Gillies leads small but impressive group of NHL-drafted goaltenders from the NCAA

By DJ Powers
Jon Gillies - Providence College

Photo: Providence College has maintained a presence in the top 15 of the NCAA Hockey rankings, with goaltender and Calgary Flames prospect Jon Gillies playing a big part in the team’s success in 2014-15 (courtesy of Richard T. Gagnon/Getty Images)

 

Fifteen NHL-drafted goaltenders are playing in the NCAA this season. Hockey’s Future takes a closer at the top five, all of whom are among the nominees for this year’s Mike Richter Award that was recently announced. This ranking is based on season performance, overall developmental progress and NHL potential. Unless otherwise noted, all stats are current as of Feb. 28th.

1. Jon Gillies, Junior, Providence College (Hockey East)
Chosen in the third round (75th overall) in 2012 by the Calgary Flames

Few NCAA teams rely as heavily on their goaltending for their success as does Providence College. In most games, how Jon Gillies goes, so goes the Friars. He had the opportunity to sign with Calgary this summer but opted to return to Providence College, much to the delight of the Friars faithful. His consistently high level of play and ability to single-handedly win games are among the characteristics that puts Gillies at the top of this year’s ranking.

The South Portland, ME native sports a 19-11-2 record that includes four shutouts in 32 games to date. His four shutouts currently is tied for third in the nation. His .929 save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average both ranks 12th in the nation. Earlier this season, Gillies broke his own school record for career shutouts with 13. While his numbers aren’t as impressive as those of some of his counterparts, Gillies’ steady developmental progress and vast potential are.

One notable area where Gillies has shown marked improvement has been in the way he plays his position. This season, he plays more upright which allows him to square up to shooters more effectively. Furthermore, it allows him to utilize his enormous 6’5”, 215-pound frame and superb athleticism more advantageously in positioning himself. Gillies is rarely out of position facing shots from outside the dots and does a good job of forcing shooters to commit.

2. Thatcher Demko, Sophomore, Boston College (Hockey East)
Chosen in the second round (36th overall) in 2014 by the Vancouver Canucks

After a stellar freshman campaign last seson, Thatcher Demko has been able to build on that as a sophomore this season. It isn’t as noticeable in his numbers as it is in his overall play and maturity. Boston College is one of the NCAA’s youngest teams this season, and has had to rely more heavily on Demko. He is facing more shots both in quantity and quality, which has been very beneficial to the San Diego, CA native’s growth.

Demko sports a 18-10-3 record with a .926 save percentage and 2.18 goals-against average in 31 games to date. His 18 wins are currently tied for fourth nationally. At the recent World Junior Championship with Team USA, Demko posted a 2-2-0 record that included one shutout and finished the tournament with the second-best goals-against average (1.74) and third-best save percentage (93.75).

Demko has made great strides in being more aggressive in challenging shooters. This was evident in the World Junior Championship game versus Canada. Demko is also playing at the top of the crease more often this season. Another area where he has improved has been in steering pucks away from the net. His noticeably stronger legs allow him to push off posts more effectively. Demko’s outstanding ability to track pucks enables him to anticipate situations better, thus putting himself in the best possible position to stop shots.

3. Zane McIntyre, Junior, University of North Dakota (NCHC)
Chosen in the sixth round (165th overall) in 2010 by the Boston Bruins

Goaltending is one of the strengths of the Boston Bruins pipeline, and part of that pipeline is North Dakota junior Zane McIntyre. As good as he was last season, McIntyre has been even better this season as one of the NCAA’s most reliable goaltenders.

McIntyre sports a 23-6-3 record that includes one shutout in all 32 of North Dakota’s games to date. His 23 wins currently ranks ties him for first in the nation. His 1.96 goals against average, .932 save percentage and .758 winning percentage all rank in the top 12 nationally. McIntyre has been especially good in the second half of the 2014-15 season, having posted just two regulation or overtime losses to date. He has been named the NCHC Goaltender of the Week four times so far, tied for the most weekly honors among all conference netminders.

One notable area that has made McIntyre so good this season is his ability to make the tough saves look easy. He is also tracking pucks better. McIntyre plays a bit more of a hybrid style, using his 6’2” and 208-pound frame and great athleticism more effectively. Furthermore, his movements are more efficient. Evidence of all of this can be seen in how he plays with traffic in front of him. McIntyre has made great strides in his puck-handling as he possesses greater poise and confidence when playing the puck. McIntyre’s rebound control is quite good and he has made noticeable improvements in limiting second and third opportunities.

4. Jamie Phillips, Junior, Michigan Tech University (WCHA)
Chosen in the seventh round (190th overall) in 2012 by the Winnipeg Jets

No drafted NCAA goaltender has made greater developmental progress this season than Michigan Tech’s Jamie Phillips. At the beginning of the season, the Caledonia, ON native was given the starting job and has simply run with it. Phillips began the season on a torrid pace that saw him win his first 10 starts.

The junior workhorse has started all 33 games to date and has played in all but 118:27 minutes this season. Phillips sports a 23-6-2 record that includes four shutouts. His 23 wins currently ties him for first in the nation with McIntyre. His 1.73 goals-against average ties him for third in that category while his .936 save percentage is tied for second nationally. Phillips is also one of the nation’s most consistent goaltenders this season, having allowed more than three goals just once to date. That came in the Huskies 5-4 overtime loss to Northern Michigan on Jan. 10th.

Phillips’ sensational season all started with his improved game preparation and having greater focus both in games and in practice. His remarkable confidence and composure has been a calming influence on his team, as well. This has been evident in his improved ability to steer pucks away from the net, and in his greater poise in handling the puck. One notable aspect of Phillips’ play this season is the fact that he expends less energy in his movements. He possesses great athleticism and his lateral movements look more effortless.

5. Stephon Williams, Junior, Minnesota State University-Mankato (WCHA)
Chosen in the fourth round (106th overall) in 2013 by the New York Islanders

After a forgettable sophomore campaign that saw him limited to just seven games, Stephon Williams has stormed back this season to have the best year of his collegiate career. He also backstopped Minnesota State-Mankato to their first number one national ranking in team history earlier in the season. Williams, along with the aforementioned Phillips, has made it a two-horse race for WCHA Goaltender of the Year.

The Fairbanks, AK native sports a 19-4-3 record that includes three shutouts in 26 games to date. His .788 winning percentage currently ranks second in the nation while his 19 wins ties him for third. Williams’ 1.61 goals-against average ranks second nationally and leads all NCAA goaltending prospects. On Feb. 7th versus Alaska-Anchorage, Williams set new a school record for career shutouts with eight.

Williams’ renewed sense of confidence has gone a long way to making him one of the nation’s best and most consistent goaltenders, drafted or otherwise, this season. One area where his confidence level has been evident has been in his composure, particularly with traffic around him. He does a better job of tracking pucks and has greatly improved limiting second and third opportunities. Williams’ noticeably strong legs have improved his positioning as well as his movements, allowing him to play his position more effectively and efficiently.

Notable NCAA Goaltender Outside the Top 5

Adam Wilcox (TBL), Junior, University of Minnesota
Steve Michalek (MIN), Senior, Harvard University
Cal Petersen (BUF), Freshman, University of Notre Dame

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF