The NHL's Most Exciting Goaltender Prospects

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor ISeptember 12, 2013

The NHL's Most Exciting Goaltender Prospects

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    One thing that makes pro sports so tough is how much competition there is for jobs. Each year, a new crop of eager and talented players comes to challenge existing players at every level for roster spots. Here is a look at the NHL's 20 most exiting goalie prospects.

    To qualify for this list, a player cannot have played more than a handful of games at the NHL level and must be considered a prospect by scouts, coaches and hockey people.

    A player's long-term potential is the most important factor in making this list. Some prospects may be ready sooner, but how will they fare over the course of their careers?

    Feel free to comment and mention any players you feel deserve a spot on this list. As always, indicate why you feel your choice should make the list and who you would remove from the list if you added the player you chose.

20. Magnus Hellberg

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    Magnus Hellberg is expected to open the season as Pekka Rinne's backup with the Predators.

    The 22-year-old Swede has yet to play in the NHL, but last season had impressive numbers with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL, going 22-13-0 with a 2.14 GAA and a save percentage of .924.

    Hellberg has good size at 6'5". The Predators have favored big goalies with former backup Anders Lindback standing 6'6" and starter Pekka Rinne measuring at 6'5".

    Hellberg probably won't be a major factor since Rinne tends to play 65-70 games per season if he is healthy, but he should get his feet wet at the NHL level this year.

19. Oscar Dansk

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    The Blue Jackets drafted Stockholm native Oscar Dansk in the second round of the 2012 NHL draft.

    Dansk struggled a bit in his first year in North America. He played for the OHL's Erie Otters and posted a 4.11 GAA and a save percentage of .888. While those numbers are not overly impressive, he received very little help from a weak team in front of him.

    Dansk plays the butterfly style well and is considered to be an athletic goalie with a bright future.

    At 19, Dansk is still a few years away from reaching the NHL. Expect him to go to the minors for at least a season or two for seasoning.

18. Sami Aittokallio

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    Sami Aittokallio made his NHL debut with the Avalanche last season, playing 49 minutes and allowing just two goals.

    Don't expect the Finnish netminder to be a permanent NHL player for another few years, however. He is still just 21 and needs to mature a bit more.

    Aittokallio remains inconsistent. He often comes up with some spectacular saves, but then can whiff on a shot he really should have stopped.

    He played 27 games with Lake Erie of the AHL last season and finished with a 14-12-1 record, a 3.00 GAA and a save percentage of .899.

    He is considered the top goalie prospect in the Avalanche system, slightly ahead of Spencer Martin.

17. Chris Driedger

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    The Ottawa Senators selected Chris Driedger in the third round of the 2012 NHL draft.

    Driedger has spent the last two seasons with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL. He finished last season with a healthy 36-14-4 record, a 2.51 GAA and a save percentage of .915.

    The Winnipeg native rose to the occasion in the Memorial Cup Playoffs, putting up a 2.39 GAA and a .931 save percentage while going 11-4-2 and registering one shutout.

    Driedger plays his angles well and has very little wasted movement out on the ice. He needs to improve his consistency and gain more experience before he can reach the NHL, which is probably about three years down the road.

16. Anders Nilsson

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    Islanders' prospect Anders Nilsson has the size that scouts like and was an impressive prospect, but injuries hindered his development.

    Last season, Nilsson was limited to just 21 games due to injury. He returned late in the season to play two games after a return to health and he played well, which definitely was encouraging to the Isles organization.

    Due to repeated injuries to Rick DiPietro, Nilsson played in four NHL games in 2011-12, but that was purely on a fill-in basis.

    So far this year, he has looked good at the Isles' rookie camp and seems to have regained his confidence.

    Nilsson is very athletic and projects a calmness that is reassuring to most teammates. Assuming he can stay healthy, he has a chance to reach the NHL in another year or two.

15. Matt Hackett

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    If the Buffalo Sabres end up trading Ryan Miller as part of their rebuilding program, Jhonas Enroth will take over as the starter and Matt Hackett would be most likely take over as the backup.

    The Sabres acquired Hackett in the deal that sent Jason Pominville to Minnesota at last year's trade deadline.

    Hackett has played 13 games in the NHL, with 12 of them coming back in 2011-12 with the Wild.

    He plays a butterfly style and has excellent lateral movement and athleticism.

