Tigers’ Schneider leads short list of WHL goaltenders with NHL ties

By Glen Erickson
Nick Schneider - Medicine Hat Tigers

Photo: Medicine Hat Tigers goaltender and Calgary Flames prospect Nick Schneider earned an NHL contract with a strong performance at the Flames’ training camp last fall (courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

 

 

In past years, the ranking of the WHL goaltenders used a criteria whereby the goaltenders listed would all be drafted and or signed by NHL teams. Based on these parameters this season, the list is short, with only three netminders making the grade.

Frankly, the 2015-16 WHL season has resulted in almost complete carnage among the goaltending fraternity. Injuries seem to have ruled the day, resulting in trades and then further injuries resulting in more deals. Being a productive 20-year-old goalie is not a rarity in the WHL, but there is little security for these overagers.

The likelihood that one of our ranked goaltenders will experience a lengthy WHL playoff run is, well, remote at best. To this end, beyond the three we are ranking, we have listed a number of undrafted goalies that are deserving of recognition, given their important contributions as veterans on their respective teams.

1. Nick Schneider (CGY), Medicine Hat Tigers

Nick Schneider gets the nod atop this ranking as he is the only WHL goaltender currently signed to an NHL contract. Overlooked at the 2015 NHL Draft, Schneider was contacted by the Calgary Flames last summer and earned an entry-level deal.

Schneider bounced around the Edmonton area in minor hockey, specifically in Leduc and Spruce Grove. He was not drafted into the WHL, but was listed by the Regina Pats. During his rookie campaign, he was dealt by the Pats to the Medicine Hat Tigers, where he played behind veteran Marek Langhamer (ARI) for a season and a half.

As the go-to-guy this season, he is backstopping a Tigers group that is in rebuild mode. He has gotten shelled on many nights as the Tigers simply do not have the horses this season to compete with the upper echelon teams in the Eastern Conference. Still, with five games remaining, they are just four points shy of a playoff spot. Schneider has gone 18-24-1-0 in 45 appearances.

Of late, though, Schneider has sparkled, stealing a couple of wins for Medicine Hat with 50-save performances. Alas, it may be too little, too late. Schneider may get a quick look by the Flames organization after the WHL regular season concludes, but a return to the Gas City next season would appear likely.

2. Adin Hill (ARI), Portland Winterhawks

At 6’4” and 190 pounds, Adin Hill certainly fits the bill for NHL teams that crave big goaltenders. He covers the net well, maintaining awareness of the upper portion of the goal while in a butterfly stance. He has a capable glove hand and, like many junior goaltenders, Hill is quickly learning the nuances of handling the puck in the defensive zone.

The workhorse in Portland this season, Hill has appeared in 60 games, leading the WHL with 3,590 minutes played. He has compiled a 31-26-3-0 record along with a 2.94 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. Hill played for Team WHL this season in the CHL Canada Russia Series.

Selected by the Arizona Coyotes in the third round, 76th overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft, Hill is not yet signed. Although the Winterhawks are battling for third place in the U.S. Division, they look to be firmly entrenched for a postseason berth, one that will enable Hill to further develop in important, pressure games.

3. Evan Smith (NSH), Saskatoon Blades

The curious case of Evan Smith in the WHL began to evolve last season when he moved on to the Austin Bruins (NAHL) after four appearances with the Victoria Royals.

His 15-game body of work with the Bruins yielded a 12-1-2 record, a 1.73 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage. He had a 4-1 record in the NAHL playoffs, with a 2.10 goals-against and .914 save percentage. Smith, who checks in at 6’6” and 180 pounds, caught the attention of the Nashville Predators, who made him their seventh round selection, 205th overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft.

Smith, from Parker, Colorado, returned to the Royals to start this season, but could not unseat either Coleman Vollrath or Griffen Outhouse in Victoria. He left for the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL where he appeared in five games. Then on Dec. 10th, the Royals dealt his WHL rights to the Saskatoon Blades, along with a couple of late WHL Bantam Draft picks in return for a third round selection.

Smith has gone 2-8-0-0 in 12 appearances for Saskatoon, who will miss the playoffs this season. He has managed a 5.35 goals-against average and a .852 save percentage.

Top “Undrafted” Goaltenders

A handful of current WHL goaltenders are producing solid bodies of work for their respective teams this season, despite not having heard their names called at an NHL Draft.

