Ever since I was a little kid, goaltenders fascinated me. Just the unique nature of the position always stood out to me…I always wanted to be a goalie, and I always looked up to players who were. So something that would be of interest to me, and hopefully to my readers as well, would be taking a look at each of the active 60 goaltenders in the NHL and ranking them from top to bottom. Well, for the purposes of this series of blog posts, from bottom to top.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to give you my rankings of the 2013-14 NHL netminders, and we’ll start today with 51-60.
51) Karri Ramo, Calgary Flames
Career NHL stats: 49 GP, 11-21-11, 3.36 GAA, .895 Save Pct.
Ramo was the Flames opening night starter following a four-season stint in the KHL. His NHL numbers, for all but one game, are based off of what he did as an up-and-coming goalie for the Tampa Bay Lightning between the 2006-07 and 2008-09 seasons. The 27-year-old Finn posted outstanding numbers with Omsk of the KHL, but has yet to be able to translate his international success to the NHL. Given that he’s part of a rebuild in Calgary, it’s unlikely that will change. Joey MacDonald, who is ranked slightly ahead of Ramo, may ultimately be the better NHL goaltender right now.
52) Jason Labarbera, Edmonton Oilers
Career NHL stats: 177 GP, 59-70-19, 2.83 GAA, .909 Save Pct.
LaBarbera, 33, has had to fight through being buried in multiple organizations to finally establish himself as an NHL backup. He last held a starting job with the Los Angeles Kings in 2007-08, and signed with Edmonton this season after four years as the backup to both Ilya Bryzgalov and Mike Smith in Phoenix. A well-decorated goaltender at the AHL level, “Barbs” has proven to be little more than a capable backup in the NHL, not that there’s anything wrong with that. However, at this stage in his career, no team is likely to rely on him to be the full-time starter, although if there ever were a situation where that may arise, it could be behind the perpetually-struggling Devan Dubnyk.
53) Eddie Lack, Vancouver Canucks
Career NHL stats: 1 GP, 1-0-0, 3.81 GAA, .889 Save Pct.
Lack’s low placement on this list is more because of…drumroll please…lack of playing time in the NHL than anything else. The 25-year-old’s path to Vancouver was blocked over the past several seasons by the Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider tandem, but with Schneider having been dealt out East to the Devils, a spot finally opened for the 25-year-old Swede. Lack put together two very solid seasons in the AHL for the Manitoba Moose and Chicago Wolves before struggling to play through a hip injury last season that ultimately required surgery to repair. He won’t see a lot of playing time behind Luongo this season, but should establish himself as a solid No. 2 option.
54) Curtis McElhinney, Columbus Blue Jackets
Career NHL stats: 69 GP, 19-26-4, 3.10 GAA, .899 Save Pct.
McElhinney has once again fought his way back to the NHL, given an opportunity by the Blue Jackets after he put together an All-Star season for their AHL affiliate in Springfield. The 30-year-old has never been a full-time starter in the NHL, but had always managed to stick around at the game’s highest level despite a bevy of trades and transactions over the past several years that have seen him in five different organizations since the 2009-10 season. McElhinney has never played more than 28 games in a full NHL season — which he did while splitting games between the Ducks and Senators in 2010-11 — and almost assuredly will not come anywhere near that mark while backing up Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky in Columbus. He should be a capable backup, but is unlikely to be relied upon for consecutive starts.
55) Al Montoya, Winnipeg Jets
Career NHL stats: 64 GP, 24-18-10, 2.77 GAA, .906 Save Pct.
The sixth overall pick of the New York Rangers in the 2004 NHL Draft, Montoya has never achieved the stardom that he appeared to be destined for. Some guy named Henrik Lundqvist came out of nowhere to become the Rangers goaltender of the future instead of him, and that led to him being unable to get a full-time NHL job until halfway through the 2010-11 season when he was traded for the second time in his career, this time to the New York Islanders. Montoya played well on a sub-par team that year, but struggled when given an increased workload in 2011-12. He appeared in just seven games last year in an injury-riddled campaign — his first with Winnipeg — and has Eddie Pasquale nipping at his heels for the backup job to Ondrej Pavelec.
