Magnus Hellberg was the first goalie drafted in 2011 (by Nashville in Round 2)

For many decades, it was very rare to see a goalie drafted early in the first round. Whether you attribute that to the mere fact that goalies make up a small portion of a typical NHL roster (two to three goalies compared to at least 12 forwards and at least six defensemen) or the notion that netminders are tough nuts to crack, the hesitation to make big gambles on the important position was palpable for quite some time.

The last couple decades ushered in a new era in which teams seemed more willing to roll the dice with high-end picks in net. The Dallas Stars surprised many by picking cocky American goalie Jack Campbell with the 11th overall pick in 2010. The Nashville Predators opted to draft Chet Pickard with the 18th pick in ’08. Plenty of other goalies went much earlier in previous drafts.*

That being said, it’s possible that the trend is moving back in the other direction a bit. In three of the last five years, a goalie hasn’t been drafted in the first round. (To be fair, the New York Islanders made Mikko Koskinen the first pick of the second round in 2009, but it still doesn’t count.)

The Nashville Predators became the first team to draft a goalie in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, taking Magnus Hellberg in the second round (38th overall). The second round did open the goalie floodgates turn on the goalie faucet a bit, though, as the Anaheim Ducks chose John Gibson one pick later at No. 39 while the Los Angeles Kings made Christopher Gibson the 49th pick. (Click here for a full list of the 2011 draft results.)

The Predators’ decision to draft Hellberg surprised some because the two Gibson goalies (no relation) were higher-ranked netminding prospects. Mike Morreale points out that Central Scouting didn’t even name Hellberg as the top European goalie, either.

Still, Nashville scout Lucas Bergman apparently saw glimpses of their top two goalies (Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback, both featured in this post’s main image) in Hellberg.

“We’ve had success Pekka (Rinne) and (Anders) Lindback here and I see a lot of similarities with those two goalies and Hellberg’s game as far as size, athleticism and ability to read the game and mental state … definitely,” Bergman said. “In my book, I saw a separation between Hellberg and those two (North American goalies). Magnus, in our eyes, is the top goalie in this draft with a separation.”

It seems like perceived NHL-readiness might also be one of the factors that enticed the Predators.

Hellberg just recently signed a two-year deal with Frolunda in the Swedish Elite League and will likely join the team, which also happens to be in his hometown, next season.

“I just moved there so my focus is to play with Frolunda, but if (Nashville) wants me to come over we’ll talk about what is best for my development,” Hellberg said.

Bergman likes the fact Hellberg is an older goalie (he was born in 1991).

“He’s an older kid in the draft and played senior hockey last year,” he said. “His maturity … I don’t think he’s that far away. I don’t see any reason to rush him but maturity wise, he’s not far off.”

Some might view the Predators’ decision to draft Hellberg instead of the Gibsons (or a skater) as “far off” but we’ll eventually learn if they found themselves another useful goalie as the years go by.

* Here are a few quick examples: Carey Price (fifth overall by Montreal in 2005), Al Montoya (sixth overall by the Rangers in 04), Marc-Andre Fleury (first overall by Pittsburgh in ’03), Kari Lehtonen (second overall by Atlanta in ’02), Rick DiPietro (first overall by the Islanders in ’00) and Roberto Luongo (fourth overall by the Islanders in ’97).

The West’s next round is now set (and wide-open)

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Saturday was a great day for fans of brevity and revenge.

Three of a possible three series ended on this day, with the Rangers dispatching the Canadiens, the Blues eliminating the “better” Wild, and the Oilers knocking off the Sharks in six.

The Rangers await either the Bruins or Senators and the Penguins face the winner of the Leafs – Capitals series out East, but we now know how the West shakes out.

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Both teams provided some of the upsets of this young postseason. Each features a red-hot goalie in Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne. Interesting.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

There will be a lot of orange. We may also see a ton of goals with Ryan Getzlaf on fire, Oscar Klefbom headlining the list of unhealthy players and Connor McDavid possibly able to really take off against a Ducks defense that is beat up in its own right.

It’s already been a strange season out West, with the Kings missing the playoffs and first-round exits for the Sharks and Blackhawks. Get ready – and giddy – for things to get even weirder as the postseason goes along.

Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

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After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

Wow.

With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

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Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

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Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.