The Florida Panthers are less than two weeks from adding another bushel of prospects into organizational depth chart. The first round of the NHL Draft is on Friday, June 21 and Cats general manager Dale Tallon currently holds the No. 13 overall selection.
It’s a difficult range to pick. The top-end forwards will likely all be gobbled up. There are a handful of talented defensemen that should be available to the Panthers. Then, there is Spencer Knight. The consensus top goaltending prospect in the draft pool, Knight is arguably the most highly-touted netminder since at least 2011 (Jack Campbell, No. 11 overall) and possibly 2005 (Carey Price, No. 5 overall).
While Knight impressed at the NHL Central Scouting and has premier athleticism to go along with his skills between the pipes, the first round has not been kind to NHL goaltenders in the last 13 drafts since the Montreal Canadiens selected Price.
The 2006 draft had four goalies selected: Jonathan Bernier (No. 11), Riku Helenius (No. 15), Semyon Varlamov (No. 23) and Leland Irving (No. 26). Since then, just eight goaltenders have been picked on day one and only two in the last six drafts.
So, where are the goaltenders coming from?
I decided to research the starting goaltenders from the 2018-19 regular season to see when they were drafted and how they were acquired. The qualifying criteria for a starter was loosely 40 starts, but there were some exceptions such as Carter Hart of the Philadelphia Flyers and I used information from all three goalies that started for the New Jersey Devils this season.
In total, I took down the information of 39 total starting goaltenders. Here are the numbers:
1st round: 9 - 23.1%
1st round still with drafting team: 3 – 7.7%
2nd round: 9 – 23.1%
3rd round: 7 – 18%
4th-8th rounds: 9 – 23.1%
Undrafted free agents: 5 – 12.8%
Of the 34 starting goaltenders that have been selected, 15 are still with the team that picked them on draft day. Out of all 39 netminders, 14 were acquired by their current team via a trade and 10 were free agent signings which means that 61.5% of the starters from this past season were brought in from outside of the organization.
Interestingly, on the nine first round picks, only one was selected in the last 12 years: Andrei Vasilevskiy in 2012 by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The other first rounders that were starters in 2018-19? Roberto Luongo (1997), Cam Ward (2002), Marc-Andre Fleury (2003), Devin Dubnyk (2004), Tuukka Rask (2005), Carey Price (2005), Semyon Varlamov (2006) and Cory Schneider (2006).
The 2005 and 2006 NHL Entry Drafts are clear demarcation points of the shift in strategy by NHL scouting departments and organizational roster building. In the first five drafts of the 2000s (2000-2004), there was an average of nearly 32 goaltenders over all rounds. Beginning in 2005 up until last year, the average number of goaltenders selected was 22.
What happened? The lockout.
In 2005, the NHL draft dropped from nine rounds to seven. Now, whether or not the change in number of rounds is directly correlated to drafting strategy is up for debate, the evidence points to a confluence of rostering ideologies after the lockout then have resulted in less organizational value placed on young goaltending prospects almost system-wide.
It has been incredibly hard for NHL franchises to draft and keep Stanley Cup winning goaltenders in the first round. Of the three active first round goaltenders still with their original organizations, Rask is one win away from the Cup. Tuukka was Tim Thomas’ backup in 2011 and did not appear in a playoff game. Vasilevskiy and Price have yet to make a run.
Of course, none of this means the Panthers should pass on Spencer Knight. He may truly be the best player available when Florida takes the podium. A blue chip goaltending prospect holds value. In fact, we may be at the precipice of resurgence. Last year, NHL teams selected 28 netminding prospects; the most since 2004.
The middle rounds seem to be the new breeding grounds for goalies. The Panthers have five picks combined between the second, third and fourth rounds. Knight won’t be available, but don’t be surprised if that is where Florida… and the rest of the league, go hunting for the goaltender of the future.