Fifteen years ago, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was drafted first overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. As of now, he would be the last goaltender to be picked first. Current New Jersey Devils starting goaltender Cory Schneider was drafted twenty-sixth overall in 2004, one of four goaltenders to go in the first round. The Devils acquired him at the cost of their ninth overall pick in 2013. No goaltender was actually drafted in the first round in 2013. In fact, there have been only three goaltenders drafted in the first round in the last five years: two in 2012 and one in 2015. The point is that for a position as crucial as goaltender, they’re not typically drafted high.
Why is that? There are multiple reasons I can come up with. It’s hard to compare a goaltender to a skating player to begin with. A goalie that may shine in one level may have mechanical issues at the next level. Once a team is set at goaltender, there’s not really a need to go and get one that may not be ready for multiple years. Also, there are more goalies than there are spots, so the position has a fungible nature. And a good number of first round goalie selections just busted. Sure, Schneider, Tuukka Rask, Carey Price, and Seymon Varlamov were successes. There’s also the not-so-successes like Chet Pickard, Tom McCollum, Riku Helenius, Marek Schwarz, and Mark Visentin. Essentially, unless you’re sure that the goalie you’re picking is set to be an all-star - and that’s really up in the air given how goaltending is evaluated - a team is better off using later picks for goaltenders.
Why bring up goaltending prospects at all? Because the subject of today’s prospect profile for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft is one of the top goaltenders available. It’s Boston University’s Jake Oettinger.
Who is Jake Oettinger?
Jake Oettinger is a goaltender. According to Elite Prospects, he was born on December 18, 1998; he officially stands at 6’4” and weighs 205 pounds; and he’s from the United States. Oettinger is yet another product of one of the most dominant development programs in the world in any sport: The United States National Team Development Program. Loads of players have come out of this program to go on to successful careers in college, minor professional hockey, and the NHL. Oettinger joined the program in 2014-15 and represented the USA U-17 team; he continued in the program and represented the USA U-18 team; and went to Boston University. While he was named to the World U-18 team twice and the USA squad at the World Junior Championships in this past season; his international experience has been limited. Oettinger was only able to perform in the World Hockey Challenge (a U-17 tourney) in 2014-15 and the World U-18 Championships in 2015-16. He won silver and bronze in those respective tournaments; he earned gold as the backup in the other two tournaments.
Oettinger’s numbers show a goaltender who has been effective among his peers as per Elite Prospects. In 2014-15 with the USNTDP, he posted a 91.6% overall save percentage in 27 games. In 2015-16, he wasn’t as effective with a 90.8% overall save percentage but he did play more games, 37 games. Internationally in those two seasons, he was very good in the short tournaments, posting a 93.7% save percentage in both. In his freshman year at Boston University, he was one of the best goalies in college. In 35 appearances, Oettinger posted a 92.7% overall save percentage - the ninth highest save percentage in the nation according to USCHO and the third highest save percentage in his conference, Hockey East, also according to USCHO. Such a performance led to Oettinger to being named to the All-Rookie team and the second All-Star team by Hockey East at the end of this past season. Oettinger’s performances also helped Boston University to the second best record in Hockey East, reach the semifinals of their conference’s tournament, and take BU to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Frozen Four. All together, Oettinger had a very good 2016-17 campaign.
Where is Oettinger Ranked?
As he is a goaltender, the rankings will vary somewhat. But Oettinger is recognized by multiple services:
- NHL Central Scouting Services (Final): #1 North American Goalies
- Future Considerations (Spring): #28
- The Draft Analyst (May): #78
- Recrutes.ca (April 29 Mock): #20
- Craig Button (March): #50
- Hockey Prospect (February): #28
- International Scouting Services (May 3 Top 31): #2 Goalie
It isn’t a consensus at all whether Oettinger is the best goaltender prospect in this draft. Some services and mock drafts do have him as the first goaltender and the only one to go at the end of the first round. However, ISS rates Uuko-Pekka Luukkonen as the top goaltender. Future Considerations does rank him in their top thirty, but Michael DiPietro is ahead of him. Steve Kournianos and Craig Button have multiple goaltenders ahead of Oettinger. While final rankings aren’t made yet and mock drafts are different than prospect rankings, one should expect Oettinger to be a fringe first round pick at best and more likely to go in the second round. It’s completely up in the air as to whether he’ll be the first goalie or not.
