Ottawa Senators Prospect Awards 2024: Top Goaltender

I can forgive any Sense fan who still doesn't want to talk about goaltending

Ottawa Senators Prospect Awards 2024: Top Goaltender
Photo by Javier Rincón / Unsplash

The Field: For a team that suffered such atrocious goaltending this past season (and for most of the history of the franchise, Craig Anderson notwithstanding) the Ottawa Senators have done fine in terms of drafting and developing goalies. I would suspect that even the team's detractors would look at the prospect pool and highlight goaltending as a systematic strength. That being said, the Ottawa Senators got lousy goaltending this past year and sooner or later, on of the goalies in the system needs to fulfill their potential (fool me 24 times (twice if you're Matheiu Chouinard)). Of the five candidates on the ballot this year, Kevin Mandolese checks in as the veteran having played four professional seasons at all three organizational levels with mixed results (after ending his junior career on such a high note). He needs a new contract this summer and no longer has waivers exemption. Mads Søgaard just wrapped up his third full professional season and his entry-level contract. Søgaard as you may recall also played exceptionally in his last season before going pro in North America. In Europe in 2020 due to pandemic restrictions, he excelled in Denmark's professional league. Leevi Meriläinen enters this season on the last year of his ELC, having impressed since his failed foray in the CHL two years ago. Kevin Reidler who still needs an ELC (due to sign by 2026) has become a favourite of mine based on his play in Sweden's junior circuit and more recently in the USHL (he helped carry Dubuque to the finals). Ottawa's most enigmatic goaltending prospect, Vladimir Nikitin, also needs and ELC (due 2027) played his best hockey this past season with Kazakhstan's junior team (also he scored a goalie goal here in North America).

Top Goaltender: Mads Søgaard (71%)

I expected a closer finish here but what do I know! Søgaard has looked like the dude to beat for a few years now and while Meriläinen has closed the gap recently, I had hoped Reidler would gain more ground in this race. Anyway, the Sens have a good problem here in terms of goaltending depth in the system. They need someone to actually step up and become a full-time NHLer but we'll set that debate aside for now. Of the five candidates, only Søgaard saw any NHL action this season (Mandolese and Meriläinen at least got some exposure last year) and I think that helps his case. Søgaard certainly didn't fare will in his brief NHL stint this past season conceding 19 goals on 135 shots but I would just as soon write off the stats for all the goaltenders in Ottawa from the debacle we witnessed. Søgaard won this poll based on his performance in Belleville where he handily held down the crease ahead of Mandolese and Meriläinen.

In his third full AHL season, fourth overall if you include the first pandemic season, Søgaard earned his first two shutouts of his AHL career and his 18 wins on the season fell just short of his career-high 19 back in 2021-22 (he also played three fewer games this season due to injury). Søgaard's save percentage of 91.6 ranks as his best in a full AHL season (he had a mark of 91.7 over seven games in 2020-21 (a streak of seven consecutive victories no less)). In his first postseason appearance of his still-young professional North American career, Søgaard fared admirably to the tune of a 91.0 save percentage over six games against a couple of very competitive Toronto and Cleveland teams. Søgaard had one ugly loss against Toronto allowing four goals on 28 shots but otherwise did his part securing the two victories needed to get through round one.

In round two against Cleveland, Søgaard opened up this series with a career performance conceding just one goal on 32 shots against to lead Belleville to victory against a very good Monsters team. Belleville lost game two in an overtime heartbreaker by a final score or 4-3 but Søgaard still deserves credit for the 31 saves he made in that contest. Søgaard faced a solid 44 shots against in a double-overtime classic that I lament did not turn out in Belleville's favour. Full credit to Søgaard for making 41 saves along the way. I don't know how much more he could have done to give Belleville a fighting chance against a superior opponent.

It goes without saying that Søgaard's future depends on how the Senators navigate the contracts of Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo. The Senators also face the possibility of losing Mandolese on waivers if they want to assign him to the minors next season. Søgaard theoretically still holds the title as goalie of the future in Ottawa but if the Sens somehow bring in yet another veteran netminder to attempt to correct the team's course then your guess is better than mine what that means for the prospect pipeline. For now, Søgaard remains the best internal option to solve the goaltending problem but in Ottawa you can never take these things for granted.

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