29Dustin Wolf
Photo Credit: Chris Mast/Everett Silvertips

The unstoppable anxiety of drafting goalies early

Folks, every couple of years a really great goaltending prospect pops up on the NHL Draft radar. This year’s version is Yaroslav Askarov, an incredible Russian goalie who will definitely go in the first round. Some team will take that swing and probably be happy with it.

But man, drafting a goaltender early makes a lot of teams nervous – and the Calgary Flames haven’t had much success doing so at all.

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In the history of the Flames franchise, they’ve selected nine goaltenders in the first two rounds of the draft:

  • First rounders were Jason Muzzatti (1988), Trevor Kidd (1990), Brent Krahn (2000), and Leland Irving (2006).
  • Second rounders were Pat Riggin (1979), Evan Lindsay (1997), Andrei Medvedev (2001), Mason McDonald (2014), and Tyler Parsons (2016).

Muzzatti, Krahn, and Irving combined for 76 NHL appearances total, and just 15 for the Flames. They were promising prospects when they were selected, but were ultimately all busts. Kidd played 387 NHL games, which is pretty good, but the Flames infamously traded picks with New Jersey in 1990 to take Kidd. The Devils used Calgary’s pick to select Martin Brodeur, which turned out alright for them.

Riggin played 350 NHL games. Lindsay, Medvedev, McDonald, and Parsons have combined for zero. McDonald was famously taken as the first goalie in 2014, ahead of Thatcher Demko. Yikes.

Want more horror? Here’s a walk down memory lane, in the form of the last 10 NHL drafts and the goalies taken in the first two rounds:

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Draft First Round Second Round Most NHL GP
2010 Jack Campbell (DAL, 11th)
Mark Visentin (PHX, 27th)
Calvin Pickard (COL, 49th)
Kent Simpson (CHI, 58th)
Freddie Andersen (CAR, 187th)
2011 none Magnus Hellberg (NSH, 38th)
John Gibson (ANA, 39th)
Christopher Gibson (LAK, 49th)
John Gibson (ANA, 39th)
2012 Andrei Vasilevskiy (TBL, 19th)
Malcolm Subban (BOS, 24th)
Oscar Dansk (CBJ, 31st)
Anthony Stolarz (PHI, 45th)
Freddie Andersen (ANA, 87th)
2013 none Zachary Fucale (MTL, 36th)
Tristan Jarry (PIT, 44th)
Philippe Desrosiers (DAL, 54th)
Eric Comrie (WPG, 59th)
Juuse Saros (NSH, 99th)
2014 none Mason McDonald (CGY, 34th)
Thatcher Demko (VAN, 36th)
Alex Nedeljkovic (CAR, 37th)
Vitek Vanecek (WSH, 39th)
Brandon Halverson (NYR, 59th)
Thatcher Demko (VAN, 36th)
2015 Ilya Samsonov (WSH, 22nd) Mackenzie Blackwood (NJD, 42nd) Mackenzie Blackwood (NJD, 42nd)
2016 none Carter Hart (PHI, 48th)
Tyler Parsons (CGY, 54th)
Filip Gustavsson (PIT, 55th)
Evan Fitzpatrick (STL, 59th)
Carter Hart (PHI, 48th)
2017 Jake Oettinger (DAL, 26th) Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (BUF, 54th Three tied (64th, 129th, 199th)
2018 none Olof Lindblom (NYR, 39th)
Olivier Rodrigue (EDM, 62nd)
n/a
2019 Spencer Knight (FLA, 13th) Pyotr Kochetkov (CAR, 36th)
Mads Sogaard (OTT, 37th)
Hunter Jones (MIN, 59th)
n/a

Of the first rounders, Vasilevskiy seems like a slam-dunk. Of the second rounders, Jarry, Demko, and Hart look like winners. But that’s a lot of gambles taken on goalies that, to this point, haven’t done a heck of a lot at the NHL level.

Good goaltenders can be found all over the place – Dustin Wolf, the Flames’ goalie of the future, was selected 214th overall in the seventh round. And picking goalies later in the draft are a nice hedge against the weirdness and unpredictability in player development at the position – Joni Ortio played just 37 games, but he was a sixth round pick so the opportunity cost of choosing him was lower than, say, Leland Irving or Mason McDonald.

Askarov is touted as a can’t miss prospect and has been favourably compared to Carey Price and Vasilevskiy in terms of his potential. But given the Flames’ terrifying history of drafting goalies, you can kind of understand if any of their staff feel a bit nervous about selecting him in the first round.