What Others Say About Jake Oettinger
Let’s start with Future Considerations. His free profile has the following written about him in November 2016:
Big and athletic puckstopper in the prototypical NHL goalie mold…covers a lot of the net with his natural size and mobility…has long legs that cover much of the lower net when he drops into the butterfly…handles rebounds well as he either directs them to open space or suffocates them in his pads…is fluid and quick, pushing post-to-post and maintains good position when he is forced to move laterally...
…tracks the puck well, but this is one area that he could continue to improve
I highlighted the first part of the profile and the one criticism I could identify in it. It’s important to realize that Oettinger was not viewed as a goalie getting by on just being big even before the college season really got going. No, he was praised for how well he moved too. Curiously, he can go into a butterfly - which I’m sure makes his size even more of an asset. The one critical part is that his tracking of the puck could be better. The profile notes that he could be a starter with BU. He absolutely became the starter at BU. And given how well he did at stopping the puck, I think his puck tracking would have at least improved somewhat.
Related to that, back on October 25, 2016, Oettinger was the featured prospect in this Ryan Kennedy post at The Hockey News. Oettinger himself says the following about what he has been working on:
“Every goalie in the NHL, with maybe the exception of Carey Price, could become a better skater," [Oettinger] said. "If you’re on your feet as long as you possibly can be, you give yourself a better chance to make a save. That’s what I’ve been working on. That, and tracking the puck. That’s so big in the game now. Shots and releases are so fast; you gotta be good at tracking the puck if you’re going to make saves.”
This is heartening to read in retrospect. I appreciate when prospective professionals recognize what they think they need to work on and state that. I fully agree, too. Skating is crucial for any position in hockey. That he also mentioned tracking the puck makes me think he’s aware of that being an area of improvement for his game.
That’s all well and good. His high save percentage in his 2016-17 season with Boston University means he played well. So how do others look at him after the college season ended?
Let’s start to Chris Dilks at SBN College Hockey. Dilks and his group rank the top 100 NHL prospects in college every year. This includes both drafted and undrafted players. They were very high on Oettinger, ranking him fifteenth in this year. Here’s what Dilks wrote about Oettinger:
Oettinger was the youngest goalie, and second-youngest player overall in college hockey this past year, and played fantastic as the starting goalie for Boston University this year, putting up excellent .927/2.11 numbers.
Oettinger is the prototypical combination of size, positioning and athleticism that NHL teams are looking for in a starting goalie, and should be selected very high in this year’s NHL Draft. It’s rare to see goalies be selected in the first round of the Draft these days, but Oettinger’s measurables, combined with him showing he can play at the college level make him as safe a bet as a team could make in a future goalie.
Over at The Last Word on Sports, Ben Kerr profiled Oettinger as part of his annual series of prospect profiles. Kerr’s profile should be read fully; I will highlight what he wrote regarding Oettinger’s skating and other parts of his game:
Oettinger is a solid skater in the crease. He can come out to challenge shooters, but also back up quickly and take away the net when they try to make a deke. Oettinger could work on his positioning though. He sometimes can get beat when he is slightly off; and gives the shooter a bit too much net to look at. He also gets out of his net quickly to get loose pucks. Oettinger can get the breakout started with a solid first pass. He gets side-to-side quickly in the net, allowing him to make saves on cross-ice passes and set up quickly for shots. His puck tracking ability is also very good. He has the athletic ability to make a save, and quickly get himself back into position, and be square to the shooter on rebounds.
Curiously, Kerr picks out Oettinger’s positioning as something to work on. That said, Kerr has plenty of good things to say about his athleticism, skating, and how he tracks pucks. That Kerr picked up on it furthers the notion that what he worked on led to improvements. That’s good for Oettinger - and whoever picks him in June.
However, not everyone shares the same thinking about his athleticism. Recrutes’ profile on Oettinger has some comments from a NHL scout that is freely available. I’m not sure it is from the same scout, but the dates are helpful in showing how somebody regards his play. These two stuck out to me:
Feb. 14, 2017 – Not a great athlete but he’s huge …very smart, calm and efficient. Mental game and technical game are big time. What’s nice about him is there’s no bust factor. He will be a good depth goalie at worst.
