Top goaltenders in WHL

By Glen Erickson
Photo: Goalie Calvin Pickard is the top-ranked netminder currently playing in the WHL. Pickard was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the second round of the 2010 draft. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Bell/CHL Images)

For purposes of this list, we assessed potential as NHL prospects using the criteria whereby we ranked only NHL drafted or signed goalies currently playing in the WHL.

1. Calvin Pickard, Seattle Thunderbirds
NHL Rights: Colorado Avalanche
Drafted 2nd round, 49th overall, 2010

Pickard is a workhorse, appearing 60 games or more for the third straight season in Seattle. Last season, Pickard played 4,013 minutes, the second highest total over the past decade behind only Kevin Nastiuk of the Medicine Hat Tigers (4,056) during the 2003-04 season.

Despite the lack of team success in Seattle, Pickard has demonstrated that he has the tools to play at the pro level. The 6′, 196-pound Pickard was selected by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2nd round, 49th overall, at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. From Winnipeg, Manitoba, Pickard’s older brother Chet is currently toiling in the Nashville Predator’s system after a successful career in the WHL with the Tri City Americans.

Calvin Pickard, who has signed with the Avs, has compiled a 23-35-1-1 record with a 3.54 goals against average in 60 appearances this season. While the numbers are not spectacular, his save percentage of .906 is indicative of his importance to the Thunderbirds. If there is one downside associated with Pickard’s illustrious WHL career, it might be the reality that he has only appeared in five playoff games, given the T-Birds have missed post-season play since the 2008-09 season.

2. Nathan Lieuwen, Kootenay Ice
NHL Rights: Buffalo Sabres
Drafted 6th round, 167th overall, 2011

Nathan Lieuwen took an interesting road to his current position as a Sabres prospect, beginning with one season in the BCHL with the Westside Warriors. He became a member of the Kootenay Ice the next season following the likes of veterans Kris Lazaruk and Thomas Heemskerk (SJ). When Lazaruk was dispatched to the Kelowna Rockets in a trade, Lieuwen took over and has been the go-to-guy in Cranbrook ever since.

Last season, the Abbottsford, BC native was recognized as the WHL Playoff MVP after the Ice won the league title and advance to the Memorial Cup. After being bypassed twice, he was selected by the Sabres in the sixth round, 167th overall at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft as a 19-year-old.

Through 54 games this season, Lieuwen leads the WHL with a 2.38 goals against average and a .919 save percentage. With a record of 27-19-4-2 with three shutouts, Lieuwen is giving the Ice a chance to win every time out.

3. Tyler Bunz, Medicine Hat Tigers
NHL Rights: Edmonton Oilers
Drafted 5th round, 121st overall, 2010

Another veteran WHL goaltender, Bunz has handled the bulk of work in Medicine Hat again this season. The St. Albert, Alberta native recently celebrated his 20th birthday, and given the success of overage netminders in the WHL of late, Bunz is yet another goalie playing a leadership role with his junior team this year.

Bunz has appeared in more than 50 games in each of the past three seasons. This year, in 58 games, he has compiled a 2.50 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. With a 39-15-2-2 record, Bunz has achieved a career high for victories in a season. Of note this season was a freak accident when Bunz was hit in the head by a puck while on the bench as the backup keeper for Team WHL during game one of the Subway Series game against Team Russia. He was unable to play the next night. Bunz was unsuccessful in his attempt to crack the lineup with Team Canada for the 2012 WJC, although he did attend the selection camp.

Bunz was selected by Edmonton in the 5th round, 121st overall, at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. The Oilers will have to make a decision shortly as to whether or not they will him.

4. Mac Carruth, Portland Winterhawks
NHL Rights: Chicago Blackhawks
Drafted 7th round, 191st overall, 2010

Carruth has emerged as a solid number one goalie in the WHL, playing behind one of the league’s most prolific offensive teams in recent memory.

Carruth, from Shorewood, Minnesota, has at times been overshadowed as a key contributor in Portland, due to the depth and drafted talent in the organization. However, Carruth has already won over 100 games for the franchise. He is a fierce competitor, reminiscent of former Brandon Wheat Kings keeper, Ron Hextall. He is prepared to ensure opponents pay the price for any indiscretions around his goal crease.

Carruth was selected in the 7th round, 191st overall, by the Blackhawks. He has handled 61 appearances this season, compiling a record of 42-15-2-0, along with a goals against average of 2.94 and a save percentage of .905. He is currently unsigned by the Blackhawks.

5. Laurent Brossoit, Edmonton Oil Kings
NHL Rights: Calgary Flames
Drafted 6th round, 164th overall, 2011

Brossoit began to establish himself as the top netminder in Edmonton last season, after apprenticing behind veterans Torrie Jung and Cam Lanigan, then Jon Groenheyde this season. In fact Brossoit, from Surrey, BC, battled them all and won, so to speak, as Jung has graduated from junior hockey and both Lanigan (Kamloops) and Groenheyde (Swift Current) have been traded by the Oil Kings.

In 59 appearances this season, Brossoit has set an Oil Kings’ record with 40 wins. He has compiled a 2.47 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. On an Oil Kings team that appears destined for a long playoff run, the upcoming post-season will enable Brossoit to further develop his skills under added pressure.

6. Kent Simpson, Everett Silvertips
NHL Rights: Chicago Blackhawks
Drafted 2nd round, 58th overall, 2010

The Silvertips have struggled this season, due in part to early season injuries to key players. On many nights, Simpson has been left to fend for himself.

Simpson has posted a 3.31 goals against average and a .910 save percentage this season, 19-29-2-5. These are career lows, though not entirely indicative of Simpson’s play or skill set. The Edmonton, Alberta native impressed during his draft year with 22 wins in 34 appearances. This season, however, he will be hard-pressed to register 20 victories.

Selected by the Blackhawks in the 2nd round, 58th overall, at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Simpson has good balance, great lateral movement and handles the puck with confidence.

7. Brandon Anderson, Brandon Wheat Kings
NHL Rights: Washington Capitals
Signed as a free agent, September 2010

The past couple of seasons have been inconsistent and perhaps frustrating for the 19-year-old Anderson, who signed with the Capitals after a free agent tryout before the 2010-11 season. Upon his return to the Lethbridge Hurricanes, the organization did little to provide support in front of Anderson, which appears to have had some impact on his confidence.

And then early this season, the ‘Canes shipped Anderson, a native of Langley, BC, to the Brandon Wheat Kings in a trade that saw Lethbridge acquire keeper Liam Liston in return. Since his arrival in Brandon, Anderson has compiled a 13-14-1-1 record with a 3.96 goals against average and a .889 save percentage. Of late, Anderson has not been in the Wheaties’ lineup, listed due to personal reasons.

The Wheat Kings are headed for the post-season this year and one would suspect that a four-year WHL veteran like Anderson will get an opportunity to show his stuff. For his career, Anderson has appeared in only one WHL playoff game.