56) Chad Johnson, Boston Bruins
Career NHL stats: 10 GP, 3-2-3, 1.97 GAA, .929 Save Pct.
The Rangers seem to be adept at developing NHL-caliber netminders, just not for themselves. Johnson is the third goalie of the 51-60 group to have been given his start by New York, but he’s since moved on as well. Like Montoya, Johnson got his first real opportunity to shine with the Phoenix Coyotes, and he was stellar last season. Albeit in just four games, he posted a 1.21 goals against average and .954 save percentage, and likely put himself on the radar to be given an opportunity like the one he’s earned in Boston backing up Tuukka Rask this season. Johnson, who beat out AHL All-Star Niklas Svedberg for the job, is, like most backups on good teams, unlikely to see much time between the pipes this year. But at the very least, this is his first opportunity to be a full-time NHL’er.
57) Kevin Poulin, New York Islanders
Career NHL stats: 21 GP, 7-9-1, 2.76 GAA, .912 Save Pct.
Poulin is in somewhat of a Catch-22 situation with the Islanders. While he’s learning a lot by being at the NHL level, he might not be developing at as quickly as a rate of some of his peers because he isn’t playing a lot. Just 23 years old, the Montreal-born netminder appeared in just five games last year behind workhorse Evgeni Nabokov, and seems destined to maybe a dozen or so starts this year as well. Poulin does have extensive time in the AHL with the Islanders’ affiliate in Bridgeport over the past two seasons, and it might be wise to send him down — he remains exempt from waivers — on occasion to keep him sharp.
58) Carter Hutton, Nashville Predators
Career NHL stats: 2 GP, 0-1-0, 2.20 GAA, .920 Save Pct.
Hutton is a rarity among NHL netminders; a 27-year-old rookie who has played his entire pro career in North America. An underdog who was jettisoned to the ECHL as recently as the 2011-12 season, the UMass-Lowell alum had always been good enough to see spot duty as a backup in the NHL (with the Flyers and Sharks) but never managed to actually get into a game. But that all changed once he joined the Blackhawks organization — even though he still backed up in a handful of games in his first season, 2011-12, without getting any game time — and he made his NHL debut on the last day of the regular season last year. With seemingly little left to prove at the AHL level, Hutton was given an opportunity to backup Pekka Rinne in Nashville this season. While he surely won’t supplant Rinne as the starter, with the big Finn coming off a hip procedure, Hutton could see more games than you might think this season, particularly in back-to-back nights situations.
59) Alex Stalock, San Jose Sharks
Career NHL stats: 3 GP, 1-0-1, 1.68 GAA, .909 Save Pct.
Stalock is another guy where there simply isn’t a big enough sample size to properly evaluate him at the NHL level. But that he’s even there at all is a minor miracle. He lost all but a handful of games in the 2011-12 season due to a career-threatening injury suffered when he was cut by a skate behind the knee the year prior. The 26-year-old American-born goaltender has three full seasons in the AHL under his belt, and beat out Harri Sateri to claim the backup job to Antti Niemi this season. This will also be his first opportunity to be a full-time NHL goalie.
60) Jeff Zatkoff, Pittsburgh Penguins
Career NHL stats: None
Zatkoff is ranked last because he has no NHL experience. After three full seasons of being trapped behind Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier in the Los Angeles Kings organization — not to mention splitting time with Martin Jones — the 26-year-old signed with the Penguins organization prior to the 2012-13 season and got the bulk of the games for their AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre Scranton. An AHL All-Star with Manchester two seasons ago, Zatkoff didn’t earn an invite to Providence last year despite a career-best 1.93 goals against average. Although questions remain about whether GM Ray Shero will stick with Zatkoff as his backup to Marc-Andre Fleury, for now, he’s got an opportunity to cement himself as an NHL’er until Tomas Vokoun is able to return.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com