23. Kevin Mandolese (Reader Rank: NR, Last Year: NR)
The Ottawa Senators have no shortage of goaltender prospects. That was not true in January 2018 as they only had Marcus Hogberg and Joey Daccord in the system, but in almost three years since then, they have added Filip Gustavsson, Mads Søgaard, Leevi Merilainen, and of course, the man of the hour, Kevin Mandolese.
Not only that, they now have a starter locked up for the next four years with Matt Murray. That’s seven goaltenders who could realistically be a part of the Senators franchise within the next five years, although the competition is wide open and will be incredibly fierce.
Mandolese was drafted 157th overall in the 6th round in 2018 after posting an .884 SV% in 37 games with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, the same team that had Drake Batherson and Egor Sokolov. He was a lottery ticket, but so are essentially all goalies, and scouts had praised his skillset, meaning he was someone with potential despite sub-par stats in the QMJHL:
The #Sens grab Kevin Mandolese LATE with pick #157. Excellent size and great patience on his edges - which is probably his best attribute. It'll be interesting to see if he gets any faster as he gets stronger. Good value on that pick right there. #NHLDraft— Gregory Balloch (@GregBalloch) June 23, 2018
After adding a plethora of prospects in 2018, there was no chance he was going to be on Senators fans radars in the Top 25 Under 25 that summer he was drafted.
As a 6th rounder, there’s never any guarantee that you will receive an NHL contract, and after posting an .895 SV% in 50 games in his Draft+1 season, Mandolese was no lock to stick with the Senators. The good news was that he finished the year on a high note with a .916 SV% in 16 playoff games. Nevertheless, he failed to crack the Top 25 Under 25 in the summer of 2019 as well, as he was essentially at the bottom of the pecking order in terms of Senators goaltending prospects.
However, he really stepped up his game in 2019-20 and saved his career.
Mandolese improved drastically with a .925 SV% in 37 games, and he earned QMJHL First All-Star Team honours. His league-best SV% was vastly better than everyone else’s, as the next closest starter had a .918% mark, with the majority of them clumping around .900%. This was not a case of someone taking a normal progression forward, this was a massive leap where he became the league’s best goaltender.
His efforts earned him an entry-level contract in April, and he was slated to split time between the Brampton Beast and the Belleville Senators before it was announced that Brampton would not be playing in the ECHL this year due to COVID-19. Now it is unclear how Ottawa will juggle all of these goalies, since they will have Joey Daccord, Filip Gustavsson, and Kevin Mandolese all in the AHL, with Mads Søgaard presumably still in the WHL (if they are able to have a partial season).
At the age of 20, Mandolese is still incredibly young for a goaltender and there are realistically two prospects ahead of him on the depth chart in terms of seniority, and that’s without even including Murray and Hogberg in the NHL. Goaltenders take much longer to develop than forwards and defensemen though, so he has plenty of time to develop in the minors before trying to make the biggest leap to Ottawa.
In four seasons in the QMJHL, his final year was his only standout one, so one could argue that the 2019-20 season might have been a bit of an outlier, but then again, prospects are so fickle between the ages of 16-20, and adjustments such as size, athleticism, and style of play are constantly happening, so I am confident that he has made the necessary adjustments to at least have NHL potential.
Related to that newfound confidence, Silver Seven’s own Brandon Maki had a great interview with Mandolese about his journey back in July.
The NHL is a very “what have you done for me lately?” kind of business, and Mandolese’s stock has certainly risen because of that. If I were to rank Ottawa’s goaltender prospects, I think I might go like this (with razor-thin margins):
- Joey Daccord
2. Kevin Mandolese
3. Filip Gustavsson
4. Mads Søgaard
5. Leevi Merilainen
However, a year ago, I would’ve had Søgaard at least second and Mandolese last. It just shows how much can change from year-to-year, plus the fact that these prospects are incredibly difficult to differentiate because you can easily make cases for all of them to be in a certain spot.
As with any goaltending prospect, Mandolese will need to show the organization what he can do at the pro level before they can treat him as a legitimate NHL option. The jump from the QMJHL to the AHL (or even the ECHL) is a difficult one, and he may not be ready for it.
I am never going to say that “goalie prospect X is a sure-fire thing” because that is incredibly rare. However, Mandolese is on the upward trajectory and I am very excited to see him play this year, whenever and wherever that is. He will have to fight hard in order to surpass all of the other goaltenders in the system, but I like that there will be competition over the next few seasons between this group.
Even in the best case scenario, we won’t be seeing Mandolese in Ottawa for at least a few more seasons, but I am eager to see his transition to the professional level.