The goaltending story in the OHL has been played out by a pair of netminders who have yet to be drafted: Belleville’s Malcolm Subban, who is the odds-on favorite to be the first goalie drafted this season; and Michael Houser, the free agent who was passed over in the last NHL draft, yet rebounded to tie the OHL’s all-time mark for wins with 46.
However, the OHL’s claim to being the NHL’s top developmental league is enhanced by the presence of a bevy of drafted netminders who have been responsible for making the league must-see hockey on a nightly basis. And it’s no surprise that the top 10 drafted goalies in the league are led by a trio who played in the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship.
We start our list with Team Canada’s netminding tandem. And the man who redeemed himself at this year’s tournament finds himself atop the rankings for 2012.
1) Mark Visentin, Niagara IceDogs
NHL Rights: Phoenix Coyotes
Drafted 1st round, 27th overall, 2010
Visentin took home the OHL’s goaltender of the year award last season and he’s mounted a strong campaign this year to keep it in his possession. More than anything, though, this has been a season of redemption for Visentin.
Most hockey fans will recall last year’s Canada-Russia game at the World Junior Championship. The third-period collapse was lain at the feet of Visentin. How he responded to that adversity – and what would come about this year – was a key plot line of the 2011-12 season.
The fourth-year IceDog found solace in Niagara. The fans embraced him from the moment he returned last year, and he’s rewarded them with another outstanding season. In 42 games this season, Visentin has a record of 30-9-3-2.
More impressively, he picked up 10 shutouts and posted a miniscule 1.99 goals agianst average. He matched his win and loss totals from last season, but cut his goals against by almost 30 percent. This year, the 19-year-old netminder capped off a three-year run that has seen him rack up 84 regular-season wins. And the IceDogs again found themselves atop the OHL Eastern Conference standings at season’s end.
The recently released Eastern Conference coaches’ poll named him the best puck-handling goalie. But the accolade that may have meant the most? His return to Team Canada and his personal vindication despite the team not bringing home the gold.
Many were surprised when Wedgewood was selected to the Canadian World Junior Team, but those familiar with him in the OHL already knew what he showed at the tourney — that the 19-year-old Brampton native brings a wealth of experience and a penchant for the big play.
The Whalers are a deep, powerful team, so Wedgewood didn’t have to carry the squad this season. But what he did have to do was stop the key shots – something he’s done well this year en route to racking up 28 wins against just 10 losses.
In addition to 17 playoff games worth of experience, he now has that World Junior cachet to him. He posted a 2-0-0 record, recording one shutout in the tournament. Overall this season, he posted a solid 3.02 goals against averaged behind an equally solid .911 save percentage.
Ottawa fans knew of Petr Mrazek, but the greater hockey community may not have been as familiar with the Czech netminder. That was until a couple of fist pumps propelled him into the hockey world’s collective conscience – and those pumps have been backed up by stellar play between the pipes.
The 67s have rocketed up the standings this year, surprising many, and positioning themselves as a legitimate OHL contender – largely due to the steadying, yet electrifying presence, of Mrazek.
Mrazek’s ascension shouldn’t have come as that great of a surprise. In fact, his numbers this year in his so-called "breakout" season are shockingly similar to his less-heralded performance last season. This year he played two fewer games (50 instead of 52), and won two fewer (30 instead of 32), which was offset by losing two fewer (13 instead of 15).
But his individual numbers were almost identical: a 2.84 goals against average in both seasons, and a .917 save percentage this season (.003 higher than last year).
The opportunity is there for Mrazek to stake a claim on the Grand Rapids Griffins starting job over the perpetually struggling Thomas McCollum. As he’s shown, both on the global stage and in the OHL, he certainly doesn’t lack for confidence.
Binnington has shared the crease with another member of this list, Scott Stajcer (NYR), but has established himself as a bonafide number-one for the Attack.
As the OHL playoffs commence, who will take control the crease for the Attack is still up in the air, but the Richmond Hill native has established himself as a premiere netminder in the OHL and has outplayed his more senior goaltending tandem partner — and that’s no slight on Stacjer’s performance, but rather a credit to Binnington’s continued development.
After a surprise Memorial cup run last year — sparked in part due to Binnington’s solid seven-game performance in the playoffs — the Attack barely found themselves on the good side of .500. Yet Binnington won 21 of the club’s 31 victories and posted 17 losses.
The 18-year-old netminder from the emerging goalie factory that is Pittsburgh, PA, recently signed a three-year entry-level contract with Anaheim — and it’s well deserved.
Gibson has spent the season splitting time with veteran netminder Frank Palazzese, and the two have posted almost identical statistics. Through 32 regular season games Gibson managed a 21-10 record, a 2.75 goals against average, and a .928 save percentage. He’s tied for the CHL lead in save percentage this year and is a large part of Kitchener’s success this season.