As it is not uncommon for junior teams to devote a 20-year-old spot to a veteran goaltender, a few of these players may very well find themselves back in the league next season. If professional hockey opportunities do not arise, most of these goalies should have no problem securing a place to play in the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport). Many in the know across Canada recognize that the quality of CIS hockey is likely the country’s best kept hockey secret.

Jackson Whistle, 20, Kelowna Rockets

Whistle is the only goalie in this article that can boast both a WHL title and a Memorial Cup appearance. The Vancouver Canucks have shown interest in Whistle, inviting him to the past two Young Stars rookie tournaments in Penticton, BC, but he was not signed. In early March, the Rockets announced that Whistle would undergo two surgeries to repair torn labrum muscles on each of his hips. His season and WHL career are over.

Jordan Papirny, 19, Brandon Wheat Kings

The native of Edmonton has a legitimate opportunity to join Whistle as a league champion as the Wheat Kings have elevated their game collectively during the second half of the current campaign. In his third full season, Papirny has appeared in no less than 46 games each season. Last season, he posted 44 wins in 59 appearances.

Austin Lotz, 20, Medicine Hat Tigers

After four seasons with the Everett Silvertips, Austin Lotz was moved as an overage player to the Medicine Hat Tigers this season due to the emergence of Carter Hart (2016) in Everett. After six appearances with the Tigers, Lotz suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, effectively ending his junior career.

Wyatt Hoflin, 21, Kootenay Ice

The workhorse in Cranbrook during the past two seasons, Hoflin has mercilessly been placed between the pipes this season on a Kootenay Ice team that has struggled mightily. From Spruce Grove, Alberta, Hoflin appeared in 67 of 72 regular season games for the Ice last season.

Landon Bow, 20, Seattle Thunderbirds

A mid-season trade from the Swift Current Broncos to the Seattle Thunderbirds most certainly has rejuvenated the overage goalie from St. Albert, Alberta. Bow, who is alternating in Seattle with Logan Flodell, will see playoff action this Spring in the Western Conference. In 19 appearances with the Thunderbirds so far, he has compiled a .937 save percentage.

Ty Edmonds, 19, Prince George Cougars

A strong performance at the 2014 Top Prospects Game in Calgary wasn’t enough for Ty Edmonds to hear his name called by an NHL team. The native of Winnipeg appears destined to complete his WHL days as a member of the Prince George Cougars, the only team he has suited up for during his junior career. He is eligible to return as a 20-year-old.

Mack Shields, 21, Medicine Hat Tigers

The Saskatoon-native appeared to be a mainstay with the Calgary Hitmen, but was dealt prior to the current campaign to the Prince George Cougars. The Cougars later acquired youngster Nick McBride from the Prince Albert Raiders, making Shields expendable. He was sent to the Medicine Hat Tigers where he has spelled Nick Schneider during a tough season in the Gas City.

Brendan Burke, 21, Free Agent

While a member of the Portland Winterhawks, Brendan Burke was drafted in 2013 by the Arizona Coyotes. He went unsigned. Last season, Burke was dealt to the Calgary Hitmen. All told, he appeared in 170 WHL games over parts of five seasons. After 7 appearances in Calgary this season as a 20-year-old, he was released. Burke landed on his feet after clearing waivers, moving on to the London Knights of the OHL where he has appeared in 17 games this season.

2016 Draft Eligible (Ranked by NHL Central Scouting)

The cream of the crop in the WHL resides in this category as a handful of goalies are very likely to hear their names called at the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo.

1. Carter Hart, Everett Silvertips
2. Zach Sawchenko, Moose Jaw Warriors
3. Stuart Skinner, Lethbridge Hurricanes
4. Evan Sarthou, Tri-City Americans

2017 Draft Eligible

Griffen Outhouse, Victoria Royals

Through 25 appearances with the Royals, behind veteran Coleman Vollrath, Outhouse is atop the WHL with a 1.84 goals-against average and .937 save percentage for the league-leading Royals.

Other Notables

Nick McBride (6’3”, 180), Prince George Cougars
Rylan Toth (6’1”, 195), Red Deer Rebels
Rylan Parenteau (6’, 191), Prince Albert Raiders

Follow Glen Erickson on Twitter via @glenerickson51