While the playoff battles continue, I will continue to focus my weekly contribution to Puck Prospectus on the upcoming draft at the end of June. For the past couple weeks, I have centered my attention on the value of draft picks. More specifically, the value of first round picks and later round draft picks. During my work on these articles, I began to wonder just how valuable drafting a goaltender high in the draft can be? It seemed like for every Marc-Andre Fleury listed at the top of a draft class, I’d see a Pekka Rinne drafted in the last round.
To be fair, analyzing goaltenders has always been considered by many to be a very, very tricky task. Many times a goalie’s success is attributable more so to the team in front of him than his own natural ability. However, other times the opposite is true and the goaltender masks a team’s deficiencies (see: Henrik Lundqvist in this year’s playoffs versus Washington).
Think about it; it is hard enough to try and identify why goaltenders are successful at the NHL level, never mind determining how an 18 year old netminder playing in one of the many junior leagues will succeed five years down the road.
Do teams need to draft goaltenders high in the draft to ensure future success?
First, let’s list the “number one netminders” for each of the NHL’s thirty teams this season and in which round each goaltender was drafted (if they were drafted at all).
Northwest Calgary Vancouver Edmonton Colorado Minnesota
Starter Kiprusoff Luongo Roloson Budaj Backstrom
Drafted 5th Round 1st Round Undrafted 2nd Round Undrafted
Pacific Anaheim Los Angeles San Jose Dallas Phoenix
Starter Hiller Quick Nabokov Turco Bryzgalov
DraftedD Undrafted 3rd Round 9th Round 5th Round 2nd Round
Central Detroit Chicago St. Louis Columbus Nashville
Starter Osgood Khabibulin C. Mason S. Mason Rinne
Drafted 3rd Round 9th Round 5th Round 3rd Round 8th Round
Northeast Montreal Toronto Ottawa Buffalo Boston
Starter Price Toskala Auld Miller Thomas
Drafted 1st Round 4th Round 2nd Round 5th Round 9th Round
Atlantic NY Rangers NY Islanders Philadelphia Pittsburgh New Jersey
Starter Lundqvist DiPietro Biron Fleury Brodeur
Drafted 7th Round 1st Round 1st Round 1st Round 1st Round
Southeast Carolina Florida Tampa Bay Washington Atlanta
Starter Ward Vokoun Smith Theodore Lehtonen
Drafted 1st Round 9th Round 5th Round 2nd Round 1st Round
These statistics certainly are a bit surprising. What stands out to me is the netminders that faced each other in the first round of the NHL playoffs. Of the sixteen goalies that started the NHL playoffs, seven of them were drafted in the fifth round and after. So, surely these players were not highly sought after because if they were, they would have been drafted amongst the top 120 selections of the NHL Entry Draft.
Let’s take a closer look at the breakdown of goaltenders starting by round:
Rounds Number of goaltenders drafted
1st round 8
2nd Round 4
3rd Round 3
4th Round 1
5th Round 5
6th Round 0
7th Round 1
8th Round 1
9th Round 4
Half the netminders who were considered their team’s starters in the NHL this season were drafted in rounds many consider to be a crapshoot. In fact, five goalies were drafted in the eighth and ninth rounds (rounds which do not even exist anymore). So, in effect, there are as many goalies starting in the NHL that were drafted in the first round, as there are goalies who (by today’s draft rules) wouldn’t have been drafted at all (a.k.a.—undrafted free agents).
Actually, three goalies who were not even drafted (Backstrom, Roloson and Hiller) had dramatic effects on their team’s play to close this past season. Backstrom was nominated for the Vezina Trophy, Dwayne Roloson played almost every game for the Oilers in the second half of the season and Jonas Hiller has continued his strong regular season play with tremendous playoff play.
Before stating that all the starting goaltenders drafted high and low are essentially of equal quality, we still have to analyze the actual netminding statistics.
To best evaluate the above numbers, let’s divide the goaltending statistics from the first, second and third rounds (fifteen netminders) versus those drafted in the fourth round or later (fifteen netminders).
Wins Losses W/L Ratio Save Percentage G.A.A. Shutouts
Round Picks 2367 1752 1.35 .910 2.46 344
4th or later
Round Picks 2175 1598 1.36 .912 2.48 306
These numbers are remarkably similar. While statistics attempting to evaluate goaltenders seem to be behind those utilized for analyzing forwards or defensemen, some people consider save percentage to be the best indicator of goaltender performance, and in that regard, the goaltenders drafted lower had the edge. In terms of win/loss ratio, the numbers were almost identical with the lower drafted netminders holding a slight .01 edge over those drafted prior to the fourth round. That advantage seems to be equalized by a slight edge in goals against average for the higher drafted netminders. Overall, the numbers above probably couldn’t be more similar if we tried. Leading me to believe that there are many goaltending bargains out there, you just have to look hard to find them. Considering the cost, or lack thereof, of making such a selection, I wouldn’t be surprised to see teams look for diamonds in the rough more often than drafting a goaltender with a first round selection.
Next time your team is considering drafting a goaltender in the first round, maybe they should instead try to sign Swedish free agent netminder Jonas Gustavsson.