Maxwell was involved in an interesting trade at the deadline this year, one in which the St. Mike’s Majors got a little older in an attempt to get younger.
After playing in 32 games for the Sarnia Sting, Maxwell was traded to Mississauga in for JP Anderson. Although Maxwell is one year older, the Majors received five draft picks (including three second-rounders) in return as they try to replenish after last season’s Memorial-Cup hosting season.
He’s been rejuvenated in his 27 games with the Majors. Prior to the trade, he posted a 3.23 goals against average and .899 save percentage with the Sting. Since the trade, those numbers have improved dramatically: he’s accounted for 2.54 goals against and a stellar .929 save percentage. Overall, this workhorse netminder has won 33 games and lost 22 in 59 contests.
Maxwell was also recently recognized as the second-best puck-handling goalie in the eastern conference coaches’ poll.
Last year, unless he was wearing Russian colors, Bobkov left many observers scratching their heads. He was drafted by London to assume its number-one goaltending role. The Anaheim prospect matched his huge size (6’6) with huge expectations.
And he failed to live up to them. In 21 games last year, he won only four and posted a poor 4.12 goals against average and .874 save percentage. He also lost control of the crease early on to the less-heralded Michael Houser.
Before the year began, he left the eventual top-ranked Knights for the perennially cellar-dwelling Kingston Frontenacs — and, in doing so, he revitalized his career and finally lived up to the hype.
Overall, his numbers aren’t great. Only 17 wins and 32 losses. But considering he played for a club that only managed 19 wins and were only saved from a last-place showing by the historically bad Erie Otters, his performance was admirable.
He finished the year with a 3.64 goals against average and a .902 save percentage in 58 games. Surrounded by a quality team, Bobkov would have been dominant and his performance earned him a third-place spot in the Most Improved Player category in the OHL’s Eastern Conference coaches’ poll.
Bobkov has returned to the Syracuse Crunch where in two starts he has a 1-0-1 record, a 1.97 goals against average and .931 save percentage.
8) Jack Campbell, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
NHL Rights: Dallas Stars
Drafted 1st round, 11th overall, 2010
It’s a surprise to see the highly regarded Campbell so far down on this list. He entered the league with an all-world pedigree. He’s backstopped the powerful U.S. world junior squad on two occasions. Yet for all his accomplishments, OHL success has eluded him.
In his first season, he won 24 games against 14 losses, but his individual numbers were lacking. A 3.80 goals against average and .884 save percentage were attributed to acclimatizing to the OHL. This year, after starting the year 6-3-2 with a 3.13 goals against average and .906 save percentage, Windsor decided to trade Campbell to the Soo in return for a pair of players and a bevy of picks — all dedicated to the Spitfires’ rebuilding campaign.
Sault Ste. Marie were going all-in to make the playoffs this year. They felt the addition of the player who was named the Western Conference’s best puck-handling goaltender in the coach’s poll would help. But his performance reverted back to form — OK, but not great — 15-12-5, with a .892 save percentage and 3.58 goals against average.
In the end, the Soo finished just out of the playoffs and Campbell has been assigned to the Texas Stars of the AHL. In four starts in the minors, Campbell has a 2-2 record, a 2.73 goals against average and a .925 save percentage.
9) Scott Stajcer, Owen Sound Attack
NHL Rights: New York Rangers
Drafted 5th round, 140th overall, 2009
Stajcer’s veteran presence has been a vital component of the Attack’s success this season. Although the aforementioned Binnington may be the nominal starter, the Attack netminder who has seen action in five seasons now, offered Owen Sound something that every other team in the OHL would like, a backup capable of winning games.
And while some goalies at this level are still dreaming of the bright lights of the NHL, Stajcer’s already had a taste. He was called up on an emergency basis earlier this year by the New York Rangers, although he did not get involved in any game action.
This was a solid bounce-back season for Stajcer, who was limited to only 14 regular-season games last year due to a hip injury. However, Stajcer assumed the number-one mantle for the playoffs and almost equalled his regular-season action by playing in 13 games en route to Owen Sound’s Memorial Cup run.
This year, he settled into the role of back-up and mentor for crease co-occupant Jordan Binnington and he embraced the opportunities that were provided. In 28 games he managed a 10-11-6 record and a 2.96 goals against average.
Mahalak has filled in admirabley as the backup to Scott Wedgewood (NJ), showing discipline and dedication to his craft. But, honestly, why would anyone expect less from the military-bred netminder.
Plymouth battled the London Knights feverishly down the stretch for the top spot in the OHL West, coming down to the final weekend before falling into second place. And Mahalak’s reliable presence was a huge part of the Whalers’ success.
As a back up, he earned 19 wins in 30 games. Mahalak also posted three shutouts en route to a career-best 2.66 goals against average and .923 save percentage. Overall, his numbers were better than starter Wedgewood — not accounting for level of competition.