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 consistency. On that note, however, one reason why Pickard played so inconsistently could be due to a lack of consistent starts. And we all know how hard it is for legit prospects to play well in only 20 games when they are used to getting 50+ starts.
With all of these elements in mind, it becomes quite clear that the next logical step in Pickard's development is to play 45-50 AHL games. For Dekanich, his maturity and experiences from the past two seasons in the AHL makes him a much better candidate to back up Rinne. His focus and goals for the season would be to work hard in practice, learn the NHL ropes and be prepared and ready to play when called upon.
Closely guided by Mitch Korn, who is regarded as the wizard of grooming raw-skilled Finnish and Swedish goalies, Dekanich could easily develop the wherewithal and skills to succeed as an NHL backup. And by Nashville following this effective and straightforward approach, which includes not signing any free agent goalies over the summer, the door opens for Swedish import Anders Lindback to claim a role in the AHL and begin the crucial transitioning process.
So as you can see, scouting prospects and then evaluating their fantasy value is a fluid process that constantly changes. With so many technical and mental factors determining the course of a goalie's development and reputation, the entire process is more like alchemy than hard science. Every decision that is made concerning a goalie in turn affects the present and future of almost every other goalie in the organization. A domino effect of different outcomes can take place at any given moment, and once that happens, teams must re-evaluate and continue making more decisions. The beat goes on, the process is repeated, yet the circumstances and eventual outcomes are always different.
The more that a fantasy manager can understand the traditional approach and recognize the patterns of each NHL organization, or even each GM, the better they will be able to acquire legitimate long-term prospects for their fantasy teams. Who is to say that given the proper tools and treatment by the Blues organization, that a goalie like Joe Fallon couldn't accomplish the same thing long-term as a goalie like Jake Allen? And by now we all know what to expect from the Colorado Avalanche when it comes to prospects – they'd rather catch and release than develop and feast. Gone is Peter Delmas, gone is Tyler Weiman, but an inconsistent Peter Budaj stays as the backup for another year.
It is all of these endless patterns that act as the foundation of creating our Top-100 Fantasy Prospects Rankings. For those not yet familiar with this feature, it is a monthly evaluation, along with updates and links, of the top 100 goalies destined to become long-term NHL starters. If you haven't already heard, we re-vamped and updated the look after taking May off for our Quest for the Crown charity hockey festival.
Whereas most rankings attempt to be based solely on statistics, ours is superfluous and based on all angles of scouting and evaluating a goalie prospect. This also includes the patterns that exist within each organization, based on prior decisions, the General Manager and the recent history of developing goaltenders. It may seem like it has very little rhyme or reason, but that should not stop you from finding some great value in our new-look format!
Because we put a lot of time and effort into our Top-100 Rankings, we are able to bring you quality scouting reports on hundreds of prospects that are rarely covered more than once or twice a year. We strive to feature more of these reports by picking a Prospect of the Month and posting a free scouting report for fantasy managers to enjoy. Below is a small example of a prospect report on Chris Carrozzi, so keep an eye out for more of these and enjoy!
CHRIS CARROZZI – Most have not been informed just how promising Carrozzi's fantasy value is shaping up to be. He was not only recently voted the OHL Goaltender of the Year this season, but claimed the title of CHL Goaltender of the Year as well. And that was accomplished by playing in just 37 regular season games.
In his third season with Mississauga, Carrozzi posted a 19-10-5 record with a 2.36 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and five shutouts. The numbers are impressive in their own right, but his consistency while splitting time with the younger JP Anderson was even more revealing. He only lost more than two games in a row once the entire season with three losses from 1-22 to 2-05. He was stellar in the playoffs with a four-game sweep of Peterborough and a Game 4 shutout (March 25) in which he made 27 saves. He struggled against Ottawa in the next round and gave way to Anderson after Game 3, but still finished the post-season with a 5-1-1 record, 2.14 goals-against average and .928 save percentage.
Carrozzi has an important off-season ahead of him. His fantasy value will benefit greatly if he can work hard enough to grab more of a starting role for Mississauga. Because he doesn't have a history of inconsistency or an inability to handle playing more than 40 games, his skills will continue to build if he can play more, as will his ability to read plays and manage more minutes. Recently signed by Atlanta, he has been considered a top-flight prospect by most of their scouts, which continues to establish his winning reputation.
Once he turns pro, the secret to his success will be confidence. By continuing to work hard at skills development within the organization during his entry-level deal, his NHL upside will be legitimized and Atlanta's doors will swing open for his arrival at some point. Ondrej Pavelec is an elite young goalie with long-term upside, but he hasn't established a long-term future in Atlanta yet, and Johan Hedberg is on the tail-end of his career. Both Drew MacIntyre and Peter Mannino are too old to have Carrozzi's long-term upside, and other than Ed Pasquale, nobody else relates.
So despite how little you might hear about him elsewhere, the Carrozzi project is well underway with Atlanta. Not only are they fully aware of his skill and potential, but they have a recent history of churning out some good prospects. All of these elements paint a really nice picture, and further boosts his future value thanks to a recent history of success.