NHL

Ranking the NHL's 10 Best Rookie Goaltenders

Jonathan WillisNHL National ColumnistMarch 24, 2014

Ranking the NHL's 10 Best Rookie Goaltenders

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    Dave Sandford/Getty Images

    Committing to playing a rookie goalie is always a difficult decision for an NHL franchise, because there's no margin for error: If the player isn't ready, he's going to get shelled. 

    Some of the goalies on this list have been evidence of that, but many of them have taken advantage of an opportunity to prove that they belong in the major leagues, often even forcing a trade of a freshly superfluous veteran. 

    Read on to see how we've ranked this year's group of rookie goaltenders (Note: we're using the NHL definition of rookie here, so some good first year players, such as Cam Talbot, were not included due to age).

    Unless otherwise noted, statistics are courtesy of NHL.com or HockeyDB.com and are current through the start of action on March 24. 

10. Anders Nilsson, New York Islanders

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Drafted: 62nd overall, 2009.

    Stats Line: 10GP, 3-5-2, 0.882 save percentage 

    In Brief: The Islanders drafted two big European goalies fairly early in 2009, with the 6'5" Nilsson selected one round after 6'6" Finn Mikko Koskinen. Nilsson's North American career started strongly, with him outplaying Koskinen and fellow prospect Kevin Poulin in the AHL. He's hovered around the 0.900 save percentage mark since then in the minors and got lit up in a brief NHL stint this year; he's in free-fall as a prospect. 

9. Joni Ortio, Calgary Flames

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    Terence Leung/Getty Images

    Drafted: 171st overall, 2009.

    Stats Line: 9GP, 4-4-0, 0.891 save percentage 

    In Brief: Taken much later in the same draft as Anders Nilsson, Ortio has had a better season. He excelled for the AHL's Abbotsford Heat this year, outplaying longtime journeyman Joey MacDonald, and while his NHL numbers aren't especially impressive, he's on track as a prospect. The Hockey News Future Watch 2014 suggests that his rebound control still needs work. 

8. Marek Mazanec, Nashville Predators

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    Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

    Drafted: 179th overall, 2012

    Stats Line: 25GP, 8-10-4, 0.902 save percentage

    In Brief: Mazanec was pressed into NHL duty thanks to a lengthy injury to Predators' starter Pekka Rinne, and while he didn't star in his first North American season, he held his own in a difficult situation. Blessed with exceptional size, the 22-year-old has plenty of time to improve his game and Nashville has a reputation as a goalie factory.  

7. Antti Raanta, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Len Redkoles/Getty Images

    Drafted: Undrafted free-agent signing.

    Stats Line: 21GP, 19-12-3, 0.905 save percentage. 

    In Brief: Raanta, who won pretty much every award he possibly could in Finland's top league last season, has had an uneven campaign for Chicago. If we split his season in half, he allowed two-or-fewer goals in 10 of his first 11 games and posted a 0.920 save percentage. In the last 10, he's allowed three-or-more goals in half his games and posted an 0.886 save percentage. 

6. Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings

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    Dave Sandford/Getty Images

    Drafted: 141st overall, 2010.

    Stats Line: 8GP, 1-4-0, 0.916 save percentage.

    In Brief: Mrazek opened the eyes of many when he starred at the 2012 World Juniors, being named the tourney's best goalie on an otherwise disappointing Czech squad. Since then he's progressed nicely, posting solid totals in his first two AHL seasons and filling in nicely at the major league level when called upon. He's probably ready for a backup job now and looks likely to eventually replace Jimmy Howard as Detroit's starter.

5. Philipp Grubauer, Washington Capitals

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    Len Redkoles/Getty Images

    Drafted: 112th overall, 2010. 

    Stats Line: 14GP, 6-5-5, 0.925 save percentage. 

    In Brief: Grubauer is the latest in a long line of very strong Capitals goalie prospects. His development has been slowed by injury and lockout (he was ready for the AHL in 2012-13 but was held back) but showed this season he was capable of stepping into the NHL fire if needed.  

4. Eddie Lack, Vancouver Canucks

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    Drafted: Undrafted free-agent signing

    Stats Line: 14-14-4, 0.915 save percentage. 

    In Brief: Lack was extremely impressive early on in Vancouver, and his strong play was undoubtedly a contributing factor in the Canucks' trade of Roberto Luongo. He hasn't looked good without a veteran safety net, though. At the time of the deal, Lack had a 0.926 save percentage; in the nine games since he's gone 5-4-0 but with a 0.882 save percentage. 

3. Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Drafted: 87th overall, 2012 (re-entered after originally being selected 187th overall in 2010 by Carolina).

    Stats Line: 23GP, 16-5-0, 0.924 save percentage. 

    In Brief: Denmark's greatest goaltender forced his way into the NHL this season, taking advantage of injury to show the Ducks that they couldn't keep him in the minors. Anaheim eventually moved Viktor Fasth to Edmonton to make room for Andersen, and the 6'4" goalie looks like he's in the NHL to stay.

    One problem: He's caught between a rock (established starter Jonas Hiller) and a hard place (John Gibson, one of the NHL's best prospects) on the depth chart and may find himself following Fasth out of town as a result. 

2. Darcy Kuemper, Minnesota Wild

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    Drafted: 161st overall, 2009.

    Stats Line: 23GP, 12-6-4, 0.922 save percentage. 

    In Brief: Nobody expected Darcy Kuemper to take the No. 1 job in Minnesota this season, and as recently as a few months ago the question was whether the Wild had made a mistake in dealing their other goalie prospect (Matt Hackett) to Buffalo last year. Kuemper's been thrown in the fire thanks to injury, but he's been stellar.

    Minnesota likely wouldn't be in one of the wild-card spots in the competitive West if not for Kuemper's performance. 

1. Martin Jones, Los Angeles Kings

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Drafted: Undrafted free-agent signing.

    Stats Line: 16GP, 10-5-0, 0.932 save percentage. 

    In Brief: Like other goalies on this list, Jones too forced a trade this season, convincing Kings management that he was ready for the backup job and that Ben Scrivens could be moved down the line. The WHL's top goalie in 2010 was never drafted but immediately had success in the AHL, and after four strong seasons at that level he has fully earned an NHL job. 

     

    For more by Jonathan Willis, follow him on Twitter.

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