Some believe this could end up being a very strong year for goaltenders in the NHL Draft. With big names like Subban, Vasilevski and Dansk towards the top of the charts, we could see more than a few goalies taken within the first two rounds. While the American goaltending draft class might be thinner than others, there are some highly intriguing netminders available from the United States.
Goalies are tough to project in terms of if and when they’ll ever make it to the NHL. There are plenty of good goaltenders that didn’t get drafted that end up signing NHL contracts later on. Even with the lack of predictability, there are four Americans that look to be solid draft picks that could develop into solid pros somewhere down the line.
I caught up with Mike Ayers, USA Hockey’s national goaltending coach and former standout netminder at University of New Hampshire, for his thoughts on this year’s crop of Draft-eligible American goaltenders. We focused mainly on those that recently participated in USA Hockey’s Under-20 goalie camp in Ann Arbor, Mich. The goalies were competing for spots at the National Junior Evaluation Camp, which had its roster unveiled Monday.
Anthony Stolarz — Corpus Christi Ice Rays (NAHL) — After having played Junior B hockey in 2010-11, Stolarz was dealt a harsh blow when he was cut by an EJHL team before this season started. The only team that was willing to take on the big netminder was the Corpus Christi Ice Rays of the North American Hockey League. It worked out for both the team and the goaltender as Stolarz has shot up the charts all season long. With his size and athleticism, there are sure to be NHL teams ready to take a chance on this netminder. USA Hockey gave Stolarz a stamp of approval by picking him for the World Junior Camp in August. He is headed to the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the fall.
The Stolarz File
Hometown: Jackson, N.J.
Height: 6’5″ Weight: 200
Stats: 50 GP, 23-22-4, 2.84 GAA, .920 SV%, 3 SO
Ayers on Stolarz: “Obviously his size, strength and athleticism are his three huge attributes. He hasn’t had a lot of goaltending coaching in his career. He’s a kid that’s open to trying to new things and expanding his repertoire of how he needs to play. He needs to control his depth better in terms of moving in and out of the net. He tends to move in and out of the net very quickly and can sometimes leave tough rebounds out in front or not track pucks extremely well. I think he’ll develop that very quickly, though. His athleticism is great and it’s a huge piece to his game, but he sometimes overuses it to the point where, he’s such a big kid and takes up so much net, he could be a little bit less agressive on pucks and use his size a little more efficiently.”
Jon Gillies — Indiana Ice (USHL) — Gillies’ game has come a long way in the last two years and he really came into his own with the Indiana Ice this year. After a disappointing showing at the Ivan Hlinka in August, Gillies put up strong numbers in the USHL. Like Stolarz, he is a big body that has a load of potential that could take a while to fully realize. The big netminder from Maine was selected to participate in the August camp in Lake Placid and will have a good shot at earning a spot for the World Junior Championship. Gillies is committed to Providence College for next season.
The Gillies File
Hometown: South Portland, Maine
Height: 6’5″ Weight: 215
Stats: 53 GP, 31-11-9, 2.77 GAA, .915 SV%, 3 SO
Ayers on Gillies: “He’s a big body, he’s athletic. He’s not as athletic as Stolarz, but he plays a little bit more of a mature game. He’s had some coaching in the past. The big thing with him is to make sure he’s confident in what he’s doing out there, from a mental side; that he’s not going to get nervous and just going to go out there and play. He’s grown up a lot in two years, there’s no question about it. Going to Providence now is going to be a good opportunity for him to go in there and play games and hopefully he takes advantage of it.”
Collin Olson — U.S. National Under-18 Team — Olson is coming off a pretty successful U18 campaign. His draft stock definitely rose after the World U18 Championship where he earned the directorate award as the tournament’s best goaltender, posting a record-tying three shutouts along the way. He is also the goaltender Ayers is most familiar with, having been his goalie coach full-time for the last year at the NTDP. Olson did not end up making the roster for the U.S. Junior camp, but Ayers said he will be monitored closely over the first half of the season and remains in the mix for a WJC spot. It might not hurt that Olson will be playing for Mark Osiecki at Ohio State University next year. Osiecki was named an assistant coach for the U.S. National Junior Team Monday.
The Olson File
Hometown: Apple Valley, Minn.
Height: 6’4″ Weight: 197
Stats: 38 GP, 19-11-1, 2.44 GAA, .902 SV%, 4 SO
Ayers on Olson: “If I were a team, I’d draft him in a second. He may not be a completely polished goaltender right now, but he’s a kid that’s going to work and work and work until he gets it. That’s not easy to find. He takes a lot of pride in his game. If he adds some confidence and swagger to his game, the sky’s the limit of him. It was tough to not invite him to the main camp, but at the same time, I know he’s going to work his tail off to get back there and have that opportunity again. He’s going to be a guy that we’re going to keep an eye on very closely moving forward.”
Connor Hellebuyck — Odessa Jackalopes (NAHL) — In his second year of eligibility, Hellebuyck turned a few heads in appearing in a staggering 53 games for Odessa this year. His big frame and convincing stat line could lead a team to take a shot on Hellebuyck in the late rounds of the NHL Draft. Hellebuyck did not earn a spot at the August camp, but Ayers has high hopes for this underrated netminder. He is headed to UMass-Lowell next year.
The Hellebuyck File
Hometown: Commerce, Mich.
Height: 6’4″ Weight: 178
Stats: 53 GP, 26-21-5, 2.49 GAA, .930 SV%, 3 SO
Ayers on Hellebuyck: “He’s a big kid that plays a more simple game than Stolarz. He’s raw, but he’s had some coaching. He has no clue how good he can be. This is all new to him. He was playing Minnesota and Michigan high school, went to Odessa’s camp, earned a spot on there and played 50-something games down there and was unbelievable for them all year. He’s a really nice kid, quiet, good demeanor. He’s very calm in the net. The big thing for him going forward is his leg strength. I don’t think he’s done a lot of weights in his career so far, so when he gets to Lowell, he’s going to see a huge change in terms of his power and explosiveness within the paint. That’s going to help pick up his game to a pretty high level. I think he’s going to be a pretty dominant kid in college moving forward.”
Among the other American netminders with a good chance at being drafted is Michael Houser from the London Knights, who was profiled on USofH here. Other Americans listed by NHL CSS in its final North American goalie rankings: Alex Lyon (23), Matt Morris (25), Charlie Lindgren (30), Joseph Young (31), and Stephon Williams (34).