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Drafting goalies a precarious task

The Islanders selected goalie Mikko Koskinen with the first pick of the second round of the 2009 NHL draft. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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The Islanders selected goalie Mikko Koskinen with the first pick of the second round of the 2009 NHL draft. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

BY ALAN BASS

Every NHL draft year, numerous questions arise regarding the young talent and how they are ranked. Some wonder why Player A is expected to go so high when he only had 10 points while playing in Sweden or why player B is expected to go late considering he scored 40 goals in major junior.

Even more unpredictable, however, is the order goaltenders are drafted. The rankings at this position vary greatly among NHL teams because of trends, team needs and what kind of talent is available.

This year was no aberration.

While 2009 wasn’t expected to be an especially deep pool of goaltender talent to draw from, it was surprising where the ‘tenders were taken and the order in which they went. According to International Scouting Service’s final ranking, five North American goalies were ranked higher than any Europeans and the first two, Edward Pasquale and Olivier Roy, were expected to go in the second round.

But Matt Hackett of the Ontario League’s Plymouth Whalers, who went in the third round (77th overall) was the first North American goalie taken, after four European goalies had already been picked. Only three of the five top-ranked North American goalies were taken in the first 117 picks of the draft, as Pasquale and Roy dropped to the late fourth and fifth rounds, respectively, while European goaltenders Mikko Koskinen, Robin Lehner, Anders Nilsson and Igor Bobkov were at the top of their class.

“Everyone’s evaluations of the goaltenders differ, while evaluations of defenders and forwards are a little more mainstream,” said one Western Conference scout.

It’s difficult to get a read on a 17-year-old goaltender who doesn’t play as often as the more experienced 18- or 19-year-old goalie on his team. So one reason the rankings vary so much is because some teams decide to pick the older, more secure goalie. This year it was two European goalies benefiting from that plan of attack: Koskinen, in his third draft year, and Nilsson, in his second.

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Another trend prevalent in the 2009 draft – and one that has become common in recent years – was picking big goalies because, as one Western Conference executive pointed out many successful NHL goalie have fit that template.

“Like Pekka Rinne, Evgeni Nabokov, guys like that,” said the executive.

Koskinen and Lehner are both larger than 6-foot-4, while Bobkov and Nilsson also pass the six-foot mark. At the other end of the spectrum, only three goalies of the 21 goalies chosen in the 2009 draft were less than six-feet tall.

One of those three was Roy, the No. 2-ranked North American goalie who wound up going much later than expected, 133rd overall to the Edmonton Oilers. At 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds, Roy is one of the smallest goaltenders in the draft, something that played heavily into his drop down the order.

“The guy is technically sound and he works hard,” the executive said. “But if you ask me why he dropped, I think it’s going (to be his size).”

As far as why the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Pasquale dropped so far down, the executive did not believe his on-ice technique or off-ice work ethic would translate to the NHL and that he didn’t assert himself when he had the chance in June.

“I was the biggest booster of (Pasquale), but he came to the combine…not in great shape,” he said. “He’s 50 pounds heavier than Matt Hackett, same height.”

This isn’t to say the larger and more mature goalies will always be selected before the younger, smaller types. When it comes down to it, scouting staffs will always look for the player with the best projected potential and skill will ultimately determine how player stacks up.

The goaltender position is different than any other in hockey. If a goalie’s career was easily predictable, Al Montoya would not have gone sixth overall to the Rangers in 2004 and Miikka Kiprusoff would surely not have dropped to 116th to San Jose in 1995.

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