The Journey: Goalie Prospects in the AHL
This week, I’m taking a closer look at a few top goalie prospects who are currently playing in the AHL. Vancouver Canucks prospect, Thatcher Demko would have been an obvious choice for this article but he’s been injured so far this season, so there’s nothing to write about. So instead, I’ll focus on a few others who are actually playing.
Ilya Samsonov – Washington Capitals
Samsonov has a lot of good qualities you want from a goalie prospect. He has good size at six-foot-three, 205 pounds. He has good pedigree as a former first-round selection – 22nd overall in 2015. He has a good amount of experience after already spending three years in the KHL where his numbers were very good. He’s also played a lot of games with Team Russia at different age levels, and usually, his results have been great. With all that experience, it’s easy to forget he’s only 21 years old.
The bad news is that Samsonov never played more than 27 games in a season in the KHL, so he still needs to learn how to handle starter’s workload. He also didn’t have previous experience from playing in North America and making that adjustment almost always takes time for goalies. Different rink size causes different shooting lanes, and it also creates an environment where skaters are more willing to shoot from everywhere instead of waiting for the perfect opportunity like they often do in Europe.
So far this season, Samsonov has played four games with the Hershey Bears. His 0.860 save percentage and 3.70 goals against average don’t look promising. But as said, there’s almost always an adjustment period with goalies, so I wouldn’t worry about him. He’s still the same goalie he was last season. It’s never a good idea to overreact based on such a small sample size.
Braden Holtby is signed for another season after this one, and the Capitals will have a big decision to make with him. Do they want to make a huge long-term commitment to a goalie who will be 30 years old when his current contract expires? Or do they have enough faith in Samsonov that they’ll let him take the reins in 2020-2021? I’m sure Samsonov himself believes he’s ready by then but he needs to show it at the AHL level first, and then prove himself at the NHL level next season.
Carter Hart – Philadelphia Flyers
Hart is one of the best goalie prospects to come through the Canadian Hockey League in recent history. He won the WHL Top Goaltender award three times, and the CHL Goaltender of the Year award twice. His final year in junior was absolutely phenomenal. He also won silver with Team Canada at the World Juniors in 2017, and then carried them to gold in 2018.
Similarly to Samsonov, Hart also has good size at six-foot-two, 181 pounds. And he has good draft pedigree as a former second-round selection – 48th overall in 2016. He’s only 20 years old, a year younger than Samsonov. Hart had a great preseason with the Flyers, and many fans were hoping he would start the season in the NHL. But he was sent down to the AHL, and similarly to Samsonov, he has struggled there. Five games with 0.880 save percentage and 3.77 goals against average is not what was expected.
I may sound like a broken record here but I’m preaching patience again. Hart doesn’t need to adjust to different rink size like Samsonov but he needs to adjust to different talent level. Players in the American league are more talented offensive players and better shooters than what he’s used to in junior. It’s a small sample size, and there’s no reason to panic.
The goaltending situation in Philadelphia has been fluid over the past few years. And I’m being kind when saying it like that. The road to becoming a starting goalie is wide open for Hart. Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth are both unrestricted free agents after this season.
The Flyers will likely try to retain Elliott or replace him with another proven goalie. But it wouldn’t be surprising if Hart was at least playing in the NHL next season. He probably needs a couple of years before he’s ready to take over the starter’s job but his upside is huge. Keep the faith.
Filip Gustavsson – Ottawa Senators
There are a lot of similarities between Hart and Gustavsson. They’re both 20 years old, six-foot-two, and second-round selections from the 2016 NHL Entry Draft – Gustavsson was taken seven spots behind Hart at 55th overall by the Penguins – and they both had a great tournament at the World Juniors last winter.
The Penguins were willing to include Gustavsson in the Derick Brassard trade because they already had Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry in goal. Gustavsson was quickly given the “Goalie of the Future” label in Ottawa and for a good reason. He’s a great goalie prospect, and the Senators were happy to get him.
Gustavsson had a great season in the SHL last year. It’s one of the best leagues in the world, and Gustavsson managed to earn a starting goalie position as a 19-year-old. After they were eliminated in the playoffs, he made the jump to the AHL and played a few games there as well.
This season will be Gustavsson’s first full year in the American league, and unlike Samsonov and Hart who have struggled a bit, Gustavsson has played very well. Four games with 0.931 save percentage and 2.54 goals against average are numbers he can be proud of.
Both Craig Anderson and Mike Condon are signed for another season after this one before they hit unrestricted free agency – and probably retirement for at least Anderson. If Gustavsson can continue his impressive play in the AHL and perhaps show some positive signs at the NHL level as well, he could be a full-time NHL goalie in 2020-2021. He may not be ready to be a starting goalie by then, though. Goalies usually require a lot of time and don’t become starters until they’re closer to 25, so patience is needed.
Ville Husso – St. Louis Blues
Husso is a bit older than the three prospects mentioned above as he’s already 23 years old but that’s nothing for goalie prospects. He also doesn’t have a similar draft pedigree as he went undrafted during his first try in 2013 and then fell to the fourth round in 2014 where the Blues took him 94th overall.
What Husso has, however, is great size at six-foot-three, 205 pounds. He also has great results over the past few years. Before crossing the pond, Husso was a starting goalie in the Finnish Liiga for three years, and his results were amazing. Husso’s first year in North America wasn’t all that impressive – he spent part of it in the ECHL – but his second year was better. Something seemed to click for him.
Husso’s start to this season hasn’t been all that good, though. Seven games with 0.887 save percentage and 3.19 goals against average is not good. But the Blues are very eager to find a long-term solution in goal, and Jake Allen doesn’t seem to be it. Husso is arguably the best goalie prospect they have, so he could get his chances sooner rather than later. Chad Johnson’s contract expires after this season, so there’s room for Husso if he shows he’s ready for it.
And that’s all for now, thanks for reading. Feel free to add comments below. Remember to follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.
Previously on The Journey:
Images used on the main collage courtesy of NHL.com
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