This list ranks the top five goalkeepers under 23-years-old. They must also be currently playing for an NHL team, as either first choice or back-up.
But before that, let’s delve a little bit into why the ice hockey goalkeeper should be such a respected role in the sport.
NHL Goalie v Other Main Sporting Positions
One of the most important – and difficult – positions in the world of sport is an ice hockey goalkeeper, especially at a level as high as the NHL. They have to stop 3x1 inches of hard vulcanised rubber, going up to 100 miles per hour, about 30 times a game – of which they play about 60 of in each regular season, often with just one days rest.
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Not only is there the high powered pucks being fired on their net, but they’re expected to save over 90% of them. Letting three shots past them in a game is considered bad, even if they’ve saved the other thirty.
Compare this to sports like football, where Arsenal, the Premier League leaders, goalkeeper Petr Cech saves 3.13 shots per goal conceded – according to Squawka. Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris has conceded the least goals in the Prem and makes 2.64 saves per goal against.
You could then extrapolate the NHL goalie’s save percentage to compare them to an NFL quarterback’s pass percentage. The QB is probably the most important man on the field in American Football, but in this NFL regular season Russell Wilson, who has the NFL’s highest passer rating (110.1), achieved a 68.1% pass percentage. Kirk Cousins, of the Washington Redskins, tops the league on pass percentage with 69.8%.
The margin of error for an ice hockey goalie is so slight, and they have to deal with incredibly high paced and physical play. It’s easily one of the hardest positions amongst the more popular sports in the world.
Then there are these very talented – and possibly slightly mad – youngsters taking on the pressure of net-minding in the NHL. Here are the top five.
5. Louis Domingue, 23-years-old, Arizona Coyotes
Domingue was drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in 2010 – when they were known as the Phoenix Coyotes – and has finally been given a regular role in the team, in the wake of Mike Smith’s injury.
He made his debut last season and took part in seven games. His 6’3’’, 210 lbs frame is exactly what teams look for in their keepers. He makes so many big saves look simple thanks to his keen athleticism.
After going 4-2-2 this season, with a save percentage of .926%, the Canadian is proving himself to be a good young keeper. He could be the number one net-minder for this prospect Arizona team as they all develop into top hockey players.
4. Andrei Vasilevskiy, 21-years-old, Tampa Bay Lightning
Drafted in the first round of the 2012 entry draft, Vasilevskiy is playing his first season as Ben Bishop’s certain back-up. The Russian net-minder went 8-6-1 last season – one win came in the playoffs – and he kept a shutout.
It’s quite rare for a goaltender to be drafted in the first round, so there’s a lot of expectation for Vasilevskiy. Luckily for him, he’s part of a very young and talented team and is behind a stable number one – in Ben Bishop – which will allow him to perfect his game before becoming their number one keeper.
This season, he and Tampa Bay, have slumped a bit following their Stanley Cup final defeat to the Blackhawks. He’s posting a .911% save percentage after going 4-4-0 in the league, but as the team picks up so will his record.
3. Connor Hellebuyck, 22-years-old, Winnipeg Jets
What a prospect this American keeper is. This is his first season in the NHL and he’s already widely considered to be his team’s best goalie. After 13 games he went 9-4-0, and considering the calibre of the Jets, this is an impressive record.
He already has an NHL shutout to his name and posts a .935% save percentage. On January 5, Winnipeg travelled to Nashville – who are well known for their super-hard shooting defensemen, like Shea Weber – and Hellebuyck saved 43 of the 44 shots on his net; it was one of the best goaltending performances of the season.
It won’t be long before he’s considered amongst the league’s best goaltenders, which will be a huge boost for the Winnipeg Jets.
2. Petr Mrazek, 23-years-old, Detroit Red Wings
From 2012 to the end of last season, Mrazek had made 36 starts for the Red Wings, performing very well when needed. He even managed five clean sheets during those early years, whilst also playing in the AHL.
With his 13-8-2 record and two shutouts, he’s now starting to edge past the assumed number one keeper Jimmy Howard. He ranks fourth in the NHL with his .926% save percentage – among keepers who have played 25 games or more.
He makes up for his slightly smaller build with lightning fast reactions and his inability to give up on a puck in play. NHL Tonight even ranked his stick save against the Lightning as the best save of the 2014-15 season.
1. John Gibson, 22-years-old, Anaheim Ducks
Gibson has been dipped in-and-out of the Anaheim Ducks team for the past couple of seasons and started this campaign with their AHL affiliate side. After a terrible start to the season – and starting keeper Frederick Anderson getting ill – Gibson was called up. The Ducks now sit just one point away from an automatic playoff spot in the Pacific Division.
The young American is already being described as a complete keeper, and there’s no wonder he’s getting such great praise after his 8-4-2 start coming into a slumped team. He already has three more wins than the Ducks’ “starting” goalie. Coming out of Christmas, Gibson won four straight games, and already has four shutouts this season – which ranks him third in the league on clean sheets.
After just 14 starts this season, Gibson’s incredible performances have been rewarded by being selected for the 2016 All-Star competition.
His introduction in the middle of November sparked an awakening in the Anaheim Ducks which kick-started their season. They’re now playoff contenders once again and might even become Pacific favourites for the cup if Gibson and Co. can keep up their performances.