Colts’ Blackwood the best of slim OHL group of NHL goaltending properties in 2015-16

By Jason Menard
Mackenzie Blackwood - Barrie Colts

Photo: Barrie Colts goaltender and New Jersey Devils prospect Mackenzie Blackwood ranked sixth in the OHL in goals-against average and tied for first in save percentage in 2015-16 (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

 

 

The NHL-drafted goaltending ranks are fairly slim in the Ontario Hockey League, but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality – at least with the top three netminders. While there is some talent at the lower end, the goaltending prospects are certainly more promising at the top of the list.

1. Mackenzie Blackwood, Barrie Colts (NJD)
Selected in the second round, 42nd overall, in the 2015 NHL Draft

Mackenzie Blackwood has shown consistency and solid play between the pipes for the past two years to position himself not only as the top NHL-drafted netminder, but easily one of the top goalies in the entire league.

This year was a notable one for Blackwood. A suspension over the holidays delayed his appearance in the IIHF World Junior Championship. And while the WJC may not have gone the way Blackwood would have liked, he came back to the OHL and continued to improve his game.

Last year, he finished the season with a 3.09 goals-against average; this year, he lowered that to a 2.72 goals-against, improved his save percentage to .921 and finished the season 28-13 with three shutouts.

At 6’4 and 225 pounds, the Thunder Bay, ON native has the desired NHL size and looks to have a promising future within the New Jersey Devils’ organization.

2. Alex Nedeljkovic, Niagara IceDogs (CAR)
Selected in the second round, 37th overall, in the 2014 NHL Draft

When it comes to the OHL, one goaltender has developed a reputation as being the one who can single-handedly steal a playoff series. That reputation, along with a solid career history behind him, led the Niagara IceDogs to pick up Alex Nedeljkovic in a trade, and he has paid dividends.

After the Plymouth Whalers moved to Flint this season, Nedeljkovic was expected to be the marquee trade option for any team looking to make a playoff push. Since joining the IceDogs, he posted a 2.72 goals-against average and .907 save percentage.

The overager will be in the pro ranks next season as he looks to continue his winning ways throughout the OHL playoffs and into the professional game in the Carolina Hurricanes‘ system.

3. Brandon Halverson, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (NYR)
Selected in the second round, 59th overall, in the 2014 NHL Draft

Brandon Halverson has been the man between the pipes for the Soo Greyhounds for the past two seasons. This year, facing the loss of some marquee defensive talents including Anthony DeAngelo and Darnell Nurse, Halverson needed to step up to ensure that the Greyhounds enjoyed any similar level of success.

He delivered all year long, finishing the 2015-16 season with a 20-17-4 record behind a 3.00 goals-against average and .907 save percentage.

At 6’4 and 200 pounds, the Traverse City, MI native is another goalie who has that prototypical size. He needs to fill out a bit, but he has shown a solid understanding of positioning and the ability to use his size effectively.

4. Luke Opilka, Kitchener Rangers (STL)
Selected in the fifth round, 146th overall, in the 2015 NHL Draft.

Luke Opilka joined the OHL this season out of the U.S. National Team Development Program and immediately made an impact in the league, helping power the Kitchener Rangers into the OHL playoffs.

The 6’1, 195-pound St. Louis native played in 44 games this season, compiling a 27-11-5 record behind a 2.70 goals-against average, along with a .906 save percentage.

Opilka was strong throughout the season but encountered a hiccup in the playoffs, being pulled after the first game, never to return to the Rangers’ net. But he showed some solid talent, and looks to improve next season.

5. Brent Moran, Flint Firebirds (DAL)
Selected in the fourth round, 115th overall, in the 2014 NHL Draft

There wasn’t a lot of winning in Flint this season, and netminder Brent Moran was under the gun for most of the campaign following a trade that saw him and draft picks go to the Firebirds for the aforementioned Nedeljkovic.

It was a long season for Moran. In 30 games with the Firebirds, he posted a 4.42 goals-against average and an .877 save percentage. Those numbers don’t look good, but they are, in part, reflective of the talent of the team around him. In 18 games with the IceDogs prior to the trade, he posted a 3.02 goals-against – although his save percentage was still lacking at .890.

If anything, it was a learning experience for Moran and, if taken the right way, it should help him in the future. Physically, he has the tools at 6’4. He needs to fill out a bit (a slim 190 pounds), but that should come with time and age.

Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @JayCMenard