Bolt Prospects 2012 NHL Entry Draft Coverage: Goaltenders
Bolt Prospects' draft coverage begins with the goaltending position, which has been a perennial sore spot since the founding of the franchise. With the exception of short runs by Darren Puppa in the early days of the team and Nikolai Khabibulin leading up to the team's Stanley Cup run in 2003-2004, the Lightning have always seemed to face uncertainty between the pipes. The inability of the team to draft and develop goaltenders has been central to this frustration, as the best the Lightning have been able to do is short runs as NHL backup goaltenders by the likes of Zac Bierk, Frederik Norrena, and Karri Ramo. An examination of the Lightning's draft picks reveals a large reason why the Lightning have had such little success: since the team's inception, they've only expended top-60 picks on goaltenders twice -- on Tyler Moss in 1993 and on Riku Helenius in 2006.
Surveying the team's current situation, even after the acquisition of 24-year-old Anders Lindback from Nashville, uncertainty still rules the day. Lindback is a huge, athletic specimen selected in the seventh round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. But, he's an unknown quantity as an NHL starter with just 31 NHL decisions to his name. Behind Lindback the Lightning look likely to retain journeyman veteran Mathieu Garon, who has remained the definition of streakiness throughout his career and who becomes a UFA in the summer of 2013. In the system, the Lightning have unprecedented depth at the position, but lack any players who might be considered a "sure thing." The team got a huge bonus with the sudden re-emergence of Helenius with JYP this past season. Helenius' play was sublime en-route to an SM-liiga championship, but it's a real question mark what the team will do with the big butterfly goalie. If he doesn't find a way to take Garon's job in camp, will he push to go back to Europe for a season or will he force another good prospect out of ice time at the AHL level?
Fresh off an AHL championship, Dustin Tokarski finds himself in the unenviable position of needing to climb over both Garon and Helenius to get to the NHL this season. Tokarski fell flat in his audition with the Lightning late in the year, but it's hard to match the kind of numbers he put up with Norfolk in the Eastern Conference Finals and Calder Cup Finals. Behind Tokarski was Jaroslav Janus, arguably the organization's most athletic goaltending prospect. He shined down the stretch of the year and in brief action in the playoffs, but desperately needs starting minutes to take the next step in his development. Could a stint in Europe be in Janus' future? At the ECHL level, forgotten prospect Pat Nagle had an underwhelming rookie year and sat backup for most of Florida's Kelly Cup championship run.
Where the Lightning should feel some urgency going into this draft is in looking at what they have behind their glut of 22-24 year old netminder prospects, which is not much. The team drafted Adam Wilcox last year, and he's set to begin his career at the University of Minnesota next year, but that's it. Wilcox is an athletic young long shot who was trapped for much of the past two years in a backup role for Green Bay of the USHL before being traded to Tri-City, where he performed well but struggled to register victories behind a lesser Storm club.
There's two schools of thought when it comes to drafting goaltenders. One says it's foolish to use high picks on a position that often doesn't reach maturity until well over a half decade after selection. This view is supported by the high number of NHLers like Lindback who were not high picks. The other school of thought says that, based on the numbers, your highest chances of finding an NHL starter is still in the top-60 picks. Looking for clues on what Steve Yzerman's philosophy might be, it's important to note that current Red Wings starter Jimmy Howard was taken just outside the top-60, and the Wings have only used one top-60 pick on a goaltender in their last 10 drafts. So, Yzerman appears to come from the first school of thought. Still, the need to fill holes behind the current pro-level prospects the team has and the lingering uncertainty the team has in nets at the NHL level could still lead to the Lightning using one of their high picks on a blue chip goaltender prospect. With that in mind, here are the three goaltenders we think have a chance of hearing their name called on Day One:
G Andrey Vasilevski, 6'3" 204 lbs, Ufa Jr. (RUS Jr.), Catches: Left
CSS #1 European Goaltender, ISS #3 Goaltender, RLR #10 Overall, THN #21 Overall, TSN #24 Overall
If his name was Andy Smith, Andrey Vasilevski would probably be a serious threat to go in the lottery portion of the first round. As it is, the young man, who may be the finest goaltending prospect Russia has ever produced, is speculated to be a mid first round to early second round selection. His game is outstanding, with great athleticism and size balanced by calm positioning and mechanics and the kind of rebound control you rarely see from a young prospect. He does sometimes play too deep in his crease, like many young goalies, and he struggles handling the puck, but he's drawn comparisons to Carey Price for a reason. He's good. The problem is, the team that selects Vasilevski will likely have to leave him in Russia to develop for several seasons before bringing him to North America, unless Vasilevski, and Ufa, for that matter, consent to letting him come play junior hockey in North America. That's quite the gamble for any team, but perhaps less so for one that holds a pair of first round picks?
G Malcolm Subban, 6'1" 188 lbs, Belleville (OHL), Catches: Left
CSS #1 North American Goaltender, ISS #2 Goaltender, RLR #69 Overall, THN #48 Overall, TSN #25 Overall
One of the real wild cards of the draft is Malcolm Subban of Belleville, brother of Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban. Opinions vary wildly about the goaltender, who is seen as the most athletic and acrobatic in this class. Probably relating to his current inconsistency, some teams like his positioning and technique and some teams believe him to be a flopper who relies far too much on his reflexes and athleticism to bail him out. One thing all scouts seem to agree upon is Subban's glove hand needs considerable improvement, as does his rebound control and puck handling. The team that takes Subban will do so believing they have the goaltending coach to hone Subban into a diamond. Given the Lightning's long term struggles in goal, is that really Tampa Bay?
G Oscar Dansk, 6'2" 186 lbs, Brynas Jr. (SWE Jr.), Catches: Left
CSS #2 European Goaltender, ISS #1 Goaltender, RLR #31 Overall, THN #44 Overall, TSN #35 Overall
Every season there seems to be a late mover from the European ranks based on their U18 World Junior Championships performance and this year's may be Oscar Dansk. Dansk isn't your typical European, though, as he spent two years in prep hockey at Shattuck St. Mary's in North America before heading back to Sweden this past season. Although he was somewhat ordinary for Brynas' junior team, he was excellent in four starts for Sweden in the U18's before the team ended their tournament with a 7-0 defeat to USA in the Gold Medal Match. He has most of the tools you want in a goaltender, with good size, positioning, and mechanics. Like many young goalies, he needs to work on his rebound control and puck handling, but there's a lot to like with Dansk. And, with Dansk likely to return to North America to play Canadian junior hockey next year, he seems to be less of a risk than Vasilevski or even Malcolm Subban.