Trend Or Aberration: All Four Remaining NHL Teams Are Starting A Goalie Drafted In The First Round

By Dan Dukart on June 17, 2021 at 8:05 am
Andrei Vasilevskiy makes a save against Cam Atkinson
Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time when NHL teams drafted goalies at the very top of the draft.

Look back no further than the four-year span between 2000-2003, when Rick DiPietro and Marc-Andre Fleury were taken first overall and Kari Lehtonen was taken second. 

But in recent years, conventional wisdom has shifted on goalies, and teams now treat goalies similarly to NFL running backs. The thinking goes that, while there are outliers, most goalies fall into the 'competent' range, and thus wasting precious draft capital on a goalie in the first round, when there are surely diamonds in the rough to be had (probably a good time to remind ourselves that Sergei Bobrovsky was never drafted).

But maybe that conventional wisdom is being challenged again, right in front of our eyes.

Fleury, Carey Price, Semyon Varlamov, and Andrei Vasilevskiy are all high-end, quality starting goaltenders in the NHL. These are the four starting goalies for the remaining teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they all happen to have been drafted in the first round.

If the past five years are any indication, teams are reluctant to use a first-round pick on a goalie. In 2016 and 2018, no goalies were selected in the first round. In 2017, the Dallas Stars picked Jake Oettinger 26th overall. In 2019, the Florida Panthers went against expectations, picking Spencer Knight 13th overall right after signing Bobrovsky to a seven-year contract. In 2020, the Nashville Predators Yaroslav Askarov 11th overall.

Per The Athletic's Corey Pronman, there are at least two goalies that could have their names picked in the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft. Sebastian Cossa and Jesper Wallstedt are ranked 10th and 11th, respectively, in his final draft rankings of 151 prospects, and Pronman has them both projected to be 'quality starting goaltenders' at the NHL level.

The Blue Jackets have used a first-round pick on a goalie just once, selecting Pascal Leclaire 8th overall in 2001. Both Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo were picked in the third rounds, as was Daniil Tarasov, the club's top current goalie prospect. The organization's number three, Matiss Kivlenieks was never drafted. With a relatively shallow prospect pipeline, it would be a surprise if the Blue Jackets took Cossa or Wallstedt with the fifth-overall pick, but if they keep all three picks and one of those two are available at the end of the first, it wouldn't be out of the question. 

More likely, however, is the Blue Jackets use one of their six non-first-round picks to add a goalie to their prospect pool.   

Fleury (1st), Price (5th), Vasilevskiy (19th), and Varlamov (23rd) are surely not the consensus top four goalies in the NHL, but they are all squarely above average, at worst. In a 'copycat league', it's worth monitoring if teams choose to select goalies higher in the draft than they would have in the past generation, where it's become rare to see many (if any) goalies selected in the first round.

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