April 2, 2017 – To go to Fargo in that building and beat North Dakota What makes him special is his hockey sense and so calm. He can’t skate like some, doesn’t move that great….he’s fun to watch because he has positioning down to a science. Way mature beyond his years. He really works on his craft…you don;t (sic) have to worry about that.
Both of these quotes shows that someone does not think highly of his athleticism at all. If it’s from the same scout, then it’s a little worrisome given that other services and people think highly of how Oettinger moves. Maybe the scout saw something that others may have missed? Regardless, they’re ultimately positive quotes as the scout praises the other aspects of his game.
All together, it paints a kind of murky picture. While five different people had plenty of good things to say about Oettinger before, during, and after his first season with Boston University, there’s differences in what he needed to work on. Before the season, it was puck tracking - something Oettinger knew about. After the season, from Kerr, it’s positioning. From a NHL scout at Recrutes, it’s his athleticism. Dilks’ main point is that being a goalie may keep him out. The varying rankings from different sites show there’s a range of opinion about Oettinger. I wonder if this is more of a result of trying to evaluate goaltenders rather than Oettinger himself.
A Little Video
Kerr’s profile links to a highlight video featuring Oettinger playing well in a 7-0 beatdown of Sacred Heart. It is the first result when one searches for Oettinger on YouTube. So I want to highlight some other highlight videos that show Oettinger’s skills. First, here’s a highlight video of a 4-0 shutout win by Oettinger and the Terriers against Vermont on December 10, 2016. Despite the score, there are some plays that I’m stunned Vermont did not score on. The plays begin sixteen seconds in:
The highlights open with Oettinger making a quick pad save in front before being bowled over by bodies. The video goes on to show Oettinger denying Vermont in a 2-on-0 thanks to how he tracked the puck and holding tough on a breakaway.
Another good highlight video that features Oettinger would be from BU’s outdoor game against UMass at Fenway on January 8, 2017. This wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but it was a winning performance all the same:
If you’re interested in learning more about Oettinger himself, then their All Access show from Boston University’s Athletics Department has a feature on Oettinger in their season finale. It starts at three minutes in and ends at about 6:46:
The feature includes clips of Oettinger working on mechanics in practice and shows some other highlight saves he’s made. While it’s all positive - BU Athletics aren’t going to be overly critical of their own players - the clips show me a goaltender who moves and reacts very well in the crease.
An Opinion of Sorts
It’s ironic that given how important goaltending is to a team’s success, identifying who would and would not become a success seems to be more of a challenge. Recognizing a player’s mechanics is one thing; to project whether they’ll be good enough for the professional level seems to be another. While there have been many advancements in stats to evaluate players in the NHL, they haven’t flowed down to the junior and college levels for skaters much less goalies. So my general understanding is that goaltender prospects are a shot in the dark.
The good news is that there’s plenty for a team to justify a Oettinger draft pick. He was definitely good enough to join the USNTDP, be a featured goaltender for them for two seasons, he had an excellent freshman season with BU, and he has a lot going for him between his size, his movement, and how he reacts in games. Various people may differ on some of his mechanics, but generally, the performances leave observers positive about Oettinger’s prospects.
As reading up on him, I decided to look back at what Brian wrote about MacKenzie Blackwood when the Devils drafted him. Much of what Blackwood was praised for is repeated for Oettinger. Like Oettinger, Blackwood is a big man who was considered to be rather athletic for his size. Since the Devils have Blackwood already and drafted Evan Cormier last year, I don’t think the Devils need to draft a goalie at all in 2017, much less drafting Oettinger. I do see how a team that would need a goalie in their system can look at what Oettinger did in 2016-17 and draft him late in the first round or somewhere in the second round. All it takes is for one team to really, really like him, after all.
Your mileage may vary on whether a team should really, really like Oettinger. But if you’re interested in goaltender prospects, then he’s one of the names to know. What do you think of Oettinger as a prospect? Even though I don’t think the Devils need to draft a goalie, would you want the Devils to draft him regardless? Please leave your thoughts about Oettinger in the comments. Thank you for reading.