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).