The goaltender is arguably the most important player on the ice. Yes, you need offensive players to score. True, you need blue liners to play defense. But the position of goaltender can make or break a team, since top-notch goaltending is the main ingredient for winning the Stanley Cup.
Today, almost every goaltender in the NHL has the talent to be a superstar. Goalies must now train harder, study longer and desire success more in order to become a starting goalie.
The Nashville Predators are no different than any other team – they have a handful of goalies in their system, and are hoping that one can make it big in the pros. Following is a brief rundown of the goaltenders that Nashville has in the pipeline.
Brian Finley: Brian is the most recognized of the young goalies in the organization due to his status as a first-round pick in the ‘99 draft. He was drafted by the Predators to become Mike Dunham’s replacement, and to eventually become a top goalie in the NHL. Unfortunately, Brian has been plagued with injuries throughout his brief career with the franchise. This year is apparently different, however, since he has been cleared to play and is reportedly playing at full health. Finley made a strong impression last weekend in two games against the Columbus Blue Jackets, making 20 of 21 saves during the two games. He amazed teammates and opponents alike with some of his saves, but Brian was no doubt happy to simply have some sustained action against an opponent other than his own teammates. For the 2002-03 season, Finley is expected to either split time with Jan Lasak in Milwaukee or play full time with Cincinnati of the ECHL.
Jan Lasak: Jan is an interesting case for the Nashville Predators. He was a second round pick in the 1999 draft, and has played in Milwaukee the past two seasons. Lasak is a talented, yet unorthodox, butterfly goalie whose style of play can sometimes get him into trouble. Lasak played with the Predators towards the end of last season, but he will most likely start in Milwaukee this season. Lasak does not possess as much raw, natural talent as Brian Finley, but the Predators love his work ethic and his undying desire to get to the NHL.
Mike McKenna: McKenna (6’3") was a sixth round selection by Nashville in this year’s draft. The 19-year-old will be playing for St. Lawrence University, where he will be a second-year starter. Last season, Mike posted a 7-10 record with a 3.16 GAA and .905 save percentage.
Matt Davis: Matt was the other goalie selected by the Predators in the 2002 NHL Draft. Davis is undersized (5-10, 180), but the Preds like his quickness and awareness. Davis split time with Brian Finley in the two games against the Blue Jackets, stopping of 14 of 18 Columbus shots he faced.
These four goalies represent the future of the Nashville franchise. The Predators are hoping that two of the four will be with the pro team in the next five years or less. Finley has the inside track because of his status as a high draft pick, but Lasak is a workhorse and cannot be discounted.
Some argue that Nashville lacks solid depth at this position, but with Davis and McKenna added to the seasoned Lasak and Finley, the Predators believe that their goaltending situation is just fine. The question is, which goaltender wants the top job the most?