The NHL draft is an imperfect science and that goes double when it comes to goalies.
It’s rare to see a netminder become established in the NHL until at least four or five years after they’ve been drafted – and sometimes it takes even longer. Projecting how an 18-year-old junior goalie will perform as a 25-year-old NHLer is nearly impossible, and thus teams are wary of spending high draft picks on netminders. When Florida took Spencer Knight 13th overall last year, it was the highest a goalie had been drafted since Dallas took Jack Campbell 11th overall in 2010. The last netminder selected in the top 10 was Carey Price at fifth overall in 2005.
Here’s a look at the 10 NHL drafts from 2005 through 2014, comparing the highest-drafted goalies to the ones who turned out to be the best with the benefit of hockey hindsight.
First three goalies drafted: Carey Price (5th, Montreal), Tuukka Rask (21st, Toronto), Tyler Plante (32nd, Florida)
Best goalies: Price, Rask, Jonathan Quick (72nd, Los Angeles), Ben Bishop (85th, St. Louis), Ondrej Pavelec (41st, Atlanta)
Price check: The 2005 draft is the exception that proves the rule – there was a goalie picked in the top five and another later in the first round, and both Price and Rask have proven to be superb selections. And when you include third-rounders Quick and Bishop, the ’05 draft produced the best crop of goalies in the 10-year range through to 2014.
First three goalies drafted: Jonathan Bernier (11th, Los Angeles), Riku Helenius (15th, Tampa Bay), Semyon Varlamov (23rd, Washington)
Best goalies: Varlamov, Bernier, Steve Mason (69th, Columbus), James Reimer (99th, Toronto), Michal Neuvirth (34th, Washington)
Strength in numbers: Four goalies went in the first round, the most of any draft from 2005 to 2014. Varlamov and Bernier continue to make a big-league impact, while Helenius and Leland Irving (26th, Calgary) played one and 13 NH games, respectively. Mason won the Calder Trophy in 2008-09 but never reached that level of success again.
First three goalies drafted: Joe Gistedt (36th, Phoenix), Antoine Lafleur (48th, NY Rangers), Trevor Cann (49th, Colorado)
Best goalies: Scott Darling (153rd, Phoenix)
From Darling to sweet nothing: When it comes to goaltending, 2007 represents the worst draft class on this list. Of the 20 goalies selected in 2007, only four saw the NHL and Darling is the only one who played more than 11 games (he played 126).
First three goalies drafted: Chet Pickard (18th, Nashville), Tom McCollum (30th, Detroit), Jacob Markstrom (31st, Florida)
Best goalies: Braden Holtby (93rd, Washington), Markstrom, Jake Allen (34th, St. Louis)
Capital gain: The two goalies drafted in the first round in 2008 played a combined three games in the NHL. The next two, Markstrom and Allen, panned out as NHL-caliber stoppers, but it’s Holtby – the 10th goaltender to be selected – who stands above the rest.
First three goalies drafted: Mikko Koskinen (31st, NY Islanders), Robin Lehner (46th, Ottawa), Anders Nilsson (62nd, NY Islanders)
Best goalies: Lehner, Darcy Kuemper (161st, Minnesota), Koskinen, Nilsson
Trending up: It wasn’t exactly a banner draft for goalies, but the ones who went earliest were basically the best of the bunch. Lehner has broken out in the past couple of seasons, Koskinen has a great opportunity in Edmonton and Nilsson is in the starting mix in Ottawa going forward. Kuemper, taken in the sixth round, emerged as a borderline Vezina Trophy candidate when thrust into the starting role in Arizona the past couple of seasons.
First three goalies drafted: Jack Campbell (11th, Dallas), Mark Visentin (27th, Phoenix), Calvin Pickard (49th, Pickard)
Best goalies: Frederik Andersen (187th, Carolina), Petr Mrazek (141st, Detroit), Philipp Grubauer (112th, Washington)
More understudy than Star: No goalie has been drafted higher than Campbell since Price went fifth overall in 2005. Campbell didn’t live up to the hype in Dallas, but he eventually found a home as backup in L.A. and then Toronto. Andersen wasn’t signed by Carolina and re-entered the 2012 draft. Mrazek had a good start to his NHL career in Detroit before cooling off, while Grubauer served as backup in Washington before signing on as Colorado’s go-to guy.
First three goalies drafted: Magnus Hellberg (38th, Nashville), John Gibson (39th, Anaheim), Christopher Gibson (49th, Los Angeles)
Best goalies: Gibson, Jordan Binnington (88th, St. Louis)
Two keepers: Three years after taking Chet Pickard in the first round, Nashville whiffed on another early goaltending selection in second-rounder Hellberg. One pick later, Anaheim landed Gibson. It took Binnington a while to arrive in the NHL, but it worked out OK for St. Louis when he finally made it.
First three goalies drafted: Andrei Vasilevskiy (19th, Tampa Bay), Malcolm Subban (24th, Boston), Oscar Dansk (31st, Columbus)
Best goalies: Vasilevskiy, Matt Murray (83rd, Pittsburgh), Connor Hellebuyck (130th, Winnipeg), Frederik Andersen (87th, Anaheim), Joonas Korpisalo (62nd, Columbus), Linus Ullmark (163rd, Buffalo)
Best crease crop since ’05: It’s not often that the first goalie selected turns out to be the best one, but Tampa Bay got it right with Vasilevskiy at the relatively high slot of 19th overall. Murray was the 10th netminder to be picked but it’s hard to argue with two Cup rings. Hellebuyck and Andersen – who went 100 spots earlier than he did in 2010 – also rate as elite.
First three goalies drafted: Zachary Fucale (36th, Montreal), Tristan Jarry (44th, Pittsburgh), Philippe Desrosiers (54th, Dallas)
Best goalies: Jarry, Juuse Saros (99th, Nashville)
Small sample size: Jarry stepped in for an injured Murray in Pittsburgh this season and ranked among the league leaders in goals-against average and save percentage. Saros has been trying for a few years to usurp Pekka Rinne in Nashville’s crease, but it hasn’t happened yet. Nobody else has done much at the NHL level to this point.
First three goalies drafted: Thatcher Demko (36th, Vancouver), Alex Nedeljkovic (37th, Carolina), Vitek Vanecek (39th, Washington)
Best goalies: Elvis Merzlikins (76th, Columbus), Demko, Igor Shesterkin (118th, NY Rangers)
Wait and see: The 2014 draft is a good example of how long it takes for goalies to break through as bona fide NHL stoppers. Six years after being selected, nobody from 2014 has emerged as a starter. But check back in a year or two, and we might be raving about Merzlikins, Demko and Shesterkin – and perhaps Ilya Sorokin (78th, NY Islanders) and Kaapo Kahkonen (109th, Minnesota), too.