Goaltending is an important part of any prospect pipeline for an NHL team. Depending on the needs of a team and the current goaltenders at the NHL level, a team that needs a starter in a few years may select a goalie in the first or second round. A team that does not need a starter might instead choose to wait for the mid or later rounds to select a goalie. Fortunately for the New Jersey Devils, they fall into the latter category.
Unfortunately for the Devils, their best goaltender after MacKenzie Blackwood and Cory Schneider is either 27 year old Zane McIntyre or 24 year old Gilles Senn. McIntyre did not fare well in his only stint in the NHL with the Bruins in the 2016-17 season, while Senn was decent in the only two games he played with the New Jersey Devils with a .902 save percentage and 3.42 goals against average. Senn was a fifth round draft pick in 2017.
I cannot see the Devils retaining Evan Cormier much longer into the future unless he makes a big improvement in the last season of his entry-level contract. His .885 save percentage in the ECHL and .883 in the AHL left a lot to be desired in the 2019-20 season. Cormier was a fourth round ppick in the 2016 Draft. The two remaining goaltenders under the Devils’ control are Akira Schmid and Cole Brady. Schmid was a fifth round draft pick in 2018 and is still unsigned. After a good season in the USHL in 2018-19, his save percentage dropped to .890 in the 2019-20 season. Cole Brady, a fifth round draft pick in 2019, had a decent season in the USHL with a .903 save percentage in 2019-20. Today, we preview three goalenders that may join or replace some of these prospects in the Devils’ pipeline: Joel Blomqvist of Finland, Drew Commesso of the United States, and Nick Malik of the Czech Republic.
Joel Blomqvist is the third ranked European goaltender by NHL Central Scotuing. However, Blomqvist has shown a good amount of promise in Finnish junior hockey, sporting a save percentage above .930 in both of the past two seasons. When hockey resumes in Finland, Blomqvist is likely to move on from U20 juniors to Mestis - the second highest level of men’s hockey in Finland.
A quick look at Blomqvist’s draft rankings has him going somewhere between the end of the second round and the start of the third round. Ben Kerr at Last Word on Hockey has him ranked 61st. Kerr says this about Blomqvist:
Blomqvist plays a hybrid style. He prefers to stay on his feet to take away shots at the top of the net. He also has a quick glove hand and a good blocker. Blomqvist has quick as well as strong legs. On low shots he gets down in the butterfly quickly, taking away the bottom of the net. His rebound control is advanced for a young goaltender as he keeps the puck close to him when possible and kicks pucks into the corners when it is not. Even when he gives up a rebound, he recovers quickly and gets his body square to the puck. Blomqvist is a strong skater and it is difficult to beat him coming in on a deke.
Of the three goalies previewed today, Blomqvist would be the most likely to have starter potential in the NHL. With goalies, however, nothing is a sure thing - and there is a chance that teams might be dissuaded from picking him based on his smaller size for a goaltender at 6’1”. Other prospect writers aside from Kerr who reviewed Blomqvist tended to rank him similarly, though - around the 50s-60s range.
The Devils might not have high enough a pick to select Blomqvist this season. Especially if Sami Vatanen does not play enough playoff games to grant the Devils a third round pick, then there it seems there is very little chance that Blomqvist would fall to the Devils without acquiring more picks in the draft. If the Devils decided to go after him, they would likely be parting with some assets - though they would be getting a higher end prospect than they might get from some of the other goalie choices post-Askarov this Draft.
Drew Commesso is the second ranked goaltender among North American goalies according to NHL Central Scouting. He has played his last two seasons with the United States National Team Development Program, finding success in the most recent season.
Ranked 87th by Bob McKenzie, 82nd by Ben Kerr, and as high as 67th by McKeen’s Hockey, Drew Commesso should be expected to go somewhere in the third round - though it is not out of the realm of possibility that some team picks him in the second round or that he falls to the fourth round. Having played quite well in the USHL in 2019-20, I expect Commesso to be a good goaltender for Boston University whenever college sports resume. Ben Kerr of Last Word on Hockey had this to say about Commesso:
Commesso is an excellent puck handler. He gets out of his net often to cut off dump-ins and acts as a third defenceman back there. This helps his team to start the transition game quickly and limits the opposition’s forecheck. Commesso is accurate with his first pass to his defenders. He’s even been known to clear the puck off the glass and out of the zone when killing penalties. He can also make a long pass and hit a forward in the neutral zone if the other team gets caught making a line change.
While Kerr said his rebound control leaves a lot to be desired, I am interested by Commesso’s willingness to handle the puck outside the crease. If Commesso can stop leaving so many rebounds for opposing teams to jump on, he could become a very versatile goaltender. Kerr also said earlier in his scouting report that “his angles and positioning are almost always spot on”.
Again, as a likely third round pick, the Devils might not currently have the draft picks necessary to select him in the draft. However, if Sami Vatanen returns to the ice for the Carolina Hurricanes before they are eliminated and plays enough games, the Devils may have a late third round draft pick that should fall right where Commesso is likely to be picked. If that ends up being the case, it would be easier for the Devils to draft Commesso than to seek a way to trade into picking Joel Blomqvist.
Despite Nick Malik having played in the Czech Republic at least since he was 13, NHL Central Scouting views him as a North American goalie due to his father Marek Malik having played in the NHL and Nick being born while Marek played with the Carolina Hurricanes. Nick Malik is ranked 10th among North American goalies, down from a midterm rank of fifth.
Following a successful start to his season as a goalie in the 2nd Czech Republic Hockey League - the third highest in the Czech Republic (the highest is the Extraliga) - Nick Malik decided to join the Soo Greyhounds after the World Junior Championships. However, Malik would not see as much success in the OHL as he did in the Czech Republic, sporting just an .886 save percentage. However, Dominic Tiano at OHL Writers had this to say about Malik's performance with the Greyhounds.
Malik also appeared at times to struggle with his angles. One could reasonably accept that there would be a transition stage coming from the larger ice surface in Europe because pucks and players come at you differently. But as the games went on, you could see a comfort level and more confidence creeping into him.
While Malik is reputed for his athleticism and calm demeanor in goal, his poor performance in the OHL is hard to look past. Sure, he had some success in the third highest Czech men’s league, but until we see where he plays next season his performance is something of a wild card. Due to the uncertainty created by the inconsistency of his play in his draft season, I would be unhappy if I saw him picked by the Devils any earlier than the sixth round. Given the drop in his ranking from NHL Central Scouting, I think the sixth or seventh round would be the best place to select Malik. I would compare him to selecting Gilles Senn. Senn had earlier success in the Swiss National League with HC Davos a couple years before he was drafted, and did not make the jump to North American hockey until this season, where he had a .901 in Binghamton after having the same save percentage in Switzerland in the 2018-19 season. Therefore, I am not sure what to make of Malik’s sudden decline in performance from the third highest level of Czech hockey to the OHL - and I certainly do not think he is worth a fifth round pick similar to where Gilles Senn was taken.
What do you think about the three goaltenders previewed today? Who catches your eye? Do you think the Devils should select a goaltender this year? Do you think they should make a trade to get a better pick to select one? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.