Folks, once again, thanks for joining us here for week two of our prospect award season. I find it ironic that despite goaltending costing both the Ottawa and Belleville Senators several games early in their respective seasons, we had a handful of netminding prospects make strong cases for this award.
Before things got rolling in North America, we got an early sample of things to come when the European leagues got started and Filip Gustavsson, Leevi Meriläinen, and Mads Søgaard commenced their seasons across the Atlantic. In retrospect, we should have seen it as a sign of good times ahead as all three played well in their home countries.
While Meriläinen didn’t make our final three, the most recently signed Senator deserves mention for his exceptional season in Finland even if he took home one lone vote in this poll. Consider it a testament to the strength of this group that a goalie who came within a game of a national championship couldn’t crack our top three. So, who are our nominees?
Joey Daccord played seven games in Ottawa with a modest save percentage of 88 (87 over two games in Belleville) but won over fans with his evident confidence and comfort at the highest level (not to mention his undeniable personality).
Filip Gustavsson had an outstanding save percentage of 93 in nine NHL games and added a 91 SV% in 13 AHL contests for good measure.
Mads Søgaard kept our intrigue from afar as one of, if not the, best goaltender in the Danish national league with a save percentage of 92 over 16 regular season games before going on a lengthy postseason run. For act two, Mads went undefeated in his first seven AHL games, to the tune of a 91 save percentage.
And the winner is—
Heading into the season I publicly listed Gustavsson as my lowest ranked Senators prospect in net and I’ll gladly eat crow as the golden goose stole the show. Four out of five readers agree, Gus had the most impressive season of Ottawa’s young ‘tenders and to his credit, he had some strong competition.
Gus has certainly followed quite the path to get here. Drafted by Pittsburgh in the second round based on his strong resume of play in Sweden and his impressive performances in international tournaments, we had high hopes for the Goose when he joined Ottawa’s system already playing well at the professional level in the SHL in 2018.
A couple of mediocre seasons in the AHL tempered our expectations somewhat and drove Gus down my personal rankings despite the fact that the Goose still showed glimpses of the dominant play we saw from him in tournaments past. This year, with his entry level contract expiring, Gustavsson put it all together and on the brightest stage.
I feel tempted to attribute Gus’ improvement to team play and the graduation from a defensively challenged AHL squad to a more structured NHL environment. However, both Ottawa and Belleville had largely mediocre team defense and goaltending this season. which makes Gustavsson’s results more of an outlier than anything. Give the man credit for separating himself from the pack and thriving where others had struggled, back-stopping such a young and inexperienced Senators squad.
So what changed? Perhaps starting the season back in Sweden gave Gus a chance to reset and find his old form after struggling in North America for a couple of years. As we saw, the Goose never lost his ability to make highlight reel saves, and he did at times stand on his head for Belleville the past two seasons. This season however, Gus rounded out the rest of his game, making the routine plays and keeping his composure, and it made all the difference. Keep in mind, while many of his peers awaited the resumption of North American hockey, the Goose played 19 Allsvenskan games with a save percentage of 92 to shake off the rust.
For whatever reason, Gustavsson rediscovered the form that made him so coveted at the 2016 draft and with the Goose leading the prospect pack this season, the Senators have a good problem on their hands. Between Gustavsson, Daccord, Kevin Mandolese, Meriläinen, and Søgaard Ottawa has plenty of options going forward and plenty of healthy internal competition.
So how did the readers vote? Gustavsson 82.6% Søgaard 10% Daccord 7% Meriläinen <1%
Stay tuned as we get into the really good stuff next week!