Does drafting more goaltenders lead to better goaltending?

Pretty much since the inauguration of the franchise, the Ottawa Senators have dealt with flux in the crease. Although there have been streaks where goaltenders have played well, there hasn't been any significant measure of consistency, whether within a season or, especially, over the course of a few seasons. Given this fact, you've got to think the Senators have identified goaltending as a key area for improvement, and used the most basic method for improving a given area--the Entry Draft--to address it. But you'd be wrong, because of the course of the last decade, the Senators have drafted a total of five goaltenders: Robin Lehner (2009), Ryan Daniels (2006), Jeff Glass (2004), Brian Elliott (2003), and Ray Emery (2001).

With five goalies selected since 2000, the Senators have drafted the second-fewest netminders, ahead only of the New Jersey Devils--and the Devils have kind of had that position pretty well settled for the decade. The rest of the top ten are all over the map, in terms of steady goaltending:

Team No. of goalies drafted
Devils 4
Senators 5
Blue Jackets 6
Bruins 7
Red Wings 7
Oilers 7
Canadiens 7
Rangers 7
Ducks 8
Stars 8
Four more tied at... 8

 

On average, teams have drafted more than nine goalies in the last decade, but the Senators have drafted about half that many. So why have the Senators not tried to use the draft in order to address what has been their primary weakness for that whole time? And would doing so even necessarily mean they'll solve the problem?

(Read more... )

At the other end of the spectrum, we see a similar range of teams who've had solid goaltending (the San Jose Sharks), teams who are just beginning to have solid goaltending (the Pittsburgh Penguins), and teams who--despite drafting so many goaltenders--continue to struggle filling that position (the Philadelphia Flyers):

Team No. of goalies drafted
Flyers 16
Kings 14
Predators 14
Lightning 14
Penguins 12
Sharks 12
Avalanche 11
Blackhawks 10
Islanders 10
Thrashers 9
Six more tied at... 9

 

Drafting goaltenders doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get good ones. Take the Flyers, for instance, who've drafted more goaltenders than any other team, but have only really had one--Roman Cechmanek--offer them anything in the way of goaltending. The four 'tenders they drafted in 2008 and 2009 are skewing their number upwards, but there's perhaps another reason they haven't had success: No goaltender has been drafted before the third round, and their average round drafted is 5.3. So it's one thing to keep drafting goalies, but you have to be willing to use higher-round draft picks in order to find a good one.

However, drafting a highly-ranked goaltender doesn't mean you're going to get a good one, either. Of the 15 goaltenders drafted in a first-round since 2000, three are now unquestionable starters for their teams: Cam Ward and Marc-Andre Fleury. On the other hand, the Rangers have wasted two first-round picks on busted goalies (Al Montoya and Dan Blackburn), while a seventh-round pick of theirs has become their franchise keeper.

Conclusion: Conventional wisdom is that drafting goaltenders is largely a crapshoot, and that seems to hold true: There isn't a significant direct relationship between the number of goaltenders your team drafts and whether or not there is any measure of steady goaltending. Still, drafting more goaltenders will increase your chances of finding one who will work out. Nor are there guarantees if you're willing to use high draft choices to select goaltenders, because there is so much uncertainty with a goaltender's development.

The trick, obviously, is good scouting, and good goalie development. If your scouts are able to identify the right factors that an NHL goaltender needs, and your personnel department and coaching staff are able to build on those factors to improve the player's chances, it seems not to matter where he's drafted. Although the Senators need to be concerned with filling out their forward ranks for the future of the team, they also need to have goaltending scouts pay serious attention to goalies out there, and not be afraid to pick some, as they appear to have been for much of the past decade.

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