Top goaltenders in the NCAA

By DJ Powers
Photo: Sam Brittain is among the top collegiate goaltenders. Coming off a knee surgery which caused him to miss the first two thirds of the season, Brittain has been strong, posting an 8-3 record. (Photo courtesy of Patrick S Blood/Icon SMI)

This season, the NCAA features twelve NHL-drafted goaltenders. The top five ranking is based on their overall development and NHL potential. While none of them were high draft picks, they have all demonstrated through their progress and development that they could one day compete for a job in the NHL. Unless otherwise noted, all stats are current as of March 12.

1. Sam Brittain, Sophomore, University of Denver
NHL Rights: Florida Panthers
Drafted 4th round, 92nd overall, 2010

After missing the first 25 games of the season recovering from off-season knee surgery, Brittain is starting to hit his stride again, and that bodes well for the Pioneers heading towards the NCAA Tournament. To date, he has played in 11 games, posting an 8-3-0 record that includes one shutout.

Despite having played few games thus far this season, Brittain’s ability to play his position effectively hasn’t been hindered. He is simply beginning to pick up from where he left off last season. Brittain is one of college hockey’s most fundamentally sound netminders. Although the Calgary, AB native is still developing, he possesses all of the necessary tools that could one day see him playing in the NHL.

Brittain is a goaltender that possesses great athleticism and agility. His positioning and recovering ability is quite good and he does a good job of staying square to shooters. While he does move well, Brittain will need to add a bit more quickness to be successful at the next level.

One area where Brittain has made great strides is in his ability to play with traffic in front of him. He does a good job of tracking and staying with plays and doesn’t get rattled easily. He possesses very good rebound control and has improved his in steering pucks away from the crease.

Whether the Florida Panthers will opt to sign Brittain this off-season remains to be seen. If he does return to Denver this fall and continues to make progress in his development, the Panthers could come calling next spring.

2. Kieran Millan, Senior, Boston University
NHL Rights: Colorado Avalanche
Drafted 5th round, 124th overall, 2009

If maturity is a sign of a potential future NHL player, then it is a fitting description of Kieran Millan. After a stellar freshman season where he backstopped Boston University to a National Championship title, Millan struggled to find some consistency in the next two seasons. Now in his senior year, Millan’s play and development have vastly improved, putting the Terriers in good position to make a return to the NCAA Tournament, even with all of the turmoil that the team has experienced this season. To date, Millan has appeared in 34 games, posting a 20-13-1 record that includes three shutouts. His most memorable outing came in the third and deciding game of the recent Hockey East Tournament quarterfinal series versus New Hampshire. In that contest, Millan set a new Hockey East Tournament record when he stopped an astounding 68 shots to guide Boston University to a thrilling 5-4 double overtime win.

One notable area where Millan has really grown is in his maturity; his ability to bounce back after bad goals and bad games has significantly improved. And that has made Millan more confident while also providing Boston University with added stability on the back end.

At 6’0, 190 lbs, Millan is smaller than a number of the top goaltenders in the NCAA. He possesses sound fundamentals and is one of the most aggressive netminders in all of college hockey when challenging shooters. Millan is a goalie that possesses great athleticism and reflexes. The quickness that he has developed over the course of his collegiate career has simply adds to those attributes. Millan has very good rebound control and has made great strides in stopping second and third opportunities. The fact that he is also a very good puck handler allows him to move the puck more efficiently as well.

One attribute separates Millan from many collegiate goaltenders is his ability to stop high shots. He is difficult to beat up high because of his great positioning and glove. He plays equally well down low and on his angles.

Millan will likely be offered a contract by the Colorado Avalanche at season’s end. But with the goaltending depth in the organization that also includes University of Minnesota senior standout Kent Patterson, Millan will certainly have competition for a starting job at the pro level.

3. Joe Cannata, Senior, Merrimack College
NHL Rights: Vancouver Canucks
Drafted 6th round, 173rd overall, 2009

Merrimack started the season going undefeated in its first ten games (9-0-1) and a big reason behind it was the play of Joe Cannata. Since arriving in North Andover, Cannata has developed into one of the college hockey’s premiere goaltenders. The Wakefield, MA native has appeared in 36 games this season, posting a 17-12-7 record that includes two shutouts.

Cannata plays the game with a tremendous amount of calmness and thrives under pressure, both of which have greatly benefitted the Warriors. He possesses a great glove and his rebound control has steadily improved. While Merrimack has struggled to find the same consistency they had in the first half in the second half of the season, Cannata has consistently given his team an opportunity to win each night.

