I had an opportunity to see the Leafs future #1 netminder tonight, as his Marlies visited Hamilton in the first game of a home-and-home, picking up a 3-2 victory in overtime. I say "future #1" with conviction after what I saw tonight. Not that there was any doubt before I got to see him in person, we all remember his great World Junior run, a tournament where he was named MVP of the gold medal winning Canadian squad.
At first glance he looks very big, and takes up a lot of net. He is strong and powerful, but his balance and skating could still be improved. He likes to wander when playing the puck, but has a hard shot and great hockey sense. He always seems to know where his teammates are, and is able to get them the puck, even under pressure. That doesn't mean he is immune from any mistakes. A couple of times tonight he was caught hanging on to the puck for too long, and it nearly cost him.
He uses his size to his advantage, cutting down the angle very well. He is rarely caught out of position because of his power, which is a credit to his conditioning. His rebound control and reflexes both seem to be above-average, although one of the goals was scored when he got a large piece of a puck with his glove hand, it popped up in the air and landed in the net. I would write that off as a fluke because even getting his glove on the shot in the first place was remarkable.
His only downsides are his skating and balance, and they aren't even that bad. I'm really nitpicking when I say those are issues. They are just some areas he can improve at, although he is already better than most goaltenders in those areas. His maturity has also improved from last year, he now knows player's tendencies and has adapted very well to professional hockey.
Pogge's future remains unchanged from when they brought him up from the Calgary Hitmen. Play 2 or 3 years in the AHL and gradually make his way to the #1 job in Toronto. I believe that a 3rd year in the AHL can only be a good thing for Pogge. There is absolutely no reason to rush him, especially when it is up to a lackluster team such as the Leafs. I can see him splitting time with Vesa Toskala next season, but I wouldn't like it. It's not that he can't handle it, he's just as ready as Carey Price, but he can only get better from playing in the AHL. The Leafs don't need him, and shouldn't waste him. I know for Leafs fans keeping Pogge down in the minors feels a little like Christmas Eve, but it's for the better if you wait until morning to open your present. You don't want to spoil the surprise.