With numbers 30-21 taken care of, we move on to the middle segment of the Pre-Season Top 30 with numbers 20-11. As always, make sure to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section.
20. Ilya Bryzgalov, Philadelphia Flyers – This one I know I’m going to get fileted for. I know “Mr. Universe” is everyone’s favorite whipping boy, and we all take a little extra pleasure whenever a Flyer’s netminder struggles. The bottom line however, is Bryzgalov is a solid goaltender. As noted in my scouting report on Bryz last season, it’s his style that creates the perception. While his skill level in no way validates his absurd contract, he is a solid positional netminder who I am confident will have a much better showing next season.
19. Tuuka Rask, Boston Bruins – Tuuuuuuka has had something of an up and down ride in his Boston career thus far. The on-again, off-again starter for the B’s will be handed the reigns full-time this season, and I expect he will excel. He has tremendous athleticism and feel for the position and while he can get his mechanics out of whack sometimes (though not nearly to the extent of Niemi or Bobrovsky) he has good vision and has shown the ability to make the necessary adjustments to keep himself well above average long term. His ceiling goes up if he is able to remove those inconsistencies from his game.
18. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils – Marty was a challenge to fit into this ranking structure. Part of me wanted to be nostalgic and rank Marty higher due to his past accomplishments (I am in the camp that feels Marty is the greatest goalie of all time). But, even withstanding his tremendous playoff run this past season, Number 18 is where Marty belongs. He is still an above average tender, but he is no longer the beast he used to be. It’s a testament to his ability that at 40, he is still very effective at the highest level.
17. Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild – Backstrom was another tough one to rank because his decline is starting a little earlier than I expected. At age 34, he is still a tremendous talent, but after his monster 08-09 campaign, his durability and athleticism have suffered. The numbers are still solid and trending up since his disappointing 09-10 season, but you can tell by watching him that he is losing a step. Having Josh Harding back in the fold next year should give him the proper amount of rest to keep him effective and healthy. Ryan Suter doesn’t hurt either.
16. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals – This ranking might seem a little aggressive, but I am very high on the soon-to-be 23 year old. He obviously had his coming out party in the playoffs last year, but he has a rock solid minor league track record and all the familiar symptoms of high-end tenders. If anything, he fell victim to the perceived “embarrassment of riches” as far as goalies go in the Caps system. While the ranking might not reflect his current ability level or standing in the league, the sky is the limit for this kid.
15. Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames – Kipper is another interesting guy to try and rank. There was a time in the mid-aught’s that one could make the case for the Flame’s tender as the best goaltender in the world. He has slowed down considerably since his monster .933 sv % year in ’04, but has still posted save percentages over .920 in two of the past three seasons playing for a pretty terrible Calgary team. I was hoping he would be traded at last season’s deadline so he could showcase his talents for a team with a real shot at contending, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Either way, he is still a very effective keeper, but his decline phase is most likely approaching sooner than later.
14. Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars – The 28 year old, oft-injured Fin has always put up solid numbers since his NHL debut, but the combination of playing for terrible Atlanta teams and giving Rick DiPietro a run for his money in the trainer’s room has left him something of an after-thought in the goaltending community. Since being traded to the Dallas Stars, however, Lehtonen has began to come into his own as a starter. With the improvements Dallas has made over the off-season, it will fall heavily on Lehtonen to carry the Stars to their first post-season berth in four years.
13. Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks – Bobby Lou is another tricky one for me to try and rank (see a trend in the middle of the pack?). I have absolutely no faith in his ability to play shut down goal in an important game (playoffs or international competition), but his physical ability puts him definitively in the top half the league’s keepers. He has commanding size and positioning, but he is mentally soft and prone to the weak, back-breaking goal. A fresh start in a smaller market like Florida might help Luongo get some of his swagger back, because the talent is definitely there.
12. Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues – Halak is a very fluid goaltender with solid positional skills, but his lack of flair makes him something of an after thought. He is incredibly talented, but his slow start last season pushed him into a platoon situation in St. Louis. Make no mistake though, Halak is a much better goaltender than Brian Elliot and when the latter comes back to earth next season, look for Halak to re-take the reigns. He hasn’t quite hit his ceiling yet, but if he can put it all together this coming year in his age 27 season, he could be a big mover on this list next year.
11. Cory Schneider, Vancouver Canucks – I had to swallow my pride on this one a little because I never like Schneider’s game when he was at Boston College. I didn’t think he had the mobility or athleticism to excel at the pro game. I stand corrected. Not only has he adapted his style to maximize his ability, he has grown into an incredibly controlled, efficient goalie whose vision and instincts are among the best in the league. Not to mention displacing a guy with about 240 years left on his contract. Look for big things from the 26 year-old Massachusetts native this coming season.
Stay tuned for the final installment and find out who ranks Number 1 entering the 2012-2013 season!