No. 21: Chris Driedger (Reader rank: 17, Last year: N/A)
Fun fact: Matt O'Connor is two years older than Chris Driedger. I think this, in conjunction with a bunch of other reasons which we'll go through shortly, is one of the reasons why the Senators may have a hard decision this coming offseason when O'Connor and Driedger are RFAs. Not to mention the best prospect of the three (in my opinion), Marcus Hogberg, is likely to come to North America next season.
Initially ranked 13th among North American goaltenders by CSS, the Senators selected Driedger with their second pick in 2012 (3rd round, 76th overall) and was the 8th goaltender selected in a strong draft class for goalies. Ottawa, having no real prospects in the system, made it a priority to draft a couple of goaltenders, and eventually ended up signing Driedger over 6th round pick Francois Brassard, formerly of Patrick Roy's Quebec Remparts. My initial reaction was negative, based on Driedger's 2011-12 save percentage of .896, which was lower than the WHL league average of about .905, but clearly Driedger and the Sens scouts proved me wrong. Driedger played in the CHL Top Prospects game, was invited to Team Canada's World Junior Development camp, and went on to put up seasons of .915 and .918, the latter being the 6th highest mark in the WHL. Crucially, Driedger's 2012-13 .931 save percentage in 17 playoff games as the Hitmen lost in the WHL final gave the Senators enough confidence to sign the 'tender.
What should we expect from a player entering his 4th season with the organization? Ex-goalie coach Rick Wamsley had this to say about Driedger at the end of training camp last year:
His presence this year is the best it's ever been. He's come in in better shape and I think he knows what to expect here. The first two years it's fair to say that he really didn't understand what he was getting into. This is his third year that we've worked together so he knows me and he knows what's expected now. You can see he's done his homework coming into this camp. He finished last year going 6-0 I believe in Binghamton which gives him a real good start on this season. He's just a more mature goalie from what I've seen.
That was after Driedger had played one game with the big club, 8 games with the BSens, and spent a majority of the season refining his trade in the ECHL. Driedger went on to battle with Matt O'Connor for the BSens starting job, eventually winning out and putting up a solid .912 save percentage in 39 starts. He also spent a lot of time riding the pine in Ottawa when Andrew Hammond was injured, perhaps the organization signalling that Driedger was the more advanced of the two or wanting to get O'Connor more playing time.
What do scouts have to say about Driedger?
From Sens amateur scout George Fargher [click here to read some more pre-draft options collected by Peter Levi]
"Probably three or four years away from being a real NHL prospect. He's got good size, blocks the puck well. He's got pretty good positioning, works real hard and seems like a good kid.
Currently ranked 12th among North American goaltenders by NHL Central Scouting, Driedger displays a very calm demeanor in the net, and he moves with good balance due to a low center of gravity. He has very little excess movement, and is the most minimalistic and economical of the four. His game is very simple; he doesn't waste any excess energy, he stays in good position, and he shows elements of durability by quietly letting the puck, and the play, come to him.
Because of this demeanor, he should rank higher than most draft-eligible goalies on your fantasy league scale. I know Driedger has been through a total whirlwind since he was invited to perform in the two-day Research and Development back in August, but the experience he has gained will pay off in the future. He wasn't even supposed to play in this game, but earned the invitation when Malcolm Subban was ruled out due to injury.
Furthermore, he's getting hot at just the right time; he went a perfect 6-0 in January for the Calgary Hitmen, posting a miniscule 1.29 goals-against average and .954 save percentage along the way. He won't carry the same type of hype as an Andrei Vasilevski or a Subban, but due to his quiet and poised nature in the net, he's certainly worth watching.
Driedger displays a very calm demeanor in the net, and he moves with good balance due to a low center of gravity. He has very little excess movement, allowing him to move around without having to worry about over commiting. The six-foot-two, 186-pound goalie is a superb talent that combines size, athleticism and a professional demeanor that should have NHL scouts drooling. He is positionally and technically sound, has a good glove, excellent rebound control, and never gives up on a puck. His patience and calmness are Chris' best strengths, and while he is still a low rated goalie, he has shown much improvement over the last year.
Driedger isn't an elite goaltender yet. He was by no means one of the top CHL goalies, despite being named to the top prospects game, but many believe it was only because Malcolm Subban was injured and couldn't take part in the event. It was shown this season that one bad goal seemed to hurt him throughout the course of a game, resulting in high scoring games...for the other team. He needs to battle the puck more.
Projected draft round:
With the amount of talent ahead of him, expect him to go around round 5-6.
At best, I would call him a mediocre NHL starter, along the lines of Devan Dubnyk or Alex Auld. He will likely turn into a solid NHL backup or AHL starter.
Driedger has spent the last two seasons with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL. He finished last season with a healthy 36-14-4 record, a 2.51 GAA and a save percentage of .915.
The Winnipeg native rose to the occasion in the Memorial Cup Playoffs, putting up a 2.39 GAA and a .931 save percentage while going 11-4-2 and registering one shutout.
Driedger plays his angles well and has very little wasted movement out on the ice. He needs to improve his consistency and gain more experience before he can reach the NHL, which is probably about three years down the road.
In sum, it seems like Driedger has done pretty well given his initial projections in his draft year. He's matured into a solid AHL starter after taking the full four years in junior with the Calgary Hitmen and an ECHL year, and may end up as a cheap backup option a la Andrew Hammond for a bonafide number 1. It appears that he excels at the mental side of the game, with his calm demeanor allowing him to play compact positionally and let the puck come to him. Consistency is consistently brought up as a weakness as it seems to take him a while to adjust to the next level, but given his age and the current depth chart, I'm willing to keep him around for the foreseeable future.