History shows there’s a good chance a goaltender won’t go in the first round of this year’s draft: Four times in the past seven years, teams passed on all netminders available in the first 30 picks. They are wary of overspending draft capital on a prospect who is at best three years away from contributing at the NHL level. They also fear the big whiff: In a five-year span from 2005 through 2009, eight goaltenders were selected in the first round; two played a single NHL game and one has never busted out of the American Hockey League.
In fact, teams are inclined to believe that they have as much of a chance hitting the jackpot with a goaltender in the third round as they might in the first. Let the 2005 draft serve as the instructive example: While no one is second-guessing Montreal and Toronto selecting Carey Price and Tuukka Rask respectively in round one, St. Louis managed to land Vezina finalist Ben Bishop and Los Angeles took Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick two rounds later.
If a goaltender does go in the first round (and it’s hard to see more than one being selected), it will be Thatcher Demko, a native of San Diego who plays for Boston College. His career path is unlike any other. Without any youth-league coaching in his hometown, he taught himself to play from YouTube videos. At 14, he phoned coaches around the country, asking for tryouts. He was cut from a variety of prep teams, including Shattuck-St. Mary’s. He broke through when he wound up playing in Omaha and with the USA Hockey program in Ann Arbor, Mich. In 2013–14, as a freshman and the youngest player in NCAA hockey, Demko posted numbers that would have impressed in any league: A 16-5-3 record and .919 save percentage. He carried the Eagles all the way to the Frozen Four, losing to eventual champs Union College in the semis. Said one scout: “I’m sure he’s disappointed with how the season ended, but he’s a physically dynamic and driven kid with pro size.”
It’s caveat emptor for teams looking at Demko in the first, though: Word is that surgery on both hips is a possibility. He was trying to let the air out of the rumour at the NHL combine, but suspicions again surfaced when he passed on the physical testing, citing a sudden illness. If a team winds up with a hard push for a goaltender in this draft, Charlottetown’s Mason McDonald is the other option. A trade from the Acadie-Bathurst Titan to the Islanders gave him a chance to play a lot, and he shone in the CHL Top Prospects Game, stopping all 14 shots he faced. “He might have been the best player in the game,” says a former NHL netminder turned scout. “By the end of the season, he closed [on Demko] even though he was playing for a weak team in not a great year for the Quebec league.”
No matter if it’s Demko, McDonald or another goalie snapped up with a first-, second- or third-round choice, suffice it to say that the batting averages of scouting staffs go way down when using priority picks on goaltenders and the results play out over a prolonged development curve that is excruciatingly painful—for the prospects and teams alike.
Among wingers in this draft class, he might rival Jake Virtanen as best pure finisher. He tore up the Prospects Game, but scouts question his drive. – GARE JOYCE
He’s top 10 in hockey smarts. How far he falls depends on your belief that they can transcend his skating and physical package. – GARE JOYCE
Size has him landing later. Has a comparable skill set to Central Scouting’s No. 14 Anthony DeAngelo, but better in own end without the puck. – GARE JOYCE
The only draft-eligible Czech playing at home points to the state of development there—just 18 draftees in the past seven years and none in 2013.