A goaltender in hockey is as important as a quarterback in football. Without a good one, your team is a rudderless ship. The Leafs have been drifting since the lockout.
Earlier in the week Brendan looked at some of the moves Brian Burke has made in acquiring goaltending prospects. He pointed out that Burke had done well to pickup goaltending prospects at no cost particularly in view of the fact that he had already brought in the world's best goaltending coach in Francois Allaire.
He also noted that picking goaltending prospects is a bit of a crap shoot. You could get Marc-Andre Fleury at number one overall or in the same year you could get Halak at 271. Both are good goalies but the assets used to acquire them vary widely.
Given the apparent randomness that we see with goaltending prospects, having a girth of them is a positive. But what exactly do we have? Who are the comparables? What, exactly, should Leaf fans be hoping for from these free assets? We'll have a look at some numbers below.
The first numbers I'd like to look at are these; 8.0, 7.5, 7.0. Those are the Hockey's Future prospect rankings for Gustavsson, Rynnas and Reimer respectively.
These numbers translate into some pretty high calibre prospects. Gustavsson is the 24th rated prospect in the NHL, regardless of system, based on the rankings provided by Hockey's Future. This makes him the fifth ranked goalie prospect in the league behind Varlamov, Rask, Bernier and Markstrom - that's pretty good company. At the other end of the spectrum, a goalie that achieves a 7.0 ranking would be described by HF as a "journeyman #1". Keeping in mind that ideally this guy will be number two behind Gustavsson, he would certainly be a + back-up in the NHL.
The other numbers I'd like to look at are these; 5.3 and 151.5. If you look at the top 20 goaltenders in wins last year, they averaged being drafted in the 5th round or 151st overall. Of the top 20, three were undrafted and six others were drafted in the 7th round or later.
The point here is that not all talented goaltenders are identified as such in their draft years. They develop later than position players and this is where a lot of the challenges lie.
This seems to be particularly true of European goaltenders as 8 of the 9 goaltenders listed above that were drafted in the 7th round or later were European (Nabokov, Lundqvist, Rinne, Hiller, Niemi, Huet, Halak and Backstrom). It may be that the calibre of forward faced in an average night by these goaltenders is lower than what a North American goaltender would face, thereby making identifying these guys more challenging. It may be that a North American bias exists at the goaltending position. Whatever the reason, it seems that more of these guys are slipping through the cracks.
Both Rynnas and Gustavsson meet the criteria of the 8 goalies listed above.
To put this in perspective, 40% of the top 20 wins leaders last season were European goaltenders drafted in the 7th round or later (or not at all).
As Brendan alluded to, these goaltenders also have the benefit of the best coach our Teachers' Pension Plan can buy. Giguere may once again find himself being supplanted as number one by a European-born, Francois Allaire-taught goaltender as he was by Hiller over the past two seasons in Anaheim.
While Hiller and Gustavsson are different goalies, their situations are eerily similar. Hiller is two years older than Gustavsson and broke into the league three years ago, playing 23 games as Anaheim's backup. With a talented team in front of him, he put up 10 wins with a 2.06 GAA and .927 SV%. Gustavsson's numbers were less impressive (16 wins, 2.87, .902) but he wasn't exactly sheltered as Toskala's poor play thrust him into a timeshare which saw him play against strong opposition.
Hiller had the benefit of Allaire's coaching and Giguere's mentorship and Burke no doubt hopes that these two will be able to mould Gustavsson in a similar fashion. This season will be a key step in Gustavsson's development and should give Leaf fans an idea of what to expect in net moving forward.
If all goes well, Rynnas' development wont be as interesting a question in a year's time. If Gustavsson falters, we have a deep pool of goaltending prospects to fall back on - let's just hope it doesn't come to that.
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