Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Should the Sabres move up to land the top goalie prospect?

Reprinted with permission from

If any team knows about the ups, downs and sheer wackiness that can occur between the pipes, it's the Philadelphia Flyers.

From the tragedy of Pelle Lindberg to Ron Hextall, to Roman Chechmanek, the 2011 goaltending roulette wheel, Ilya Bryzgalov and now Steve Mason, the Flyers have tried nearly every possibility to rectify their goaltending situation since Bernie Parent ruled the net during their Cup-winning days.

Although Mason is locked in as the starter right now, Philly's depth at goaltending is pretty thin and Flyers blogger Bill Meltzer believes that the team will draft a goalie. The question for him is, where should they take one?

Meltzer is leery of using a first round pick on a goaltender. His premise is simple. It's tough to project an 18 yr. old skater, and it's even tougher when it comes to an 18 yr. old goalie. Drafting a goalie not only takes the most guesswork, but the incubation period for a goaltender takes the longest of any position.

Five years down the road that top prospect may end up being a bust, whilst his lower round counterpart may be playing in the NHL.

At one point in time the Flyers stocked up on goalies using two firsts and the top pick in the second round over the span of five years to shore up their organizational depth in goal.

But as the "vicissitudes" of goaltender drafting and development would dictate, one of those top picks had a great rookie year then faded away, and the other two became career minor leaguers.

The Buffalo Sabres waltz into Philly on June 27th with the No. 2 overall pick and three second rounders (Nos. 31, 39, 49.)

Should GM Tim Murray not maneuver his way back into the middle of the first round, one of the top two goalie prospects in the draft should be available to them around the 31st pick.

Right now the Sabres have solid organizational depth in goal to the point where Matt Hackett is in no-man's land. The 2009 3rd round pick (77th overall) is 24 yrs. old and is a restricted free agent. Although he had a rough go of it in Rochester, he played well when opportunity knocked with the big club late in the season.

Goalies Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth are set to be the tandem in Buffalo right now. Nathan Lieuwen (2011, #167) surpassed Hackett in Rochester and comes in as the Amerks #1 goalie while 2012 free agent Andrey Makarov forced his way into the equation with a stellar late season run followed by a strong playoff performance.

Rounding out the ranks are prospects Linus Ullmark (2012, #163) and Cal Peterson (2013, #129.) Ullmark has one more year overseas in the Swedish Elite League while Peterson will be headed to Notre Dame as a freshman this coming season.

Both Meltzer and Kris Baker of agree that the perils of drafting (and developing) a goalie would dictate that a team take a goalie nearly every year.

But should the Sabres draft a goalie with one of their second round picks? Should they trade up to land the top goalie prospect this year, Thatcher Demko? Or should the team continue what they've done the last two drafts--load up on skaters then use a lower round pick on a goaltender?

Baker made a good point. He said that the Sabres, conceivably could get their top-rated forward (or top rated defensemen) with the 2nd overall pick then turn around and get the top-rated goalie somewhere in the lower first or at the top of the second round.

And he also points out that although the Sabres are deep in net, as of now none of their goalies has separated themselves from the pack as a bonafide #1. Grabbing a top-ranked goalie with #1 starter potential makes sense when compared to drafting skaters who may project out as bottom-six forwards or bottom-pairing d-men.

Makes sense until you factor in the crapshoot of picking a goalie within the crapshoot of drafting 18 yr. olds.

Demko comes in as the #27 prospect in Baker's mock draft for At nearly 6'4" and weighing in at 192 lbs. Demko has the size that Murray seems to like between the pipes.

Amongst Demko's attributes, according to Baker is that he has long limbs and good fundamentals. He's composed. Uses his size well. Tracks the puck well and has "above average quickness for a player his size."

Demko is at the top of Central Scouting Services final North American goalie rankings. But there are a couple of others that are in the mix as well.

