Jon Gillies makes his second appearance in the Flames top-10 prospects list (9th last year), a rarity for goalies since they are extremely difficult to predict. Projecting puckstoppers is mostly voodoo, even for the pros, to the degree that NHL starters are usually randomly scattered through the draft (or signed as free agents from other leagues). That is why I am staunchly opposed to using a top-60 pick on a goalie in any given draft, or paying anyone outside of, say, Henrik Lundqvist (drafted in the 7th round) big, long-term dollars. It’s also why I typically discount most goaltending prospects until they’ve managed to do something noteworthy as a pro.
Jon Gillies is the rare exception. In fact, I had him rated the highest of anyone in this exercise at 4th overall. Gillies had an outstanding freshman season for Providence two years ago. That put him on the map, but he managed to replicate that performance again this past year, so there might just be something to this kid.
Gilies’ .931 save rate matched his rookie effort and was the third best SV% in the Hockey East division and fifth best nationally. He was also the starter for the US WJC team, though his performance at the tournament stands as perhaps the only “blemish” on his college resume so far. The big 6’6″ ‘tender struggled and the team failed to medal which was a disappointment given the Gaudreau lead version just a year earlier won the gold. Gillies’ WJC struggles bled somewhat into the season when he returned, dropping his save percentage from an incredible .940 to below .930 for a time.
Whether the issues were mental, randomness, or caused by injury, Gillies eventually rebounded and finished the year strong with a SV% above .930 in six of his last eight games. Like the previous season, he was the primary reason the offensively challenged Providence Friars were competitive. Though wins are often a lousy barometer for a goalie’s talent, Gillies went 19-9-5 in 2013-14, noteworthy on a team that only had one skater finish with more than 30 points.
Though he has been one of the most dominant goalies in the NCAA through two years, Gillies has decided to return to college for at least one more season. If he puts together another all-star effort, there’s a good chance he’ll turn pro in 2015.
My pragmatic stance on the low relative value of goalie prospects has been taken to mean goalies are altogether worthless. That’s not true. It would be incredibly valuable to find and develop a quality starter internally because a team can waste many a good season by not having a guy who can stop the puck. The problem is, identifying and grooming goaltenders is really hard and usually they don’t tend to be worth much more than what you could find in free agency anyways. Hopefully, that’s not true of this guy.
So far, Gillies is trending in the right direction. We still won’t know for a few years what he’ll be at the pro level, but he’s been nothing short of outstanding as an amateur so far. If Gillies continues to trend up, he might be ready to step into the Flames crease just as the team is starting to contend again.