New Beginnings in Anaheim

After a tumultuous three years playing in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, goaltender Justin Pogge has some new found optimism after being traded to the Anaheim Ducks. Once considered the goaltender of the future in Toronto, Pogge was unable to meet the high expectations that followed him after he backstopped Canada to a gold medal at the 2006 World Junior Championships.

Pogge saw limited action with the Leafs over the last few years as much of his playing time occurred at the AHL level. Unlike high draft picks like Roberto Luongo and Rick Dipietro, Justin Pogge did not initially come with the label of a being a cant miss prospect. The Leafs selected the Alberta native in the 3rd round of the 2004 draft but it was Pogge’s performance in the years following his selection where his stock began to rise.

The goaltender won numerous awards in the Canadian Hockey League and had some memorable moments on the International hockey stage. Pogge’s performance following his draft year then led former Leafs General Manager John Ferguson Jr. to trade Toronto’s other top rated goaltending prospect with the Leafs, Tuukka Rask to the Boston Bruins in 2006.

Since being traded to Boston, both Pogge and Rask have gone in opposite directions during their hockey careers. While Rask has yet to be a regular on the Boston Bruins, his lack of NHL playing time in no way reflects his development. Currently Rask is the leading candidate to be the backup to Tim Thomas this year in Boston thanks to the likely departure of Manny Fernandez who currently remains an unsigned free agent.

When pointing to the failures of former Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr., the trading of Tuuka Rask to the Bruins for Andrew Raycroft is one of those trades that clearly to his demise as GM in Toronto. Even though current Leafs GM Brian Burke inherited Pogge with the organization, both Burke and current Leafs head coach Ron Wilson have nonetheless given Pogge an opportunity to play at the NHL level.

When Pogge did get time with the big club last year, his only win came against the lowly Atlanta Thrashers in a 6-2 victory. Unfortunately for Pogge, that would be his only victory of the year as his next six starts would be dismal especially with a 6-1 loss to the hands of the defensive minded Minnesota Wild.

With a GAA of over four goals per game, Pogge’s stats were amongst some of the worst in the NHL. Pogge was not exactly endeared by Leaf fans either as the normally silent crowd at the Air Canada Center would boo the goalie after letting in a bad goal. Unfortunately for Pogge, he goes from one difficult situation in Toronto to another difficult one in Anaheim.

In order to earn a roster spot on the Ducks this season, the Alberta native has two goaltenders in front of him that will provide some stiff competition. On the one hand, there is goalie Jean Sebastien Giguere who holds a Stanley Cup ring as well as the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2003 for playoff MVP.

At the age of 32, Giguere is by no means over the hill as he is still capable of being one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL. Despite all the accolades that Giguere has received throughout his career, last year saw him sitting on the bench during the playoffs thanks to the emergence of Swiss goaltender Jonas Hiller. At 27 years of age, Hiller is much younger than Giguere and comes at a much more affordable price in comparison to the 6 million that Giguere will earn this year.

If Pogge is to have any chance of being one of the top two goaltenders in Anaheim, it could take the trading of Giguere to another team. Hiller could very likely maintain the starting job in net for the Ducks and to have Giguere at $6 million sitting on the bench seems like a bit of a waste. However, with so many teams so tight against the cap the trading of Giguere might be a bit difficult.

Unfortunately for Pogge, he might be looking at yet another season where he is once again playing the majority of his games in the AHL. If another season in the AHL is likely for Pogge, he must for the first time in his career prove that he can dominate at this level.

Many NHL goaltenders have had to master their craft in the AHL before making it to the big show so perhaps a change of scenery from hockey mad Toronto could be a significant factor in Pogge’s development.

There are so many question marks surrounding this goaltender as it will be interesting for the hockey world to watch his development over the next few years. What remains to be seen is whether we are watching a career AHL goalie or a future star in the National Hockey League.

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