Behind Pekka Rinne and Dan Ellis at the NHL level is a quality stable of goaltending prospects. Nashville selected two goaltenders in both the 2007 and 2008 drafts but none in 2009, in what was considered a weak year.
The goalies are listed in rank order.
Chet Pickard, 19
1st round, 18th overall, 2008
Pickard is the jewel in the Predators prospects goaltending pipeline. The former CHL goaltender of the year improved both his save percentage and goals against every year for the WHL Tri-City Americans, finishing the last regular season with a 9.21 and 2.28.
At 6’2, 210 pounds, Pickard is of average height for a goalie prospect. But it’s his calm demeanor on and off the ice that gives him an edge.
"Pickard is a much more relaxed, patient, ‘stand-upish’ goalie, and waits for the puck more than other guys," described Mitch Korn, goaltending coach for the Nashville Predators.
Pickard needs "to elevate the urgency and quickness,” Korn said. “He’s got the quickness, but he’s got to get out of that comfort zone, the junior speed and crank it a couple of notches."
"We’re not focusing on how I make a save, it’s more just quickness," Pickard echoed.
Korn has been working with Pickard longer than his other goalie prospects in the Nashville system, having trained him a bit before he was drafted by Nashville.
Pickard will turn pro this fall, and likely play most of the year in Milwaukee for the team’s AHL affiliate. He will turn 20 in November.
Mark Dekanich, 23
5th round, 146th overall, 2006
Dekanich turned pro last season after graduating from Colgate University. He posted very good numbers for the Milwaukee Admirals: a .923 save percentage and 2.09 GAA. These were better numbers than his journeyman partner Drew MacIntyre, who played 55 games to Dekanich’s 30, though MacIntyre’s win-loss record was better.
"Mark continues to train and work on his speed, work on his rebound control and catching better in and out of his glove,” Korn said. “So many goalies now are pretty skilled. And everything we’ve talked about today are the physical skills. But the game of hockey is a game of patterns, it’s a game of recognizing patterns and reading and reacting and being able to be mentally tough. Dek has to continue to improve at his recognizing given situations."
At 23, Dekanich is the oldest of the Predators goaltending prospects. The 6’2, 190-pounder should start seeing tests at the NHL level this season. He and Pickard will likely split time in Milwaukee.
Anders Lindback, 21
7th round, 207th overall, 2008
Lindback was a late-round pick in 2008, but has made great strides since then. The 6’6 netminder moved up to the top league in Sweden last year, the Eliteserien, and played in 24 games, posting a .916 save percentage and 2.57 GAA for Brynas.
"Lindback is closer to a Pekka Rinne-type, he’s a hybrid," Korn said. "He stays on his feet, but maybe not that long. He spends a lot of time on his knees, but I wouldn’t call him a pure butterfly guy. He’s got mammoth size, so on pucks that someone else would have to shrug their shoulder for example to stop, it will just hit him.
"Rebounds were a bit of an issue off his body and in and out of his glove while he was here [for conditioning camp]." Korn said. "You could write some of that off to new equipment, you could write some of that off to being a big guy. He’s a little bit more of a blocker and pucks come off blockers."
Lindback had to compete with Florida Panthers top goaltending prospect Jacob Markstrom in the Brynas system, though he got the nod during March in the playoffs. Lindback’s contract with Brynas expired at the end of last season and he signed with Timra, where he is expected to be the starter. He will replace Johan Backlund, who signed with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Goaltenders are slow to develop, and that’s especially true of the taller ones. Lindback continues to improve his stock and could be an NHL starter someday. But it will probably be two or three years before he’s ready.
Jeremy Smith, 20
2nd round, 54th overall, 2007
Smith took a step back this season with the OHL Plymouth Whalers, posting a .873 save percentage and 4.79 GAA in 18 games. He lost his starting job to 2009-eligible Matt Hackett (MIN) and was subsequently traded to the Niagara IceDogs. There, the 6’0, 168-pound Smith posted better numbers, .913 and 3.18, but still not as good as the two years prior.
"Jeremy Smith also is a bit of a hybrid goalie, as a smaller goalie, he stays on his feet a little bit longer because he needs to and then relies on quickness and getting his pads down," Korn said. "He’s not as athletic as Engren, and doesn’t stand up as long as Pickard.
"Smith has done a good job with what we’ve asked him to improve on, and that’s quickness and urgency. And he has to sustain that," Korn added.
Smith will likely play for Nashville’s ECHL affiliate, the Cincinnati Cyclones next year, but it’s possible that he could be returned to Niagara as an overager. He is already under contract with Nashville.
Atte Engren, 21
7th round, 204th overall, 2007
Engren largely moved on from junior play in Finland this past season, but did not get into many games at the senior level. The 6’1 194-pounder, who was 20 at the start of last season, played just six games in the SM-Liiga, the highest level in Finland, just five games at the second level, and four games at the junior level. Alexander Salak, an undrafted 22-year-old, got most of the starts for TPS Turku.
"Engren is a much more athletic goalie, very quick, relies on quickness,” Korn said. “Not the biggest guy in the world, but probably the most athletic-playing of the group."
Korn described what Engren needs to work on. "It’s keeping his game under control. Using that athletic ability when it’s needed, and not when it’s not needed.
"Engren’s coach at TPS is the same guy [Urpo Ylonen] who coached (Miikka) Kiprusoff, so that’s really positive," Korn added.
Both Lindback and Engren will have goalie coaching with their teams, and Korn said he will be in contact with those coaches to check on their progress.
"They’ve been No. 2 goalies on their teams, they haven’t played all that much," Korn said. "Both are going to teams where they’re slated to play a whole lot more. We want them to take the next step in their ability to play and play a lot. Be consistent with that play. Read, react, and recognize patterns over and over again. Not get surprised. And to do something we call connecting the dots. So when there’s traffic, the pattern is in your head, you’ve recognized the pattern it looks like it’s going to be and you’re able to connect the dots like a computer much faster."