Developing prospects is more like alchemy than an exact science. With 30 NHL organizations controlling the rights of anywhere from six to 16 goalies, it's a special elixir of scouting, coaching philosophies and systems that creates a pedigree of puck stoppers. Once a prospect is drafted or acquired, the organization's main goal is to provide as many opportunities as possible for goalies to continue improving their skills. But because teams can only carry two or three at a time, it's only a matter of time before good play by one goalie in the organization leads to another's misfortune.
Over the years, NHL teams have created their own unique approach for goalie development. These unwritten rules are often tweaked and manipulated in certain ways that ultimately makes every path different. Each team's approach and set of procedures can also change from time to time, for it is one General Manager making the decisions, aided by his cabinet of scouting confidants that opine over time on tons of promising prospects.
Because of the infinite patterns of prospect development that exist, the process of scouting and then determining their fantasy value is quite cumbersome. Just like with skaters, a good chunk of a goalie's success depends on their surroundings, teammates, and of course the other goalies in the system. Because the progress of one goalie depends on the progress of another, scouts spend a lot of time updating and re-evaluating the same prospects over and over again.
One of the main unwritten rules that exist in all organizations is total minutes management. Because a prospect must experience more and more games in order to improve their abilities and confidence at the higher levels, teams are constantly working with goalie coaches and consultants to evaluate skills progression on almost a daily basis.
Of course, there are many exceptions to every rule. Many legitimate prospects are so clearly primed for greatness that they shoot gaps when its least expected. Whether due to things like injuries, trades or waiver claims, a goalie is often forced into action at a higher level without warning. And even though it's not even preferred in some instances, goalies will succeed and alter the course of their future in just one or two games, sometimes even a single moment.
But in all other cases, depending on the team and the other goalies in question, he is either better suited to succeed and improve by playing more minutes at a lower level, or has matured enough to play less, but still improve in mental or non-technical areas at a higher level. This sort of situation arises every season with many teams, and a perfect example of this is taking place right now with the Nashville Predators.
Dan Ellis is expected to open the door to unrestricted free agency on July 1, leaving Pekka Rinne to fully embrace the starting role. This will lead him to start close to 60 games. With that in mind, who is best suited to back him up? There are two quality prospects battling for the job, meaning both futures will be directly impacted by the impending choice.
On one side is Mark Dekanich, a quality NCAA product that has quietly impressed scouts by steering the ship for the Admirals last season while rookie Chet Pickard struggled with inconsistency. On the other side is Pickard, an elite prospect with much more long-term upside, but lacks in the areas of pro experience and con