WHL top drafted goaltenders

By Glen Erickson

It’s a short list of current WHL goaltenders who can currently claim to be property of an NHL team. And, of the seven netminders on our list, only five were drafted. Martin Jones of the Calgary Hitmen, our top-ranked goalie, was signed by the Los Angeles Kings after a successful free-agent tryout, as was Thomas Heemskerk of the Everett Silvertips.

Given the criteria here that compels us to rank only "drafted" WHL keepers, we would be remiss if we did not mention at least one undrafted elite prospect.

Come draft day this June at Los Angeles, Calvin Pickard of the Seattle Thunderbirds is likely to be chosen early on. The younger brother of Chet Pickard (NAS), Calvin earned the starting role with the T-Birds last season as a 16-year-old. Although Seattle will not qualify for the post-season, Pickard appeared in about 80 percent of the T-Birds 72 regular-season games. He is the cornerstone of the franchise for now, a reliable performer who will allow the organization to build from the goal out during the next couple of seasons.

1. href=”/prospects/martin_jones” id=”HFlink” class=”HFlinkstyle”>Martin Jones, Calgary Hitmen (LA Kings)

Jones surprised the Kings with his play while attending their training camp as a free agent. He came away from the experience with a pro contract. Upon his return to the WHL, he backstopped a high-octane Calgary Hitmen team that finished first overall in the league through regular-season play. With Jones between the pipes, the Hitmen came within two wins of capturing the WHL championship, dropping a six-game decision to the Kelowna Rockets.

This season, Jones is again the No. 1 goalkeeper in Calgary, a team that appears ready to challenge for a league title again. He left the Hitmen in mid-December and earned a spot on the Canadian national junior team that won silver at the 2010 WJC. Upon his return, he started 14 consecutive WHL games as the Hitmen kept close to Eastern Conference contenders, the Brandon Wheat Kings, Saskatoon Blades and Kootenay Ice.

Jones has recorded five shutouts this season, pushing his career total to 13. He is now tied with Justin Pogge for the Hitmen’s career shutout record. Through 40 games, Jones has a 28-11-0-1 record, a 2.48 goals against average and a save percentage of .910.

2. Jacob DeSerres, Brandon Wheat Kings (PHI)

Hampered by an injury last season in Seattle that enabled then 16-year-old backup Calvin Pickard to strut his stuff in the Thunderbirds goal, DeSerres ultimately became expendable after just three appearances this season. However, if there is such a thing as having the last laugh, the T-Birds have already been eliminated from the WHL’s post-season, while DeSerres finds himself playing in Brandon where the Wheat Kings are slated to host the 2010 Memorial Cup in May.

During the 2007-08 season, DeSerres established himself as one of the top goaltenders in the WHL’s Western Conference with impressive numbers garnered during 34 appearances. DeSerres posted a 2.28 goals against average and a .922 save percentage. His performance was recognized by the Philadelphia Flyers, who selected the Calgary, Alberta native in the third round, 84th overall, at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

All tolled, DeSerres played in 96 games for Seattle before the trade with Brandon this season. And all the lanky, 6’2, 180-pounder has done with the Wheaties so far is collect 20 wins in 27 appearances. DeSerres, who will celebrate his 20th birthday in March, has compiled a 2.80 goals against average and a .902 save percentage. He possesses very good lateral mobility, excellent rebound control, plays his angles well and utilizes his size to cover the net.

3. Thomas Heemskerk, Everett Silvertips (SJ)

If there is one WHL goaltender who perhaps defines "rejuvenation", it could very well be Thomas Heemskerk. After 18 appearances during the 2008-09 season, the Chilliwack, B.C. native announced to the Kootenaty Ice that he was finished with hockey. While the decision caught the organization off guard, they moved on. Then, a few weeks later, Heemskerk surfaced with the Everett Silvertips.

Despite the drama, Heemskerk has become a leader in Everett this season, combining with 2010 eligible Kent Simpson to form the WHL’s top tandem. After appearing in 27 games last season with the ‘Tips, Heemskerk has played in 37 games this season, compiling a 2.38 goals against average and a .925 save percentage. These are numbers that have seen the 6’, 190-pounder among the league leaders all season long.

The San Jose Sharks signed the soon-to-be 20-year-old during the past offseason. Should Heemskerk earn a job in professional hockey next season, he could find himself suiting up with former WHLer Tyson Sexsmith, who with the Vancouver Giants earned a Memorial Cup championship in 2007.

4. Adam Morrison, Saskatoon Blades (PHI)

Morrison spent much of last season playing behind Braden Holtby (WAS) in Saskatoon. In 13 games, Morrison posted a 9-1-1-0 record, finishing with a 2.49 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage.