    At 23, Hackett is NHL-ready now and just waiting for his chance.

14. Calvin Pickard

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    The Colorado Avalanche grabbed Calvin Pickard in the second round of the 2010 NHL draft.

    The 21-year-old Winnipeg native had mixed results in his first full pro season, but the encouraging thing was he finished a lot stronger than he started. His final numbers with the Lake Erie Monsters included a 20-19-5 record, a 2.47 GAA and a save percentage of .918.

    Pickard is athletic and anticipates well so he is rarely caught out of position. He needs to work on not letting in soft goals at inopportune times.

    The Avalanche expect Pickard to be NHL-ready by 2014-15, so this should be his last full year in the minors if he continues to develop.

13. Darcy Kuemper

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    Injuries to the Wild's goaltenders last season gave Darcy Kuemper a chance to make his NHL debut, and the Saskatoon native didn't disappoint. In six games, Kuemper went 3-1-2 with a 2.08 GAA and a save percentage of .916.

    Kuemper performed even better with the AHL's Houston Aeros, finishing with a 1.88 GAA and a .934 save percentage in 21 contests.

    Kuemper has a big frame at 6'5" and is not easily beaten by a shooter's dekes. He plays the butterfly style and has a quick glove hand.

    With Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding ahead of him, Kuemper will probably spend one more year in the minors before seriously challenging for a full-time NHL job.

12. Mark Visentin

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    The Coyotes selected Mark Visentin in the first round of the 2010 NHL draft with the 27th overall pick.

    In his first pro season, the Waterdown, Ontario, native played 30 games for the AHL's Portland Pirates and had a 2.98 GAA and a save percentage of .903.

    Visentin often makes highlight-reel saves with his quick reflexes. He is quick to poke-check the puck away from potential shooters and has very good movement for a 6'2", 200-pound goalie.

    Last year, Visentin played roughly half of his team's games. The expectation for this season is that he'll take over as the starter in the AHL before seriously challenging for an NHL job in a year or two.

    He needs to improve at making saves to his blocker side and to demonstrate his ability to come through in big games to take his game to the next level.

11. Philipp Grubauer

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    Philipp Grubauer made his NHL debut last season, appearing in a pair of games when injuries felled Washington's top two goalies. The German native had a respectable .915 save percentage and a 3.67 GAA.

    Grubauer's AHL numbers were stronger. In 28 games for Hershey, the 21-year-old had a GAA of 2.25 and a .919 save percentage.

    Grubauer is athletic and has quick reflexes. He has yet to play more than 56 games in a season (which he did last year between the ECHL, AHL and his brief NHL stint), so some scouts question whether he is ready to actually play 60-plus regular-season games before leading a team on a long postseason run.

    He is probably about three seasons away from full-time NHL duty, in part because the Caps have a pair of young goalies at the NHL level in Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth.

10. Eric Comrie

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    The Jets selected Eric Comrie in the second round of this summer's NHL draft with the 59th overall pick.

    Comrie got off to a quick start last season with the WHL's Tri-City Americans, going 20-14-3 with a 2.62 GAA and a .915 save percentage.

    Unfortunately, Comrie's season ended in January when he was injured and required season-ending hip surgery.

    Comrie is still just 18 and is at least two years away from seriously contending for an NHL job. He has excellent lateral movement and is very popular with his teammates for his enthusiasm for the game. He does need to bulk up and learn to control his emotions a bit at times.

    Assuming he makes a full recovery from the hip injury, Comrie should have a bright future.

9. Eddie Lack

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    Eddie Lack should be Roberto Luongo's backup in Vancouver this season now that the Canucks have dealt Cory Schneider to New Jersey.

    Lack is older for a prospect at 25, and the Swede will finally get a chance to play in the NHL this year.

    His 2012-13 season with the AHL's Chicago Wolves was limited to just 13 games when he was injured and needed hip surgery. The previous year, he had a 2.31 GAA and a .925 save percentage, solid numbers which gave the Canucks confidence in his future.

    Lack has great size at 6'4" and a calm attitude that helps give his teammates confidence. Establishing himself as an NHL goaltender is the last hurdle in his career.

8. Frederik Andersen

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    The Anaheim Ducks are well-stocked in net with veterans Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth at the NHL level and a pair of highly touted prospects ready to step in, including Frederik Andersen.

