You might be wondering why I'm spotlighting goalies who have already gone undrafted at least once. With just 5 months left before the 2011 NHL Draft, scouts have had ample time to watch the notable players and most (if not all) NHL teams have had their mid-season meetings. I've spent a lot of time the last little while picking brains - talking to a lot of scouts in regards to this year's draft class. I've been asking about specific players or about a broader subject, like goaltenders. (You'll get the results of all those discussions soon by the way).
What I've come to understand is that the goalies in the Class of 2011, as a group, are not considered to be that strong. In fact, more that once I've been told to expect that an over-aged WHL goalie will get drafted before one who is eligible for the first time. With that in mind, here are the top 5 candidates to be that guy.
5. Drew Owsley - Tri-City Americans
The product of Lethbridge was not drafted by the Americans but listed and this is now his third season in the WHL. Owsley played just 17 games in 2008-09 as he dressed as the back up to Chet Pickard who had been a 1st round pick by the Nashville Predators the June before. It wasn't until last year that he had a real opportunity to show what he can do - and did he ever.
He appeared in 50 games for Tri-City last year and was in net for 19 playoff games having won the job ahead of import Alex Pechurskiy, a 2008 selection of the Pittsburgh Penguins. This year Owsley has been solid for the Americans as they try to contend again for the Western Conference title. He was named WHL Goalie of the Month in December for his efforts.
Owsley's stats are impressive but not mind blowing; his career best .918 sv% and 2.51 GAA came last year although he hasn't dropped off terribly from those numbers this season. The biggest reason he's been snubbed by NHL teams: 5'8 and 160 lbs.
He's very small. Not quite Darren Pang small but then again, Pang didn't get drafted either. A terrific junior netminder but one who will have to fight and prove himself every step of the way if he's to reach the NHL. He'll celebrate his 20th birthday on March 21st.
4. Steve Stanford - Saskatoon Blades
At 6'0, the former Prince Albert Raiders draft pick doesn't have the same hurdle to clear that Owsley does but still, Steven Stanford was ignored by NHL teams during the 2008 Draft and ever since. Likely it was because he'd only appeared in 31 games during his draft year plus he's never really assumed the mantle of a clear cut starter. He shared time in 2008-09 with Garret Zemlak and then was dealt to Saskatoon where he's platooned with Adam Morrison (PHI).
He'd never finished a season with a save percentage over .900 until last year (.904). So far this year he's increased that to .915 but most people would point to the quality of team in front of him as a major reason for that - the Blades have been the highest rated WHL team for several weeks now.
Stanford hails from Calgary and it's with a CIS program that I think he'll be playing for next year.
3. Adam Brown - Kelowna Rockets
The Rockets had a slow start to the season but have risen from the Conference cellar to become a contender for the BC Division and a possible provider of a playoff upset. A large reason for their success this year is due to the play of goalie Adam Brown, the native Californian who has 25 of Kelowna's 31 wins this year.
At 5'10 he's small; not Owsley small but still smaller than a guy like Dustin Tokarski (TBY) who was considered diminutive in his draft year. That said, Regan Bartel (voice of the Rockets) recently wrote on his blog that "As Adam Brown goes, so do the Rockets". Brown was named WHL Goalie of the Month back in November when the Rockets really took off.
Statistically, Brown's 2.84 GAA and .908 save percentage are worse than the same stats for the two goalies that I have ranked 4th and 5th on this list. However, no one has suggested to me that he's been sheltered this year by the team in front of him - I can't say the same for Owsley or Stanford.
2. James Reid - Spokane Chiefs
Reid will be going after win number 30 tonight as he backstops the Chiefs against the Everett Silvertips. The 6' Calgarian took over the starter's job after Dustin Tokarski vacated it following the 2008-09 season and hasn't looked back. During his draft year in 2008, Reid was in the AJHL with his hometown Canucks but played just 23 times - he's obviously not going to get drafted with such limited exposure.
Reid was originally a 10th round selection by Everett in 2005 but never played a game for the 'Tips.
This year the 6' netminder has compiled a 2.48 GAA and .906 sv% stat line which also features 4 shutouts. An ankle injury in Portland back on January 23rd has kept him in the pressbox although a return to action appears on the horizon.
1. Nathan Lieuwen - Kootenay Ice
For me, here is the most likely over-age candidate to be drafted ahead of a 2011 eligible WHL goalie. The big 6'5 Lieuwen is an imposing figure in the net simply because of his frame. Never mind that he's quick and positions himself well, Kootenay's starter doesn't let the opposition shooters see much twine behind him.
There was a bit of a logjam in Kootenay back in 2008-09, Lieuwen's draft year. Thomas Heemskerk played 18 games, Todd Matthews was in net for 28 and Lieuwen appeared in 37. His .885 sv% didn't help and since he was limited to only 26 games last year, he was off the radar for the NHL once again.
This year Lieuwen has been in fine form and boasts a decent 2.81 GAA and .903 sv%. It should be noted that he's playing behind a very defensively responsible team though and so his number may be buoyed by that to some degree. That said, 6'5 goalies get noticed and the Abbotsford B.C. product has done plenty to draw attention this year. He turns 20 in August.