The most important position on an NHL team is the goaltender. A goaltender can make a mediocre team into the 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers and can turn a great team into the 1989-90 Quebec Nordiques.
One of the toughest jobs for an NHL scouting department is to get a good read on a young goaltender. Some goalies have had incredible careers before the NHL (see Blackburn, Dan), while others have been drafted later and went on to have solid NHL careers (see Roy, Patrick).
In the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, there were a surprisingly large number of European goalies taken before the first North American ‘tender was drafted by the Minnesota Wild, despite many rankings having players like Olivier Roy and Edward Pasquale ranked higher. In some cases, scouts did not like the physical shape some of the players were in, while in other cases teams did not want to waste a draft pick on a goalie they haven’t seen very much of.
Here are the top five goalies taken in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Mikko Koskinen (SM-liiga, Finland)- 2nd round (31st overall), New York Islanders
After being passed over in the 2008 NHL Draft, Koskinen’s future did not look too bright despite being ranked second among International goaltenders. His stats were unbelievable, with a .907 save percentage and 2.30 Goals Against Average in 2007-08 with the Jr. Blues in Finland and a .931 save percentage and 1.91 GAA in the highest Finnish league in 2008-09, yet scouts couldn’t seem to get a good read on him.
Koskinen’s greatest attribute is his size; at 6-foot-5, he covers the net wonderfully and takes up tons of space while in the butterfly. He has not played as many games as scouts would have liked (33 in ’08-09), yet he consistently excels in the games he does play. His only downside is his quickness and agility. He has great positioning and great hockey sense; two attributes that should help make him a successful NHL goaltender.
Robin Lehner (Frolunda, Sweden)- 2nd round (46th overall), Ottawa Senators
The top ranked European goalie by NHL Central Scouting, Lehner is a big goaltender, measuring in at 6-foot-4 and weighing a whopping 220 pounds. In the ’07-08 season, Lehner posted a .941 save percentage on Frolunda’s U-18 team. This year, however, he posted a mediocre 3.05 GAA and .903 save percentage on Frolunda Jr.; hardly numbers worth being ranked at the top of his class.
Lehner has great overall skills and uses his size to his advantage. He challenges shooters occasionally, but not consistently. He must improve his rebound control, yet he is great speed and mobility for goaltender of his size. He is expected to return to Sweden for one more year, but has not completely ruled out a year in the CHL.
Anders Nilsson (Lulea HF, Sweden)- 3rd round (62nd overall), New York Islanders
Nilsson, another big goalie at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, has had tremendous success on Lulea’s junior team, posting a .927 career save percentage and a 2.06 career GAA in 53 games; totals that include six shutouts.
Ranked as the fifth best European goalie in the draft, Nilsson was picked much earlier than expected. Nonetheless, he has good skills, challenges shooters consistently, great athleticism and has good mental focus. He also plays the game with incredible calmness, making every save seem easy.
Igor Bobkov (Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Russia)- 3rd round (76th overall), Anaheim Ducks
Going well off the board (yes, even for the third round), Anaheim decided to take the 10th ranked European goalie by Central Scouting. Bobkov played for Metallurg Magnitogorsk 2 in Russia’s third league this year.
Although his stats are not available, he is a big goaltender (6-foot-4, 192 pounds) who can move extremely well. He was named the top goaltender of the 2009 U-18 World Championships after posting a 5-2 record with a .927 save percentage. A goalie who plays the now-rare standup style, he covers a large part of the net and has extremely quick legs that can stretch out to make the save.
Bobkov must work on his technicality and ability to challenge shooters, but he could surprise a lot of people.
Matthew Hackett (Plymouth Whalers, OHL)- 3rd round (77th overall), Minnesota Wild
Hackett, the top ranked North American goaltender, helped lead Plymouth to an OHL playoff berth after posting a .913 save percentage in his third major junior season. His 3.04 goals against average was more a testament to a weak Plymouth defense rather than Hackett’s goaltending abilities. In 11 playoff games, Hackett was able to put up a .930 save percentage before losing to the eventual Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires.
Hackett, with his 6-foot-2 frame and solid positioning, led the Whalers to a 24-15-3 record this season. He has much to improve on, but his mental attitude is extraordinary and will help him get better over the next few years.