Useful goaltenders are often a rare fantasy commodity. With the mercurial nature of the job, even the best sometimes just lose it and for whatever reason can no longer produce at a high level. With the recent, albeit maybe temporary, appearance of the Blackhawks’ Jeff Glass we are reminded how goaltenders can sometimes appear out of obscurity to contribute. As such, in keeper leagues it pays to invest in available, often non-NHL inexperienced goalies a few years away to reap rewards when the time is right. Here’s an update on some promising Western Conference prospects, one currently in the NHL, others in the minors, NCAA, WJCs and/or across the pond, you might consider stashing. There are so many others that might be included in a longer article, this is just small sample. Advance apologies if your faves are omitted.
David Rittich (Calgary) – Is Rittich for real? Since switching places with now-Binghamton Devil Eddie Lack after a November 24 call up from AHL Stockton, the undrafted Czech native’s hard work and demeanor have won over the Flames’ locker room and produced some satisfying results (3-1-1, 2.04, .924). For the time being he seems to have passed Jon Gilles on the org chart and may have eaten into the former Providence College star’s status as post-Mike Smith heir to the top job in Calgary’s net. Comparing figures from their American League tenures shows why. In 37 contests, Rittich’s 20-12-4, 2.25, .925 line with the Heat eclipses Gillies’ still admirable 29-23-8, 2.75, .913 stats earned in a larger 64-game sample size. This year in particular Rittich set Stockton on fire, registering a 5-1-0, 2.17, .931 before heading to southern Alberta. At age 25, he’s draws from tons of experience abroad after nine campaigns with his hometown Dukla Jihlava squad and two with the Czech league’s BK Mlada Boleslav. Nonetheless, Rittich has much more tread on the tires than Mike Smith who may benefit from increased rest as 2017-18 wears down and the Flames potentially enter post-season play. If he gets more successful ice time expect Rittich’s stature and value, perhaps NHL trade value in Calgary’s goalie-rich prospect pool including former London Knights’ and Team USA standout Tyler Parsons and past Team Canada member Mason McDonald in addition to Gillies, to increase.
Jake Oettinger (Dallas) – Two weeks past his 19th birthday, the 6-04, 212-pound Minnesotan is manning the Team USA WJC net in the midst of a somewhat un-Oettingerian Boston University campaign. His 2.91 goals-against and .902 save percentage rank tenth in both categories among Hockey East goaltenders and a 7-9-1 record certainly doesn’t scream out “Ben Bishop’s future replacement”. But it’s a rebuilding year for the perennial powerhouse Terriers with nine freshmen and eight sophomores on their 27-man roster after the departures of Clayton Keller, Kieffer Bellows, Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson.
With a developing, extremely talented squad featuring underclassmen Brady Tkachuk, David Farrance, Patrick Harper, Dante Fabbro, Shane Bowers, Logan Cockerill, and Chad Krys in addition to junior Jordan Greenway, consider the first part of this year a minor blip on Oettinger’s record. Look instead to his draft-year 21-11-3, 2.11, .927 line as a freshman, and gold-medal winning performance in the 2017 WJCs for better indicators of future returns. With a high hockey IQ, puck handling and glove skills, and composure under pressure all about which scouts rave, if he’s available pick him up and wait a while.
Olle Eriksson-Ek (Anaheim) – Other than the still 24-year-old John Gibson, the Ducks have a dearth of goalie prospects. Their organizational depth features a few familiar names such as Reto Berra and Leland Irving, but in terms of younger prospects that may make a lasting NHL mark, last summer’s fifth round selection and current WJC U20 Team Sweden member Olle Eriksson-Ek is again starring with Färjestad BK of the SuperElit League. While it’s a rung down from the adult Swedish Hockey League to which he was recently promoted, the 18-year-old brother of Wild pivot Joel continues to use his large upper frame and professional, calm playing style to advantage racking up a 2.01 goals-against and .924 save percentage, second in both categories among qualifiers in the 20-team league. He’s extraordinarily strong on fundamentals for one so young, able to masterfully control rebounds and instinctively slap pucks out of high danger zones. With legendary Ryan Miller winding up his career in the next few campaigns and little on the org chart in the way, expect Eriksson-Ek to contend for upcoming Anaheim ice time semi-shortly.
Thatcher Demko (Vancouver) – Demko’s time seems growing near. After some initially solid play, Vancouver’s number one Jacob Markstrom has had a rough stretch since December 7 with a 2-5-1, 3.76, .878 line (coinciding with a rash of Canuck injuries), while the 22-year-old Demko develops in the AHL – currently posting 11-6-5, 2.41, .924 results with the Utica Comets. After some good starts to begin the year, Backup Anders Nilsson has now similarly sunk to 6-5-1, 3.39, .906 stats. There’s obviously no guarantee Demko would do better, and they don’t want to damage the young San Diegan’s confidence, but patience is growing thin in the crease as Vancouver has dropped below .500 with just two wins in their last 11 contests. Vancouver coach Travis Green is familiar with Demko from their time together in Utica last year and their player development people recently declared him ahead of schedule for an NHL debut. If the Canucks’ playoff chances grow dimmer he might get an extended NHL look before long.
Kaapo Kahkonen (Minnesota) – He isn’t a name you’ll hear on many top prospect lists, but Kahkonen is dominating for Lukko of the Finnish Liiga. While Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock form a solid NHL twosome, their 21-year-old fourth round selection of 2014 doesn’t have a ton of other competition in the Wild organization should he seek a move to North America. With a 1.96 goals-against and .929 save percentage, both ranking second-best in the 15-team league, Kahkonen’s tended net for all but one of Lukko’s 37 games. Now in his third full Liiga campaign, Kahkonen has plentiful international experience as been a member of the 2015-16 Finnish WJC U20 squad, as well as the 2012-13 and 2013-14 U18 teams. He’s listed at 6-02, 222-pounds which doesn’t get in the way of his mobile, quick presence in net, Known as an aggressive yet focused goalie, he’s shown greatly increased consistency this year, which could bode well for the future.
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