The 2019-20 season should be a fascinating one to follow when it comes to the Devils goaltending prospects. Mackenzie Blackwood, a former OHL standout who had struggled in his first 2 professional seasons, broke through at the NHL level last year in 23 games to earn a chance to compete for the starting role with Cory Schneider. Evan Cormier, a previously unsigned former draft pick of the Devils, made his return to the organization last season and will now compete with Gilles Senn, a Swiss international making his North American debut, for the starting job in Binghamton at the AHL level. Akira Schmid, had a rough start to his post-draft season in 2018-19 but finished as a top USHL goaltender and is set to return to Omaha. The Devils newest goaltending prospect, 2019 pick Cole Brady, is set to make the jump from the NAHL to USHL. Not to be lost in all of this is that the Devils opted to let Cam Johnson go after he struggled in the AHL last season. In addition to normal stats, you’ll see me reference stats like Quality Starts, Goals Saved Above Average and GA%- (100 is average, sub 100 is better, above 100 is worse).
Let’s start with the prospect that has already made an impact at the NHL level and could solidify his full time NHL status this upcoming season. Mackenzie Blackwood was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2015 NHL Draft while he was a member of the Barrie Colts of the OHL. After a stellar OHL career, Blackwood turned pro for his age 20 season in 2016-17. He struggled in his first 2 professional seasons before turning it around last year. In 20 AHL games he put up rather average numbers with a .902 SV%, 102 GA%-, and had a -1.18 Goals Saved Above Average. Not great but still a step in the right direction after his initial struggles. With New Jersey desperate for goaltending, he got the call and in 23 NHL games impressed with a .918 SV%, 91 GA%-, and had a 5.30 Goals Saved Above Average mark. As Hockey Reference notes, Blackwood put together 14 Quality Starts for an impressive 66.7 Quality Start%. Blackwood is now set to start his age 23 season (December birthdate) competing with Cory Schneider for playing time. Schneider himself is coming off of a few injury riddled years and is set to enter his age 33 season. I think it’s completely reasonable to think that Blackwood should see quite a bit of game time, whether that is backing up Schneider or splitting the job with him. I’m really intrigued to see if Blackwood can continue to take a step forward like he did last season and live up to the hype he had as a top goaltending prospect out of the OHL during his junior days.
Next, let’s take a look at the two goaltenders that could split time in Binghamton, assuming the Devils don’t add in a veteran netminder and push one of these players to the ECHL. Evan Cormier was a 4th round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft by the Devils out of Saginaw in the OHL. He spent most of his OHL career on a rebuilding Saginaw team that didn’t play the best defense in front of him. After the 2018 season, the Devils opted to let him go unsigned and he ended up playing for the University of Guelph. That would only last 13 games as an injury situation required the Devils to reach back out to Cormier in December and sign him to a try-out. Cormier was able to play well enough to parlay that into an entry-level contract in February. Overall, his play would drop off a bit and in 15 AHL games he had a .902 SV%, 102 GA%- and -0.78 Goals Saved Above Average. He even spent some time with Adirondack in the ECHL where he had a .875 SV% in 6 regular season games. I think Cormier’s 2018-19 season is a great redemption story and I am pulling for him, but judging him based on his full junior and short pro career, I’m not too confident that he can be much more than a minor league player for the Devils.
Gilles Senn is likely to be Cormier’s partner in Binghamton to start the season. The 23 year old Swiss netminder is coming over from HC Davos in NLA, where he was selected by the Devils in the 2017 NHL Draft as a 21 year old. He started with about average to slightly below average results for Davos from 2016-18. Last season he saw his role reduced to that of a back up, due to his inconsistent play the prior 2 seasons and a lack of desire to sign a new contract with the club. In 20 regular season games for a struggling Davos team he had a .901 SV%, 115 GA%-, and -7.99 GSAA. He had 8 Quality Starts for a low 42.11% and 4 Really Bad Starts for a high 21.05%. He doesn’t turn 24 until March and with a 6’5, 192 lbs. frame is still trying to harness his skills. I find Senn an intriguing prospect due to his size and experience for HC Davos across multiple competitions and for Switzlerand in international competition. With that said, I think this could be a really risky duo for Binghamton to count on. Perhaps the competition and adversity will benefit the prospects in the long run though. If you were wondering, Cam Johnson had a .872 SV%, 133 GA%-, and AHL low -26.46 GSAA in 29 games last season so Senn should be an upgrade on that at least.
Now, let’s move on to two goaltenders that are likely to spend their 2019-20 seasons in the USHL. Akira Schmid was drafted in the 5th round of the 2018 NHL Draft out of the SCL Tigers system in NLA. He was also selected by the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL in the CHL Import Draft and it seemed like he would find a solid home there. Unfortunately, they cut him after just one disastrous game and left him in limbo for a few weeks. Eventually he would make his way to the Corpus Christi IceRays of the NAHL, a league one step below the USHL. He impressed in just 2 games and earned a call-up and eventually a contract with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL. This move would work out tremendously for both the team and Schmid as he would post a .926 SV%, 70 GA%-, 31.52 GSAA, and a GSAA/60 mark of 0.94. Those totals would be give him the league lead in those categories. He also put up a crazy 66.67 Quality Start% after posting 20 and limited his Really Bad Starts to just 3 games. While you could make an argument that he’s already outgrown the USHL, his options were limited in terms of returning to a CHL team or trying to get a waiver for NCAA play. He won’t turn 20 until May and is still filling out his 6’5, 205 lbs. frame. I think it’s fine to take a conservative approach to his development and see if he can repeat as a top goaltender in the USHL once again this upcoming season.
Finally, let’s move on to the newest goaltending prospect, Cole Brady, a 5th round selection in the 2019 NHL Draft. He’s another large goaltender with a 6’5, 174 lbs. frame and spent last season in the NAHL for the Janesville Jets. In 43 regular season games he managed a .912 SV%, 100 GA%-, and 0.54 GSAA. In other words he was fairly average. He’s committed to Arizona State University for the 2020-21 season and is likely to spend his 2019-20 season with the Fargo Force in the USHL. I like this move for him as it represents a solid step up in competition for him without putting him in a situation that could be too overwhelming. This is a player that the Devils can afford to take their time with and seeing how his development pans out across the USHL and eventually NCAA paths.
What are your opinions on these prospects? What expectations do you have for them in 2019-20 as well as beyond? Which goaltender are you looking forward to following the most? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!