With Holtby moving on to professional hockey this season, Morrison was initially annointed the Blades starter. However, the acquisition of veteran Steven Stanford from the Prince Albert Raiders early this season has created a virtual platoon system in Saskatoon. The Blades have been one of the top WHL teams since the outset, confirming the approach by head coach Lorne Molleken appears to be working.

In 28 appearances this season, Morrison has compiled a record of 16-9-0-3, with a 3.22 goals against average and a save percentage of .896. While the numbers are not among the WHL leaders, the Blades are confident in their goaltending tandem. Taken by the Philadelphia Flyers in the third round, 81st overall, in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Morrison will likely remain in the WHL next season.

5. Alex Pechurski, Tri City Americans (PIT)

Pechurski caught the eye of attentive hockey fans when he backstopped the Russians to a 4-2 preliminary round victory over Team Canada at the 2008 World Junior Championships in Moscow. The Russians would eventually collect a silver medal. That season, he played for Magnitogorsk and compiled a 2.07 goals against average in 26 games.

 

Drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the fifth round, 150th overall, Pechurski arrived in the WHL amid some fanfare during the 2010 WJC. While he was not on Team Russia’s roster at the WJC, Tri City Americans general manager Bob Tory was able to convince Pechurski to join the team for the second half of the WHL season. The Americans, who have never won a WHL championship, are among the league’s top teams this season.

During the Penguins recent road trip through western Canada, Pechurski was signed to an amateur contract that enabled him to appear in a game against the Vancouver Canucks. He actually played after the starter was shelled by the Canucks in a 5-2 loss, and was rewarded for his play by being named the third star.

Scouting reports on Pechurski suggest he is an athletic, reaction-type netminder. He has some work to do in the areas of positioning, stickhandling and rebound control. A key for Pittsburgh is convincing Pechurski to remain in North America where they can closely observe his development. In 17 appearances with Tri City, he has compiled a 2.25 goals against average and a .918 save percentage.

6. Darcy Kuemper, Red Deer Rebels (MIN)

Prior to arriving in Red Deer from his hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Darcy Kuemper spent the 2006-07 season with the Saskatoon Blazers of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey league, where he was named a league all-star. He also appeared in one playoff game with the Spokane Chiefs, the team that selected him in the third round, 45th overall, at the 2005 WHL Bantam Draft.

The next season, he was traded to the Red Deer Rebels, but did not play there. During the 2008-09 season, he played in 55 games for the Rebels, compiling a 2.96 goals against average and a .898 save percentage.

With veteran goaltender Morgan Clark leaving early this season for the Swift Current Broncos, Kuemper has become the main man in Red Deer. In fact, he has become a veritable workhorse, appearing in 48 games and improving his goals against average to 2.64 and his save percentage to .911. He is just shy of the 50-win mark for his career so far.

Kuemper is very tall, checking in at 6’4 and 200 pounds. He moves well laterally and maintains efficient rebound control. His play this season has been important in Red Deer as the Rebels are finally in the hunt for a playoff spot after winding up on the outside looking in during the past two seasons. Kuemper struggled a bit to start the year but improved over time. He was selected by the Minnesota Wild in the sixth round, 161st overall, at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

7. Morgan Clark, Swift Current Broncos (VAN)

The native of Texas was chosen by the Vancouver Canucks in seventh round, 191st overall, at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Acquired from Red Deer last season, Clark has become the Swift Current Broncos’ starter. He is the son of the Canucks goaltending coach Ian Clark.

During his first season in Red Deer, Clark apprenticed behind veteran James Reimer (TOR) and appeared in 21 games. After a successful sophomore season in central Alberta, where Clark was saw big minutes due to an ankle injury suffered by Reimer, he earned an opportunity to battle for a job with the Canucks. In 47 games with Red Deer, Clark compiled a 3.70 goals against average and a .884 save percentage on a weak team that struggled for most of the season.

Last season was disappointing for Clark, as Kuemper arrived in Red Deer and earned the bulk of the workload. Clark appeared in only 20 games before requesting a trade. He was moved to Swift Current, where he finished the season playing in eight games for the Broncos. This season, however, Clark has shouldered the load, appearing in 40 games and compiling a 2.95 goals against average and a .905 save percentage.

Listed at 6’1, 162 pounds, he does not appear as big as other top WHL goaltenders. He is a steady, quick, reaction-type goalie who benefits from a group of rearguards that enables him to see oncoming shots clearly. A decent puckhandler, Clark will have to work very hard to earn a look with the Canucks AHL affiliate in Manitoba.