Watching the NHL playoffs this year proved, once again, that goalie is the most important position in hockey.
A great goalie can anchor a defense, allowing more of his teammates to play forward, and more aggressively at that, like Bordeur did this postseason.
Or a goalie can simply put the team on his back and shut down each and every offense he faces, like Jon Quick accomplished this postseason.
Most of all, the 2012 playoffs was a reminder of how quickly a goalie can go from an average NHL goalie to a completely dominate NHL superstar.
Here are four young goalies available in free agency this offseason who could potentially take the NHL by storm in the near future.
Josh Harding is a young guy who has been playing cleanup duty on the Wild for the better part of seven seasons now. He has been okay in the NHL thus far, with a 41-51 record, a 91.6 save percentage and 2.65 goals against average. At only 28 years old, he has the time to develop within a system if given an opportunity to start.
Harding had a very successful career leading up to the NHL. In the juniors, he won the Del Wilson award as well as the Four Broncos Memorial trophy in 2003 as the league's most outstanding goalie and the league MVP. He also excelled in the minor leagues, playing for the Minnesota Wild’s farm team, the Houston Aeros. During his two year tenure in Houston, Harding finished with a 50-25 record, 92.4 save percentage, 2.34 goals against average, six shutouts and the franchise record for most saves in a single game with 56.
Harding is just the type of young goaltender who, once he finds his confidence and gets in a rhythm as a starter, can get hot and dominate a game, a series or even a season.
Cedrick Desjardins is a totally unknown goalie with only two game of NHL experience. However, he has shown extremely explosive capabilities.
He won the Hap Emms Memorial Trophy as the best goalie in the Canadian hockey league in 2006, as well as the Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial award in the American Hockey League, as the goaltender with the lowest goals against average. As the trophies suggest, Desjardins has had some incredible seasons in the minor leagues. Last year with the Lake Erie Monsters he posted a 16-11 record, 2.11 goals against average and a 93.2 save percentage.
At 26 years old he could mature into a very scary goaltender with the right team. Desjardins has all the talent and athleticism necessary to be a great goalie, he just needs the opening to get in net on a regular basis and showcase his skills.
Mark Dekanich is another quality young goalie not on a lot of people’s radar with a seriously high ceiling.
During his three seasons in the minor leagues with the Milwaukee Admirals, he averaged a 92.2 save percentage and a ridiculous 2.14 goals against average. While his performance has been a little inconsistent during his career, at only 26 years old, whatever team decides to pick him up has the time to develop his talent and slowly evaluate his ability to be a starter. This kid is extremely athletic and has a ton of talent in net. With some more experience and NHL coaching, Dekanich could become a top-flight goaltender and do so in hurry.
Chad Johnson is yet another young goalie buried on his team’s depth chart but who is still very capable of having a breakout season in the NHL.
Johnson played well at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, where he improved in each statistical category every year of collegiate career. In his senior season, he posted a 94.0 save percentage, a 1.66 goals against average and six shutouts.
After graduating, Johnson was able to carry his collegiate success into the minors where he played for the Hartford Wolfpack. In his first and only year in the minors, he had a 91.1 save percentage, a 2.35 goals against average, three shutouts and a 24-18-2 record.
In his short career in the NHL (5 games), Johnson proved that he can play in the majors, posting similar numbers to his minor league days. But with Lundqvist clearly the top dog in New York, Johnson will have to look for his starting opportunity elsewhere. He is a heck-of-a goalie with all the ability to have breakout season in the NHL. At only 26 years old, he just needs an opportunity to find his confidence as a starting goalie and prove his worth in the NHL.
There have been some great young goalies in the past who have come into the league and instantly made their presence felt. Some like Patrick Roy, seem to never lose their groove and become the staple of multiple Stanley cups teams. Others, like Jean-Sebastian Giguere or Cam Ward, have one or two incredible seasons but never seem to regain that same momentum throughout the rest of their careers. Therefore, teams are constantly re-evaluating their situation in net and looking for immediate results.
One thing is for sure, some of the goalies mentioned above will never truly make it in the NHL, however all have the talent to succeed and when put in the right situation, like Jon Quick was this year, any of them could take the league by storm.