Since the Pittsburgh Penguins took Marc-Andre Fleury first overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, making him just the third goalie taken first overall in the draft (behind Michel Plasse in 1968 and Rick DiPietro in 2000) and also the last goalie taken first overall, 18 other goaltenders have gone in the first round of the draft since.
The trend for taking goaltenders in the first round is dying out. Jake Oettinger was the lone goaltender taken in the first round last year by the Dallas Stars, while goalies had to wait until the Philadelphia Flyers took Carter Hart in the second round of the 2016 draft as the first goalie taken that year.
In the mid-2000s it did seem a bit more of a trend for teams to take who they hoped would be their future shot stopper in the first round.
A year after Fleury was taken first overall (and the only goalie in the first round that year), four teams took one in 2004, two were selected in 2005 and again four were taken in 2006.
Of the 18 goalies taken in the first round since Fleury, there have been some big names selected. In 2005 the Montreal Canadiens took Carey Price with the fifth selection, the same year the Toronto Maple Leafs took Tukka Rask, while Andrei Vasilevsky was taken 19th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2012.
But with three names that are still stars in the NHL today, there are also some busts.
In 2010 the Dallas Stars took Jack Campbell with the 11th pick who has to date appeared in just 7 NHL games (only one of them comings with the Stars), while Mark Visentin who was selected 27th by the then named Phoenix Coyotes has just one appearance and now currently plays in Hungary.
There were similar result from the 2008 group of Chet Pickard and Tom McCollum, neither have turned out to be the stars that their respect teams must have thought they would be when they took them in the first round.
It’s now becoming rarer for teams to look to goalies in the first round, partly because of development time for a goalie.
Look at Carter Hart in 2016. Going by the season he’s just had for the Everett Silvertips in the WHL you’d say there is no chance in hell he drops out of the first round, however in his draft year, he did play like a second round pick.
Fast forward to this past season, and he’s just put up an incredible 1.60 goals against average and mammoth .947 save percentage, the best in the league and also earning his third straight Del Wilson Trophy as the WHL’s Top Goaltender. Now he’s turning 20 in August, the Flyers have played the long game with him, and given their goaltender struggles recently, you could say his arrival can’t come soon enough, but they’re not rushing him and letting him develop into their starting goalie that he’ll become within three years.
So with all this in mind, how likely is it that we’ll see a goalie taken in the first round in 2018?
Obviously, and deservedly the talk all year leading up to next months’ draft has been around Rasmus Dahlin, he’s an NHL ready defenseman who’ll walk into any line-up next season.
But not much is mentioned of the goalies (and usually never is unless there is a real hype around a particular kid).
To me, it’s not even a possibility we’ll see a goaltender taken in the first round in June, but at the same time goaltenders being selected early is usually a case of need rather than taking the best available player.
One of the brightest prospects between the pipes this year comes from Drummondville in the QMJHL with Olivier Rodrigue, while Lukas Dostal of Kometa Brno in the Czech league could also be the highest selected goalie this summer.
Rodrigue looks to be near enough the consensus number one when it comes to goalies this summer, with Dostal looks to be the best out of Europe but behind Rodrigue overall.
The 17-year-old Rodrigue joined the Drummondville Voltigeurs after he was taken 3rd overall in 2016, becoming the highest drafted goalie in the QMJHL since the Victoriaville Tigres took Kevin Poulin third overall in 2006.
He made an immediate impact with the Voltigeurs, featuring in 41 games in his rookie campaign and then taking an even higher workload with 53 appearances in his second season in the Q, with his 2.54 goals against average the third best in the league among goalies featuring in 40 games or more.
While he’s trending in the right way, I don’t think many envision Rodrigue to become a future star in the league. He’ll end up as a reliable starter in a few seasons time, but at 17 he’s quite a way off making his pro debut, which is one of the reasons why he’ll drop into the second round or potentially even further, as he then becomes a starter in the league in probably no sooner than five years down the line.
Dostal as well is just 17-years-old and while he has the benefit of playing in the Kometa Brno system and having the potential to stay in the Czech Republic and move into the professional game to aid his development, he’ll fall further in the draft than Rodrigue as he takes his time to find himself in the pro game.
He’s already featured for SK Koracka Salvia Trebic in the Czech second division this past season where he did put up a respectable 2.43 goals against average and .921 save percentage.
For Rodrigue and Dostal, along with the other batch of eligible goalies this year, the reality is they’ll have to wait until at least the second and see if a team has a need in the position before hearing their names called.
It’s not that it’s a bad year group of goalies, it’s just more a case of there not really being a standout name in the position like Jake Oettinger was last year who was the 26th pick.
None of the goalies available this year really fit an immediate need for any team, even teams looking to replace aging veterans won’t benefit until it’s too late from an early gamble this year paying off.
Now, taking a goalie in the first round (not just the first round of this draft) is always a risky investment. Do you think if the Nashville Predators could have a do-over in 2008 they’d still take Chet Pickard? Or would they hold off on a goalie and try and pick up Braden Holtby in round four like the Washington Capitals did. Maybe they could then use that first rounder on someone like Jordan Eberle or John Carlson.
Maybe the Detroit Red Wings would have left Tom McCollum fall to round two and then take Jake Allen who went just four picks later to the St Louis Blues in the second round.
But that’s all what ifs.
If using your first round pick on a goalie works then your GM’s a genius. If you gamble on a first round goalie and it doesn’t work, then the only saving grace is that (unless Vegas do it in their current George McPhee era) your GM isn’t the guy who traded Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat and Michael Latta.
I haven’t seen a single mock draft (not that they’re always the most reliable source to acknowledge) that has a goalie going in the first round, and very rarely in the top 50 picks.
I would be surprised if any team picks up a goalie in the first round this year, next year or the year after, not because there aren’t goalies deserving of maybe being looked at as a first round talent, but more because if I was a GM, I’d rather take a chance on a skater and fail, then miss out on a dynamic player because I went all in on a goalie who becomes nothing more than an answer to a trivia question such as “Which goalie, who played one game for the team who drafted him, was selected one spot ahead of 2017 NHL-All Star defenceman Cam Fowler”
Answer? Jack Campbell