CSS's top mid-term goalie was Portland Winter Hawk's Alex Nedeljkovic. He presently tops Craig Button's goalie list coming in at #26 overall.

Button had Demko third behind Nedeljkovic, and Charlottetown's Mason McDonald.

Nedeljkovic, it would seem is being held back by his size, a shade under 6'0", but is extremely quick and athletic plus he's the best puck-handler of the lot.

Although it would seem as if Demko is the consensus top goalie, at one point McDonald was closing in according to Central Scouting's Al Jensen. He likened McDonald to Philly's Steve Mason.

Jensen (and Baker) clearly sees Demko as a cut above the 2014 goalie class and Jensen believes he'll be the first American-born goalie taken in the first round since Jack Campbell was taken 11th by the Dallas Stars in 2010.

Seems like a slam dunk. If Buffalo has a shot at moving up a hair to land the top goalie in the class, and if he's the best player on their board, then they should probably go for it.

But they might want to either use assets to move up for a skater or stand pat while letting a goalie drop to them in the second. Goalies, it would seem, are going the way of the running back in the NFL when it comes to the draft.

Since Marc-Andre Fleury was taken first-overall in 2003, no goalie has been taken higher than #5 (Carey Price, 2005.)

In the years following the Fleury pick, no goalie has been drafted higher than #11--Jonathan Bernier, 2006 and Campbell.

And since 2006 when four goalies were taken in the first round, the most number of goalies taken in the first round was two (2008, 2010, 2012) and at the other four drafts no goalie was taken in the first round (2007, 2009, 2011, 2013.)

The two goalies battling it out for the Cup this year are 3rd-rounder Jonathan Quick, (LAK, 2005 #72) and 7th-rounder Henrik Lundqvist (NYR, 2000 #205.) Quick supplanted former 1st-round pick Bernier for the #1 spot on the Kings and was the Conn Smythe Winner in 2012 when LA won their first Cup in franchise history.

When it comes to the enigma that's wrapped in a riddle that is the goalie, you can't rely on first round projections at the draft. Looking back on the last 15 years, it's permeated with first round busts, career AHL'ers, back-ups and average goalies to the point where you may as well put names on a dart board when drafting a goalie.

Sitting with the 31st pick in the draft this year, if the Sabres wanted to land a top goalie prospect like Demko, they would be able to use a couple of their second rounders to move up.

Should they?

They might be better off seeing what drops to them in the second round or even waiting until the latter rounds like they did with Ullmark and Peterson.

Two years ago the Sabres hired Fredrick Andersson as an overseas scout. He's scanning northern Europe, among other areas, looking for gems. It was two years ago that he found Ullmark and had the team bring him in for the Sabres Draft Combine.

They liked what they saw and plucked Ullmark in the sixth round.

Last year Sabres US Scouting Coordinator Toby O'Brien and his scouts followed Peterson playing for the Waterloo Iowa Black Hawks of the USHL. Like Ullmark the previous year, they brought Peterson in for their Draft Combine and ended up snaring him later in the draft with a fifth round pick.

Unfortunately the Sabres won't have the benefit of holding their own Draft Combine this year as it was deemed an "unfair advantage" by the NHL.

Nevertheless they still have Andersson and O'Brien keeping their eye's peeled for goaltenders. And they also will be walking into the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia with five of the first 61 picks in this year's draft.

Plus, because of an expanded scouting department, they have scouts whose eyes are trained almost exclusively towards the 2015 draft class, which would offer another possibility for the team--waiting until next year and use one of their three first rounders a goalie.

The Buffalo Sabres, like the Philadelphia Flyers, will more than likely end up taking a goalie at the 2014 Draft.

What method Murray and Co. end up using will be interesting to see. Will they make a move for the top-rated North American goalie, work with whomever drops to the second round, wait for a lower round Northern European? A dartboard?

Sometimes, as the Flyers well know, luck and/or fate may be more of a defining factor than anything else when it comes to drafting goalies.

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