If you’ve been following this series so far, the next award winner should come as no surprise. After Ary and I named Erik Brännström as the Ottawa Senators’ top defenceman last week, we now look at the organization’s strong crop of goaltending prospects and pick the best one.
And the winner is...
Best Goalie: Marcus Högberg
Reader’s Choice: Marcus Högberg (79.8% of votes)
Honourable Mentions: Kevin Mandolese, Joey Daccord
The first prospect to take home two awards this series, Marcus Högberg was the easy winner for both myself, Ary, and the readers, as we also named him the Best First Year NHLer. Ary did a fantastic in-depth dive on Högberg’s season over on that piece, which I highly recommend checking it out as I’ll be saving this piece from a lot of the overlap.
Instead, I want to focus more on how Ottawa’s goalie depth chart stacks up for the next few years. At the top there’s currently Högberg, who looks to have won himself a full-time NHL position next season with Anders Nilsson, assuming that Craig Anderson isn’t returning. As someone who’s been on the Högberg hype train since he had a 93.2% save percentage in the SHL in 2016-17, it’s great to see him finally getting a long look at the top professional level.
Senators goalie coach Pierre Groulx had nothing but praise for Högberg in a recent interview:
“Part of his progress is his willingness to learn every day,” Groulx said. “He’d make a mistake on one goal or one play and then we’d look at it on video or work at on the ice and understand that, ‘Okay, I’ve got to do that. His understanding and willingness to get better allowed him to prove to himself he’s an NHL goalie.
“With his size and his athletic ability, he’s also learned a lot from Craig [Anderson] because of the way he handles the game, and just to put every little part of his game in action, he became a guy that belongs in the NHL and showed that he can play. His upside grew a bit more because of his willingness to learn every day.”
It might be partly expected for Högberg to be the team’s top goalie prospect given he’s already 25 years old, but that doesn’t make him the automatic bet as the team’s Goalie Of The Future, with a number of worthy honourable mentions nipping at his heels.
The first one on our list is Kevin Mandolese, who was also considered for the Most Improved Prospect award. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t see this season coming from Mandolese, even labelling him as a “prospect to forget” less than a year ago. My reasoning was simple: the Senators already had a bunch of solid goalie prospects coming up in their system, and given Mandolese’s mediocre track record to date, I didn’t think the Senators would end up signing him to an entry-level contract.
Of course, all of that ended up being completely wrong. The 6’4” Mandolese posted a save percentage of 92.5% with the Cape Breton Eagles, the highest mark in the QMJHL for goalies with at least fifteen games played. He signed his entry-level contract in April, and it appears the plan is for him to start the 2020-21 season in the ECHL.
Even with Högberg graduating, there’s a reason no AHL spots are open for Mandolese. That’s because of our next honourable mention, Joey “Okay” Daccord. He was more than okay in his rookie pro season, working his way from starting in the ECHL to playing a big chunk of available minutes in the AHL.
Daccord’s success may be a bit less of a surprise for long-time readers, as he was praised non-stop on this website in 2018-19 for single-handedly dragging the lowly Arizona State University to the NCAA post-season. His puck-handling skills are easily the best in the Senators’ system, with his skating ability pretty darn close to what you’d expect from most pro-level forwards and defencemen. He got even better as the latest season went on, with a 91.5% save percentage in 24 AHL games.
That leaves us with two more netminders who didn’t quite make the cut as honourable mentions, but are still deserving of recognition as potential future NHLers.
First up is Filip Gustavsson, whose second full season with the B-Sens was a rocky one. He ended the year with a save percentage of 88.9%, just slightly above the season prior. It wasn’t for a lack of great moments, though, as he was named the AHL Goalie of the Month for January. But the extreme lows were just as frequent as the extreme highs, being yanked from the net on three occasions over 24 starts. He’s still only 21 years old, though, and as we’ve seen with many goalies in the past, sometimes it just takes time.
Finally, we move to a goalie even younger than Gustavsson, the 19-year-old Mads Søgaard. It’s impossible to talk about Søgaard without mentioning that he’s 6’7”, as the Danish giant had a season to forget with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers. His 90.8% save percentage fell well below the 92.1% he posted in his draft year, after which the Senators picked him 37th overall. But goalies take time to develop, and although there’s still a long ways to go before we can call Søgaard a pro-caliber goalie, his height will always be a natural advantage. Here’s hoping he can bounce back in 2020-21.
That’s all for this week’s prospect award! Do you agree with our pick? Who do you foresee being the Sens’ starting in three to five years?
Come back next week where we’ll wrap up the prospect awards series, as we’ll reveal the season’s Most Valuable Prospect!