One attribute that has made him so dominant is his ability to stifle opposing players. Throughout his collegiate career, Cannata has shown that he can steal scoring opportunities from players. And he has done it on a team that has few NHL prospects on its roster.

Two notable areas where Cannata has really developed are his movement and positioning. While he possesses great athleticism, the noticeably quicker reflexes that he has developed have allowed him to move more efficiently. Where his improved positioning can be seen is in his ability to stay upright to effectively stop high shots and staying square to shooters.

The Vancouver Canucks are expected to offer Cannata a contract this offseason. But with Roberto Luongo and former Boston College standout Cory Schneider firmly entrenched as the team’s top two netminders, Cannata will have to wait for his opportunity to play in the NHL.

4. Kent Patterson, Senior, University of Minnesota
NHL Rights: Colorado Avalanche
Drafted 4th round, 113th overall, 2007

After taking over the starting netminding duties in December of 2010, Kent Patterson has continued to develop into one of the NCAA’s best goaltenders. And this season, few have been as consistent as he has. As one of college hockey’s workhorses, Patterson has played all but 20 minutes for the Golden Gophers thus far this season. The 2377:25 minutes that he has played in to date, ranks second in the nation. The Plymouth, MN native sports a 26-13-1 record that includes seven shutouts, which is a new Minnesota single-season record. Patterson’s 26 wins is second in the nation, while his seven shutouts co-lead the NCAA.

At 6’1, 196 lbs, Patterson is an average size goaltender, but he has very solid fundamentals. He displays great composure and confidence, aggressively challenges shooters and possesses an excellent glove. Where Patterson has made the greatest strides is in developing quicker reflexes and footwork, which have vastly improved his overall movement and ability to recover. The two areas that have made Patterson so successful at Minnesota is the fact that he has been able to give his team an opportunity to win each game and makes the key saves at crucial times.

Another area where Patterson has shown marked improvement is in his ability to control rebounds. He’s stopping the second and third chances more consistently and does a good job of steering pucks away from the net.

Where Patterson will need to continue to improve to be successful at the pro level is in being able to consistently hold his ground. At times, Patterson commits himself too early, which often puts him out of position to make the necessary saves.

The Colorado Avalanche will likely make Patterson a contract offer at season’s end, and among the players that he’ll be competing with for a starting job at the pro level is outstanding Boston University senior Kieran Millan.

5. Connor Knapp, Senior, Miami University
NHL Rights: Buffalo Sabres
Drafted 6th round, 164th overall, 2009

Among the Buffalo Sabres‘ six collegiate prospects this season, none have been as stellar as Connor Knapp. The York, NY native is playing his best hockey of the season right now and has the numbers to back it up. Knapp has appeared in 23 games for the RedHawks to date, posting a 15-7-0 record that includes five shutouts. His miniscule 1.59 goals against average lead the nation, while his .937 save percentage ranks second. Although Knapp has continued to platoon in goal with fellow senior Cody Reichard, he looks to have taken over the starting job for the remainder of Miami’s season. The RedHawks are currently riding an eight-game winning streak and Knapp has been in goal for seven of them. In the first game of the opening round of the CCHA Tournament versus Michigan State on March 9th, Knapp set a new school record for career shutouts with 13. In his previous three seasons, Knapp has combined to post a 2.03 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. That consistency and the ability to play really well under pressure have made Knapp one of the nation’s best goaltenders in each of his four seasons at Miami.

At 6’6, Knapp is the tallest netminder in the NCAA this season. But what has been most impressive is how Knapp has utilized his enormous frame this season. Two areas where this has been particularly noticeable are in his ability to stay upright more consistently when challenging shooters and his improved lateral movement. These areas have not only helped Knapp in his overall positioning, but they have also allowed him to stop low shots more effectively as well.

Knapp still maintains very good economy of movement. He possesses a very good glove and is very composed in net. Knapp’s rebound control is quite good and he has made marked improvements in stopping second and third opportunities. He has also made strides in his puck handling as well as his stick work too.

The Buffalo Sabres will, in all likelihood, offer Knapp a contract during the off-season. But because Knapp has spent his career at Miami platooning in goal, the biggest question looming on the horizon is whether or not he can backstop his future pro team for an entire season.

Honorable mentions
: Paul Karpowich (STL), senior, Clarkson University; Mike Lee (PHO), junior, St. Cloud State University