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WWYDW: Flames Minor League Goalie Situation Edition

After making their recent cuts on Monday, it is obvious which Calgary Flames goaltenders are destined to spend a majority of the time down in the American Hockey League or ECHL this season. Three of them are on their way to Stockton already for camp, and the final one is likely to be not far behind.

The aforementioned goalies are:

  • Artyom Zagidulin – 24 year old free agent signing out of Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL. Last season, he had a save percentage of .924 in 25 games.
  • Tyler Parsons – 22 year old second round (54th overall) draft pick of the Flames in 2016. He recently spent the last season playing for the Stockton Heat in a backup role, with injuries limiting him to 20 games. He finished with a save percentage of 0.898.
  • Nick Schneider – 22 year old free agent signing out of the WHL in the summer of 2015. While he mostly spent the previous season playing as the backup in the ECHL, he was called up to the Heat mid season and performed quite admirably. He finished the season with a SV% of 0.884 in 21 games in the ECHL and .924 in 11 games in the AHL.
  • Jon Gillies – 25 year old third round (75th overall) draft pick of the Flames in 2012. He spent last season as the starter for the Heat, playing 45 games and ending up with a SV% of 0.889.

Zagidulin has been impressing the Flames brass and fans after coming over from Russia and playing his first games on North American soil. In his first game against the Edmonton Oilers’ prospects in Red Deer, Zagidulin was solid as a rock, posting a 31-save shutout in the victory. He continued his shutout streak against the Vancouver Canucks in Victoria, saving another 15 shots before handing over the net to Parsons half way through the game. He has suited up for two more preseason games as the backup, but did not draw into any of the games. He was sent down to Stockton to the Heat’s training camp on Monday, where he will be fighting for the starter’s net.

Parsons is coming off another season where he was dealing with injuries and it lead to another up and down season for the second year pro. Limited to only six games in the first half of the season, and for when he was in net, he would struggle considerably, posting sub .900 SV% numbers. Once he returned to 100%, Parsons started to heat up considerably (no pun intended). He finished the season by posting .900 SV% in eight of his last team starts, including setting the Heat’s all time record for most saves in a game with 49 against the Texas Stars. Its good to see the young netminder find his groove of sorts late into the season, since he will have a considerable amount of competition at being the starter for the Heat.

Schneider is a more of a dark horse for a role with the Heat this season, since most of his professional career has been spent in the ECHL, and has yet to be anything spectacular. He was more encouraging when brought up, posting a SV% over .930 in six of his 11 starts up in the AHL, which can cause for some optimism, but it is still unlikely that baring some miracle play during the Heat’s training camp, he is likely on his way back to Kansas City.

The final goalie is also the most frustrating for most Flames fans, especially since before his pro career had been extremely encouraging. The two season prior to last can be were at least somewhat encouraging, with back to back seasons with save percentages of .910 and .917, both of which he played 39 games. However, Gillies crashed hard this past season, especially at the start where it seems as though he could never find any consistency in net. As with Parsons, Gillies did have a much better end to the season, posting a SV% of .919 in his last 15 games, but it was not enough to drag his overall numbers to respectability. Given his play in the preseason has not helped his case either, as he currently leads all goaltenders with most goals allowed. This is highlighted in his appearance in the second half of the game against the Oilers on Friday, where he allowed five goals on just 21 shots in the final half of the game.

Here lies the dilemma. Gillies has struggled the most of out the four goaltenders mentioned in recent memory, but he is still the most senior and the only one that can say he has legitimate NHL experience. While his struggles suggest that cutting bait is the appealing option, it does leave a huge hole in terms of the Flames’ goalie depth in case of an injury. Plus it is not guaranteed that either Parsons or Zagidulin will start off strong right out the gate, particularly the latter, who has yet to go through a full season on North American ice. The Flames could look to loan Gillies (or Parsons or Zagidulin) to a different AHL club in desperate need of a goaltender, however finding a taker may be harder than it looks. The ECHL does remain an option for all options, though how willing are Flames are to put a prized signing out of Russia or one of their picks into there for extended periods of time? (In Gillies’ case, he’d need to approve of any demotion to the ECHL.)

How would you arrange the goaltending depth in the AHL and ECHL? Should the Flames explore outside the organization for a solution? What would you do?