    The Ducks drafted the Danish netminder in the third round of the 2012 draft. Last year, Andersen played his first season in North America and did rather well with the Norfolk Admirals. He finished with a 2.19 GAA and a save percentage of .929.

    Andersen spent a season in the Swedish Elite League, so he's already played against adults and done well. He has excellent size for a goalie at 6'3" and nearly 250 pounds. He plays the angles well and just needs a little more consistency to make himself NHL-ready.

7. Tristan Jarry

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    With starter Marc-Andre Fleury struggling in the playoffs and backup Tomas Vokoun getting up there in years, the Penguins grabbed Tristan Jarry in the second round of this summer's draft with the 44th overall selection.

    Jarry put up stellar numbers with the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings last season, finishing with a 1.61 GAA and a .936 save percentage.

    Jarry has contagious confidence and is very competitive on the ice. He just needs to add size and experience to be able to play in the NHL. That is still about three seasons away at this point, as Jarry is still just 18.

6. Jack Campbell

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    The Dallas Stars grabbed Jack Campbell with the 11th overall selection in the 2010 NHL draft.

    Scouts are highly divided on Campbell's future. Some love his confidence and his ability to make the tough save look routine. Others say he is cocky and note that his stock in the annual "Future Watch" issue of The Hockey News has dropped over the past three years from 10th in the league to 41st and now to 72nd.

    Last season, the 6'3", 185-pound Port Huron, Mich., native finished with a 2.65 GAA and a .905 save percentage with the Texas Stars of the AHL. His record was 19-13-3.

    Campbell is probably another year or two away from reaching the NHL.

5. Petr Mrazek

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    Petr Mrazek is the highest-rated goalie prospect in the Red Wings' organization.

    The native of the Czech Republic made his NHL debut last season, appearing in two games for Detroit and playing well in both contests.

    Mrazek had a good season with Grand Rapids of the AHL, although he struggled a bit late in the season.

    He is very cool under pressure and anticipates well. At 6'1", 185 pounds, he could use a little more bulk to play at the next level. Thus far, he has played very well at the AHL level.

    Most scouts feel Mrazek is about a year away from being NHL-ready.

4. Zachary Fucale

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    Zachary Fucale was the top-ranked goalie prospect in the 2013 NHL draft, and the Canadiens grabbed him with the 36th overall pick.

    Fucale has quick reflexes and excellent concentration. Once his body fills out, he should also have good size.

    He needs to improve his lateral movement a bit, but with the proper coaching and some more experience, he should become a successful NHL goalie.

    Right now, the Rosemere, Quebec, native is two or three years away from reaching the NHL. But Habs fans are eager to watch him develop.

3. Andrey Vasilevskiy

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning grabbed Russian netminder Andrey Vasilevskiy with the 19th overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft.

    Vasilevskiy had a strong showing for the Russians at the World Junior championships, helping the team win a bronze medal.

    He finished the season in the KHL and played well despite the fact that he was only 18 at the time.

    Vasilevskiy already stands 6'3" and weighs 210 pounds, and should continue to develop physically.

    He will probably be ready for NHL-level competition in two years if the Bolts can convince him to come and play in the NHL.

2. Malcolm Subban

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    The Boston Bruins grabbed Malcolm Subban with the 24th overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft.

    Subban is athletic and a fierce competitor who never stops fighting to stop pucks.

    He had an outstanding season for the Belleville Bulls of the OHL least year, finishing with a 2.14 GAA and a .934 save percentage while taking his game a step higher in the playoffs. Unfortunately for Canada, Subban was less sharp at the WJC, although his strong playoff performance helped re-establish his reputation among many scouts.

    With some more experience and time to bulk up just a bit, Subban should join his brother P.K. in the NHL in about two years.

1. John Gibson

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    John Gibson is only 20, but he already has a reputation for coming up big when his team is playing in big games.

    The Pittsburgh native played incredibly at the 2013 WJC for the United States and followed that up with a very strong playoff performance for Kitchener last season.

    The Ducks' top overall prospect made his pro debut last season, playing two periods for the Norfolk Admirals.

    Gibson has good size at 6'3" and 212 pounds. Perhaps a little more attention to detail and experience are the only things standing between him and a very bright future in the NHL. He is about two seasons away from being ready to play in the world's best league.

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