays, a team that either reads this article or does their own due diligence, I believe, will be able to grab Vachon late in the draft and thus get a goalie who could develop over a couple of seasons into one of the next great American goaltenders.
2nd. Kenneth Trey Augustine
At number two, I have another American-born goaltender, Kenneth Trey Augustine. This Michigan native, who stands at 6’1 and 180 pounds, backstops the United States National Development Program (USNPDT), and man, what a job he has done for them with a combined record of 23-0-2 this year. What’s great for scouts and teams alike when they look at a player from this team is that you get to see what they look like against both NCAA and USHL teams seeing that their schedule has them playing a mixture of teams from both leagues. When you combine Trey’s stats from this season when playing in those different leagues, you’ll see that he has allowed just 2.12 goals a game and has been able to average a .936 SV%. To add to that remarkable season, Augustine was naturally selected to play for Team USA in the World Junior Championships a few months ago, where over six games, he averaged a 2.85 GAA and a .891 SV%, receiving a bronze medal for his efforts. If it wasn’t for Team Canada and that darn Connor Bedard, he may have been able to remain undefeated on the season, but instead, he had to settle for going 4-1-0 in the tournament. After being drafted this summer, Trey is already committed to playing for Michigan State University next season, where he will be able to continue to hone his game before getting his chance to one day play in the NHL.
1st. Scott Ratzlaff
I have Scott Ratzlaff of the Western Hockey Leagues Seattle Thunderbirds at number one. Scott, who is 17 years old, stands at 6’1, and weighs in at 172 pounds, has had to play probably one of the most demanding schedules of any goaltender on this list. Night in and night out over the last three seasons, he has had to face multiple players who will be drafted within the top fifteen players this summer. Guys like the consensus number one pick Connor Bedard of the Regina Pats, Zach Benson of the Winnipeg Ice, Andrew Cristall of the Kelowna Rockets, Riley Heidt of the Prince George Cougars, and Brayden Yager of the Moose Jaw Warriors, to name a few. In doing so, he not only won most contests against those great talents but has managed to maintain a league-leading 2.03 goals-against-average and accrued a league-leading five shutouts. Such play has seen him be rewarded the honor of playing for his country this season in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he was able to go undefeated, finishing the tournament a perfect 4-0-0, with two of those wins coming by way of a shutout. His play allowed him to finish with a tournament-best 0.50 GAA and a .976 SV%. Scott has accomplished all these feats by being one of the quickest reaction goalies out of this draft.
On top of that, after he has made a save, it’s obvious his goalie coach has been able to drill into his head not to stay on the ice and flop around. But instead, he effortlessly returns to his feet without ever taking his eyes off the play. All of which should make a scout’s mouth water.
So, why this draft has been said to be chalked full of offensive talent I’m here to tell you that there is depth in the crease as well. There are netminders that teams will be able to select at the beginning, middle, and end of the draft who will all have the chance to develop into everyday NHL players.