The news of the past few months has reminded us how goalkeeper development is an inexact and unpredictable science.
Montrealer Devon Levi, 212th player drafted in 2020, 19th claimed goalie, landed in the NHL at the end of a glorious university career. He will have every chance, at the next training camp, to show that he can play in Buffalo full time.
Adin Hill was drafted in the 3rd round in 2015, but had been confined to a number 2 role for several years. He became the starting goaltender for the Vegas Golden Knights this spring and is now the Stanley Cup champion. Drafted one rank behind him in 2015: Samuel Montembeault, dropped by the Florida Panthers two years ago, deemed competent enough to represent Canada at the World Championship this spring.
Which brings us to next week’s draft. This 2023 vintage is not seen as a great vintage in front of the net, in the absence of exciting hopes like Spencer Knight and Yaroslav Askarov in recent years.
Among the Quebec-born goaltenders, none interested enough teams to be among the 106 players invited to the NHL evaluation camp two weeks ago. So it was over the phone that we reached Quentin Miller, Rudy Guimond and Daniel Héroux, ranked 11th, 17th and 21st respectively among North American goalies by NHL Central Scouting.
For many recruiters, size is a kind of essential prerequisite. However, in his draft year in the QMJHL, Rudy Guimond was 5’7″. This season, he showed up to training camp at 6’1″, and he’s now…6’4″!
“I think I’m going to grow some more, I barely have a beard, I still look like a baby!” “, he says, laughing.
Guimond has followed an atypical path. Rather than try his luck with the Lac St-Louis Lions, like the best players in the West Island, he instead played at Kuper Academy, in Kirkland, in order to enroll in the sports program. studies. Coming from a family that values education, “it was very clear that I wanted to go to the NCAA,” he said. What he will do at Yale University, no less, starting in 2025.
With such a profile, he was never drafted into the QMJHL and this season wore the colors of Taft, a “prep school” from Connecticut.
Daniel Héroux also wanted to go through the school benches, but was drafted by the Halifax Mooseheads, an organization with vast resources. Héroux spent 48 hours at the team camp. “You see the coaches, the staff, it’s really serious,” he said.
But in the fall of 2024, he will join the University of Vermont, less than two hours from Montreal, now that he has graduated from Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire.
“I’ll be in Vermont until I’m 23, I’ll be much better and ready to go play pro,” the Montrealer said on the phone. I know guys who came out of the QMJHL at 20 and they couldn’t find a pro team. I wanted to have time and be ready when I get to the pro. »
Quentin Miller, on the other hand, never even thought of the NCAA because by his own admission, “no one knew [him].”
“I always played in the CC, BB. In the midget, it was the first time that I played in the AAA, “he explains. The Quebec Remparts finally drafted this 176th-ranked Ahuntsicois in 2021, and as an auxiliary to William Rousseau, he won the Memorial Cup this spring.
Employed in 20 games this season, Miller did not play a single minute in the playoffs, and was allowed 14 short minutes during the Memorial Cup.
“Even though I haven’t played, I’ve seen what it’s like to go to the playoffs, the preparation it takes,” he recalls. And Rousseau did a really good job, so it wasn’t unfair either! I tried to support the guys. When we were preparing to play against a team, we analyzed the opposing goalkeeper. At the end of practices, I tried to imitate his weaknesses to help our attackers. »
Recruiters therefore have a limited sample to evaluate it. That hasn’t stopped about 20 NHL teams, according to his estimate, from contacting him in recent months.
“Many goalies sign contracts without being drafted. I’ll make my way regardless,” he predicted. The departure of Rousseau, traded to Rouyn-Noranda, should however help him play more next season.
Rudy Guimond, he was not entitled to as many interviews. Having grown up, he now needs to “fill in” his frame, and this is where the college route could serve him.
“Some goalies are ready to play pro at 20, finishing the QMJHL,” concedes Dan Shakibaian, his advisor. But Rudy, even at 164 lbs, is not yet physically mature. That gives him six years to gain weight, to be physically ready for the struggles in his semi-circle. »
NHL teams rarely look to high schools for goalies. Two porters were drafted there in 2015, but only one in seven drafts since.
That said, the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers spoke with Guimond via videoconference. His growth chart might intrigue some. And he just finished the season with a .943 save percentage, third on the New England school circuit. “Even if I don’t get drafted, I know I can play pro after Yale,” he recalls.
Daniel Héroux also had a stellar season, hitting .933 on the same circuit. But when talking to him, he didn’t think he was going to Nashville for the draft. “I have so much time, I just have to keep working. If I’m good enough, I’m good enough. »
The repechage is by nature an exercise in projection. But with the unique circumstances of the goalkeeper position, predicting an 18-year-old’s potential seems rather perilous.
Born about fifty miles from Brandon, playing for the junior team in his region was in his eyes a better option than the NCAA. His last name is of Danish origin, but he is from the Métis community and holds in admiration another goalkeeper from the First Nations in Carey Price. “I try to be as calm as him. That serenity is what sets me apart,” he told us at the NHL tryout camp two weeks ago.
This Czech who has nothing to envy to Shaquille O’Neal has just completed his first season in North America. Next season he will perform at the University of Massachusetts. He hopes to stay there for three years before turning professional. Hrabal met with the Habs during the week in Buffalo and said he had “a good feeling” from that interview.
His statistics are staggering, but he plays behind a fabulous hockey machine, where we find in particular the hopes Will Smith, Ryan Leonard and Gabriel Perreault. The challenge for recruiters is therefore to determine how much of the team’s success is theirs. In Buffalo, his teammates abounded in the dithyramb. “Best goaltender I’ve ever shot,” Smith said. When I arrive in matches, it becomes easy. He’s not the biggest, you think you’ve found an opening, but the puck ends up in his glove. »