Goaltenders rarely go in the first round of the NHL draft anymore, but someone may buck the trend in 2019. For the past four or so years, there’s been no doubt Spencer Knight is the best 2001-born goaltender in the world and worthy of an early look at the podium in Vancouver.
In fact, Knight could finish his NHL career as the best goalie to ever come out of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program after being a vital part of the U-17 and U-18 teams over the past two years. Knight is a big kid at 6-foot-3 with a great ability to swallow rebounds, has the maturity to shake off a bad goal and is as athletic as it gets. Committed to Boston College for next season, Knight is a future franchise starting goaltender who projects as a Vezina Trophy candidate for years to come. Knight is still in the (very) early stages of his development cycle, but you can’t ignore what he’s achieved: Knight’s 59 wins are the most in U.S. NTDP history, with his 2.46 goals-against average sitting fourth.
We know Knight is essentially a lock to be the first goaltender chosen later this month, but who else is available? Let’s break down the top goalie prospects for the draft:
Mads Sogaard, Medicine Hat (WHL)
He might not be the top goalie for the draft, but he definitely is the tallest. Standing at 6-foot-7, Sogaard was one of the better goalies in the WHL this season and was ranked No. 2 among North American goaltenders (due to playing in Canada). Sogaard shook off a terrible World Junior Championship with Denmark to emerge as a top prospect, winning multiple in-season awards for his play with the Tigers. Sogaard has an immense amount of talent and, if he can fight off his tendency to over-commit to plays, could end up being the top prospect from the draft.
Pyotr Kochetkov, Ryazan (Rus.)
As a 1999-born goaltender, Kochetkov enters the draft for the third time, but as the No. 1 goalie prospect from Europe, he’ll definitely have his name called this time around. Kochetkov, a big-bodied kid at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, has superb stats with HK Ryazan in the VHL and finished as the top goaltender at the World Junior Championship in January. The breakout star has really elevated his game over the past few seasons and, after joining the SKA St. Petersburg organization for next year, he’ll have a chance to get some KHL starts.
Ethan Haider, Minnesota Magicians (NAHL)
What do Haider and Ben Bishop have in common? Bishop was drafted to the NHL from the NAHL back in 2005, and now Haider is looking to follow in the footsteps. While there are many NAHL alumni in the NHL, very few get drafted straight from the league and become impact players, but Haider could be one of the better players to come from the Tier-II association. The 11th-ranked North American goalie, Haider had a wonderful season with Minnesota, posting a .926 SP in 37 games. Chosen early by the Sioux City Musketeers in the USHL draft this year (third overall), Haider is committed to Clarkson University in 2020-21 and is more of a project option for whoever drafts him, but he’s got raw talent to boot.
Hunter Jones, Peterborough (OHL)
With a career 3.71 GAA and 0.893 SP, J0nes’ stats in the OHL are ugly, but that’s more indicative of the Petes’ less-than-stellar play than anything. Jones earned a lot of praise this season, earning the CHL goaltender of the week title for the first week of the campaign. The No. 3 North American goaltender, Jones already has pro size with a 6-foot-4 frame, and scouts have shown a love for his rebound control, his post-to-post movement and his ability to find pucks through traffic.
Dustin Wolf, Everett (WHL)
Talk about underrated: Wolf was the CHL and WHL’s scholastic player of the year, led the league in GAA (1.69) and SP (.936) and won the WHL’s goaltender of the week four times. So why aren’t more people talking about him? Carter Hart was incredible with the Silvertips the previous year, so some attribute it to having a good team to work with. Others say it’s Wolf’s 5-foot-11 stature and that he sometimes struggles with getting post to post quick enough, but he’s got the raw talent you love to see at his age.
Isaiah Saville, Tri-City (USHL)
Speaking of underrated American goaltenders, there’s Saville, who put on a goaltending clinic at the World Junior A Challenge in December. The right-handed puckstopper, set to join the University of Nebraska-Omaha next year, had a 1.30 GAA and .944 SP in three games for the Americans in a gold-medal effort. In domestic play, Saville won the USHL goaltender of the year award after finishing with the top GAA of 1.90 and a .925 SP. Saville would likely go higher had he played in the CHL, but his potential is already evident.
Hugo Alnefelt, HV71 (Swe.)
If you didn’t watch the U-18 World Championship, you missed Alnefelt consistently steal the spotlight as one of Sweden’s most important players, leading his nation to a gold. What Alnefelt, the No. 2 European goalie, showcased this season is that he was a man on a mission, never giving up on a play to help his team come out on top. One of Sweden’s top options for the World Junior Championship in December, Alnefelt won’t have to wait too long on the second day of the draft because teams like his 6-foot-3 frame, allowing him to control shooting situations and cover most of the net.
Trent Miner, Vancouver (WHL)
As a call-up in 2017-18, Miner had a 4.20 GAA and .885 SP through nine games with the Giants. Determined to show what he was capable of, Miner finished 2018-19 as one of the league’s top goaltenders, posting a 1.98 GAA and .924 SP through 32 games in a backup role behind Arizona Coyotes prospect David Tendeck. The CHL Goaltender of the week for the first week of October, Miner showed flashes of brilliance this year and would likely go earlier in the draft had he played more. Look for him to have a breakthrough season next year.
Lukas Parik, Liberec U-19 (Czech U19)
Ranked No. 3 among European goalies by NHL CSS, Parik showed what he was capable of by making the Czech Republic a true contender at the U-18 World Championship, posting a .924 SP through five games. A starter with Bili Tygri Liberec in the Czech U-19 league, Parik has good size and is rarely too far out of position. He does a lot of things well but nothing overly amazing, either. A team picking him late in the fourth round would be getting a solid prospect.
Taylor Gauthier, Prince George (WHL)
Canada had a rocky road to finish off the U-18 World Championship, but Gauthier was far from the issue after putting up a .914 SP through four games. Gauthier did most of the heavy lifting in Prince George this season, recording 15 of the team’s 19 victories this year in yet another down year for the franchise that saw the Cougars miss the playoffs. Gauthier was always in the mix of things, giving his team chances to win night in and night out.
Other notables: Nolan Maier (Saskatoon, WHL), Colten Ellis (Rimouski, QMJHL), Cole Brady (Janesville, NAHL), Samuel Hlavaj (Lincoln, USHL), Cameron Rowe (U.S. NTDP, USHL).
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