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Coyotes resume 27-year quest to draft, develop a starting goaltender

Craig Morgan Avatar
June 23, 2023

When Adin Hill won the Stanley Cup as the starting playoff goaltender for the Vegas Golden Knights on June 13, he may have jumped to the head of a dubious line. With that small-sample but monumental achievement on his résumé, Hill may be the best goaltender that the Coyotes have ever drafted.

It’s mind boggling to consider that possibility, but in 27 previous NHL drafts the Coyotes have never selected and developed a true, starting NHL goaltender. Half of their 20 overall selections at the position have never played an NHL game, and only four have made it to the 100-game threshold: Robert Esche, Louis Domingue, Scott Darling and Hill (via Hockey Reference).

The Coyotes have had no shortage of good goaltenders in their history. They arrived in the Valley with Nikolai Khabibulin, they traded for Sean Burke, they claimed Ilya Bryzgalov off waivers, they signed free agent Mike Smith, they traded for Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper, they signed Karel Vejmelka and they claimed Connor Ingram off of waivers, to name a few. 

But former NHL and Coyotes goaltender Mike McKenna still believes that the best formula for long-term success in goal is to draft and develop your own guys.

“I still think it is incredibly important to develop from within, not just to win Stanley Cups, but also to have trade capital and assets,” said McKenna, an NHL analyst for Daily Faceoff. “If you have three goaltenders or even two goaltenders that are looked upon as being capable of playing number-one minutes, you have not just your No. 1 goalie but you also have a trade asset. One team like that right now is Calgary. They’ve got three NHL goalies (Jacob Markström, Dan Vladar, Dustin Wolf) so what are they going to do? 

“You get a young goaltender in their prime when you develop them on your own — somebody who doesn’t cost you assets. Hopefully, you’re getting somebody between 24 and 28 years old that’s playing their best hockey, but you also get them in a cost-controlled setting. Those goaltenders, for the most part, have been on contracts with the same team which quite often results in a bit of a discount.”

Hill and Kuemper proved over the past two seasons that you can win a Stanley Cup with imported goaltenders. Both former Coyotes came to their Cup-winning clubs — the Golden Knights and Avalanche — via trades. Vegas gave up a fourth-round pick to extract Hill from San José after the Coyotes extracted a second-round pick from the Sharks for Hill. Kuemper produced a much bigger haul for the Coyotes

Before that, however, McKenna’s point was pronounced. The Penguins won two Cups (2016, 2017) with homegrown goalie Matt Murray and one (2009) with homegrown Marc-André Fleury. The Blackhawks won two Cups (2013, 2015) with homegrown Corey Crawford. The Kings won two Cups (2012, 2014) with homegrown Jonathan Quick. The Lightning won two Cups (2020, 2021) with homegrown Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Capitals won a Cup (2018) with homegrown Braden Holtby, the Blues won a Cup (2019) with homegrown Jordan Binnington (2019) and the Red Wings won the Cup (2009) with homegrown Chris Osgood.

Some teams such as the Avalanche, the Blackhawks of 2010 with Antti Niemi, and the Golden Knights just didn’t need elite goaltending to win a Cup.

“The system that Vegas plays under [coach Bruce] Cassidy is absolutely suffocating so when you look at the chances that Adin Hill faced — I downloaded a couple of shot maps from the games that largely showed that against Florida, the shots came from the perimeter and the rebounds were in tight so they were not elevated,” McKenna said. 

“When you’ve got a guy who’s 6-foot-6 that covers the ice so well and you let him see the puck from a distance, and then you can’t get the puck up in tight because the defensive corp and system is so good for Vegas in the way they pack the middle, that really plays to your advantage. It’s part of the reason why Adin Hill wasn’t as good with San José because San José was so loose.”

There isn’t a sure-fire No. 1 goalie in this draft, but both NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr and Flo Hockey draft analyst Chris Peters believe this is a good draft for goalies. 

“If a team takes a goalie in the first round, I would expect at least three more goalies to go in the first 10 to 15 picks the next day,” Peters said. “Any time you have more than five goalies in a draft that you would project favorably, it’s a good draft. In this draft, I think there’s probably seven or eight goalies that I could see as having NHL upside, if not a few more.

“There’s risk with every single one of them. Each of them has a little something that you don’t like. I tend not to rank a ton of goalies on my list, but I ended up with six in my top 100. Often, it’s three or four so I think that there’s quality in the group.”

Here’s a look at the top-rated goalies in the 2023 NHL Draft along with their rankings, per Peters and TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

GoaltenderCurrent teamDraft ranking
Michael HrabalOmaha (USHL)Peters 35; McKenzie 39
Carson BjarnasonBrandon (WHL)Peters 53, McKenzie 60
Adam GajanChippewa (NAHL)McKenzie 59, Peters 66
Trey AugustineUSNTDPPeters 55, McKenzie 63
Jacob FowlerYoungstown USHL)Peters 71, McKenzie 92
Scott RatzlaffSeattle (WHL)Peters 69, McKenzie 96
Damien ClaraFärjestad (Sweden U20)McKenzie 83, Peters NR

The challenge for goaltending prospects, more than any other position, is getting an accurate evaluation. Aside from the low draft age that impacts the evaluation of all players, goaltenders generally develop at a slower pace than forwards or even defensemen. It’s also common for goaltenders in their draft-eligible year to serve as backups on their junior teams behind a veteran player, preventing scouts from getting multiple viewings.

“As a result, you don’t get the full picture on that particular position,” Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong, who has more than two decades of scouting experience. “There’s a lot of projection in it. That’s why you see so many goaltenders miss. 

“You have to have a philosophy as an organization about where and when you’re going to take them, and who you’re going to take, and that starts with having a good goaltender scout and making sure that you’re being very diligent on the projection of the player.”

For the Coyotes, that scout is Clay Adams, who gets ample help from the team’s North American and European scouts.

“Goalies get lost all over the world at every level if they don’t play enough,” Coyotes director of amateur scouting Darryl Plandowski said. “They come from everywhere. They’re drafted, they’re signed, they come from colleges you don’t even expect to develop goalies. It’s a nonstop thing around the world to follow and find goalies and we rely on Clay to give us his opinion on whether we should draft them and what round they’re gonna go in. It’s not easy to project.”

At the same time, both Armstrong and the Coyotes scouting staff believe in a general philosophy of drafting at least one goalie per year, with spikes one way or the other in weak or strong draft classes. Like all positions, the idea is to have enough bodies in the system at all times.

“You’ve got two NHL goalies, you’ve got two American League goalies, and you usually have a goalie in the East Coast so those are your pro guys; that’s five,” Coyotes associate director of amateur scouting Ryan Jankowski said. “I think in an ideal world you’d like to have two, maybe three, and if you’re lucky maybe four coming through the systems at different levels.

“Your college guys can play until age 21 or 22, your junior guy can play until he’s 18, 19 or 20. Or it’s the guy that you’ve just drafted. If you look at our situation, we have Rasmus Korhonen and Anson Thornton not yet pro. Those would be our two guys and then we’d be looking to stockpile one or maybe two guys this year, to bring us up to four.”

Eventually, some of those goalies could move up to openings. Beyond Ivan Prosvetov, who has yet to emerge, the Coyotes don’t have any real prospects in the AHL or the ECHL so there is playing time available.

“We think that there’s some good options, especially where we’ve got multiple picks,” Jankowski said. “When you look at our third-round picks, our fifth and sixth rounders, we will certainly draft a goalie at some point. We’re just not sure when it is but we like the depth of the field this year.”

Top photo of Brandon’s Carson Bjarnason via Getty Images

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