NHL Draft Primer: Samsonov tops among European goalies, fan favorites not far behind

By David Hahn
Denis Godla - Team Slovakia

Photo: HK Orange 20 goaltender and 2015 prospect Denis Godla led his country to a bronze medal at the 2015 U20 World Junior Championship, where he was named that tournament’s Best Goaltender (courtesy of Claus Andersen/Getty Images)



As the focus shifts to European goaltending, there are a bevy of top talents available, but a few lingering fan favorites may have an opportunity to hear their name called at the 2015 NHL Draft. Among them, Ilya Samsonov leads the pack, with a pair of talented Czechs not far behind him. Those who attended or watched the 2015 World Junior Championship should recognize fan favorites George Sorensen and Denis Godla, two of a strong list of European options in net in this week’s NHL Draft Primer.

10. Alexander Georgiyev, TPS U20 / TPS (Liiga)
6’0”, 168 pounds, Moscow, Russia

Stuck behind two goaltenders with his junior team in Russia, Alex Georgiyev reached out to former NHL goaltender Fredrik Norrena, who suggested that he move to Finland to find playing time with TPS Turku. Under Norrena’s guidance, Georgiyev helped Turku’s junior team win a championship while also improving his technique as the season went on. He appeared in 14 games with the senior team in Liiga, where he performed admirably, posting a .917 save percentage and logging two shutouts.

9. George Sorensen, Herning (DEN)
5’9”, 176 pounds, Herning, Denmark

Perennial fan favorite George Sorensen helped to write a historic chapter at this winter’s World Junior Championship. Over the course of their past three appearances, Denmark lost 15 straight games, but Sorensen’s 42-save effort and shootout stops led the Danes past Switzerland for their first-ever WJC win. Sorensen often defies logic by making highlight-reel saves, so his NHL dream may not yet be lost.

8. Adam Werner, Farjestad J20 (SuperElit)
6’4”, 181 pounds, Mariestad, Sweden

Patterning your game after Henrik Lundqvist is a good choice, and Swedish goaltender Adam Werner is hoping for his own late round success story. Werner played at all three levels within Farjestad’s system, and participated for his country in three separate tournaments over the course of the season. Werner has consistently moved up each season, a good sign for a goaltender with plenty of development time left. With his size and improving situational awareness, Werner is certainly worth a look.

7. Denis Godla, HK Orange 20 (SVK)/HC Slovan Bratislava (KHL)
5’11”, 176 pounds, Kezmarok, Slovakia

When assessing a particular talent, most tend to focus on the entire workload of a player over the course of his career. However, a two-week segment at this year’s WJC might be enough to persuade an NHL team to select Denis Godla. Godla led Slovakia to a bronze medal at that tournament, facing a gaudy 242 shots in seven games where he posted a .926 save percentage. He returned to the KHL, but his WJC success didn’t follow him. Yet, despite the setback, Godla became a fan favorite and will be one to watch.

6. Veini Vehvilainen, JYP-Akatemia (Mestis)
6’1”, 185 pounds, Jyvaskyla, Finland

Veini Vehvilainen put up solid numbers playing in Finland’s junior league, posting a 2.57 goals-against average and a .917 save-percentage in 26 games. But it was the season-concluding U18 tournament where he did his best work. The talented netminder guided Finland into the championship game against the United States, stopping 60 shots before ultimately giving up his second goal of the game in overtime, resulting in a silver medal for Finland.

5. Joren van Pottelberghe, Linkoping J18 (J18 Allvenskan)
6’2”, 201 pounds, Zug, Switzerland

After reaching the top level of junior hockey in Switzerland at just 15 years old, Joren van Pottelberghe departed for the Linkoping program in Sweden where he has been a mainstay for the last two seasons. Technically sound, van Pottelberghe had the best goals-against average (1.25) and save percentage (.949) in the J18 Allvenskan. He also participated at the U18’s for Switzerland, where he was named as one of the top players for his country.

4. Ales Stezka, Bili Tygri Liberic U20 (Czech U20)
6’3”, 179 pounds, Liberic, Czech Republic

The first of two talented Czech goaltenders available for the 2015 draft, Ales Stezka has stayed close to home in Liberic over the course of his career. This season, he was the clear number one goaltender for Bili Tygri, playing in 40 games and running up a 2.76 goals-against average with a .913 save percentage. He split time at the U18’s with Daniel Vladar, and may have an opportunity to play in North America soon as the Sioux Falls Stampede selected him in the 2015 USHL Entry Draft.

3. Felix Sandstrom, Brynas J20 (SuperElit)
6’2”, 192 pounds, Gavle, Sweden

Following the typical development pattern for Swedish goaltenders, Felix Sandstrom got his feet wet at multiple levels in 2014-15. He played at all four levels of the Brynas development system, building off his success as the J18 Allsvenskan’s Best Goaltender last year. He won an SM Gold Medal, posting a .928 save percentage in the playoffs. Sandstrom played for his country at the U18’s this year, and was named as one of Sweden’s three best players.

2. Daniel Vladar, HC Kladno U20 (Czech U20)
6’5”, 185 pounds, Praha, Czech Republic

Czech Republic standout Daniel Vladar is coming to the United States next season, with the Chicago Steel having completed an absolute coup. At times, Vladar was nearly impossible to beat this season with Kladno’s U20 team, finishing with a .925 save percentage and five shutouts in 29 games. He was equally impressive with the Czech Republic squad at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, helping the Czech’s win silver. With his size and ability to move laterally, the additional challenge of playing in the USHL will be a welcome one.

1. Ilya Samsonov, Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk (MHL)
6’3″, 201 pounds, Magnitogorsk, Russia

The top spot among European goaltenders belongs to Ilya Samsonov, who is also one of the biggest gambles. There is an aura of invincibility to his game, as he possesses a poise and confidence rarely seen for a young goaltender. As an example, Samsonov kicked off the U18 tournament by stopping 49 shots against the United States, the eventual gold medalists, in a 3-1 win. The “Russian Factor” is always prevalent, but his sheer skill and ability at a crucial position won’t scare anyone off.

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