The annual FlamesNation review of Calgary Flames prospects continues with the Flames’ 15th-best prospect: goaltender Mason McDonald.
McDonald was a second round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft and the first goaltender taken in that draft. Around these parts that made us a bit nervous, because goaltending is still something viewed by many hockey analysts – us included – as voodoo, something very difficult to project or predict.
But here we are, and Mason McDonald a year removed from his draft day has quietly become a pretty solid goaltending prospect.
There’s a bit of a belief, based on the numbers, that McDonald was drafted by the Flames based on promise.
Let’s be blunt here: nobody goes out of their way to draft somebody with a .895 save percentage in their draft year unless they see something in him that isn’t reflected in the numbers. They heavily scouted the U18 goaltending camp that was in Calgary and had an eye on the spring U18 tournament where McDonald shined. That probably cemented his spot, in the Flames’ minds, as the top netminder in the 2014 Draft. (Thatcher Demko was taken immediately after him by Vancouver, for those of you looking to fuel a future rivalry.)
Until then, he was otherwise known as a lanky back-up for a couple of QMJHL teams. He started more games in 2014-15 than he did in the rest of his QMJHL career combined. But his underlying numbers improved, and he had the second-best save percentage in the entire Q. Granted, the Q ain’t exactly known as a defensive league but Charlottetown had zero NHL-drafted defenders. Based on that, I think we can take McDonald’s relative rank within his league at face value: he had a good year, played a ton, and seemed to improve.
McDonald missed some of the playoffs with a knee injury, but was on-ice and looked good at Flames development camp in July and received an invitation to Hockey Canada’s summer camp in August. I wouldn’t be concerned about injuries right now. Based on his history with Hockey Canada, it’s thought that he’s got a good chance at making the Canadian World Junior team and potentially even being the team’s starting netminder. Beyond that, the challenge will be for him to continue to progress in the QMJHL and push his team even further into the post-season.
He’s 19 right now. He’ll be 20 next season. This is probably the last season he’ll spend in major-junior hockey before making a push for a job in Stockton, so he’ll likely be trying to make the absolute most out of this last hurrah. He’s a solid netminder in the Q but isn’t getting pushed much internally as he was the undisputed starting netminder in Charlottetown last season, and will be again in 2015-16. In another year, he’s probably going to be fighting Jon GIllies for ice-time, so he better be using this season to prepare for that battle.
The days of drafting a goaltender simply for their size seems to have
passed, but McDonald may still fall under that category. He has
displayed above-average puck tracking abilities, and is one of the most athletic goaltenders
in the QMJHL right now. Knowing all that, his size is still his
greatest asset. At 6-foot-4, he is huge, but not to the point where he
opens up a ton of holes when he is forced to move. The Flames fell in
love with his combination of skills and drafted him 34th overall in
2014, even though he is still a bit of a project. The technical glitches
in his game are seen as fixable, but that will take time. Expect him to
simmer in the minors for a few years after he graduates from junior