While this is based squarely on potential, the talent in goaltending that could belong in the North-East Divison is both impressive and worrisome. It's very possible some of these prospects fall through the cracks and endure disappointing NHL careers compared to what was expected of them, but the prospect of having four star goaltenders in the same division is an enticing one.
These goaltenders belong to the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres. And it couldn't happen to a better division if you ask me, with three of the four being from the original six era, this is wonderful news for fans. While this doesn't mean the NE division will suddenly become the Mecca of the NHL, it does bode well for the future -- assuming the Leafs smarten up of course.
Where the question lies are whether or not these goaltenders will pan out, considering that three out of the four are 22-years old are under. The oldest of the group is in Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. At 27 years-old, he has already proven to be among the NHL's goaltending elite, containing superb agility, quickness, and being known as an aggressive goaltender that is capable of stealing games. While he still has things to learn, his future in the NHL is already cemented as a No.1 goalie, standing as one the Sabres' best players. Success is no surprise to Miller though, boasting an impressive resume outside of the NHL. Throughout his junior career, Miller has won the following:
1999-2000: CCHA - Goaltender of the Year
2000-2001: CCHA - Goaltender of the Year
2000-2001: CCHA - Player of the Year
2000-2001: CCHA - Tournament MVP
2000-2001: Hobey Baker Memorial Award (Top U.S. Collegiate Player)
2001-2002: CCHA - Goaltender of the Year
2001-2002: CCHA - Player of the Year
2004-2005: AHL - Baz Bastien Memorial Trophy (Best Goaltender)
2006-2007: Played in NHL All-Star
As you can see, it's no surprise that Miller is enjoying a solid NHL campaign so far. Luckily for the Sabres, this is the only beginning of what's likely to be a long and dominant NHL career.
The second goaltender goes by the name of Tukka Rask. He's best known by Bruins fans for being the player responsible in disposing them of Andrew Raycroft in the lopsided deal that took place at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. While his NHL career only consists of 4 games, his potential is undeniable. Rask was finally noticed at the World Juniors, where he stood as one of the best goaltenders of the tournament for his native country of Finland. Rask is best known for making big saves at key situations and displaying the poise of a veteran between the pipes. While he has room for improvement, this is completely natural for a 21-year old puck-stopper. I expect him to play in the AHL for atleast another season though, mainly for more experience and to fill out his 6'3, 165 pound frame. Scouts across the league agree that he is capable of superstar status; it’s now up to Rask to reach that potential.
The third goaltender is one who has endured an enormous amount of success at a very young age, his name is Carey Price. With his cool as a cucumber demeanor, Price has dominated thus far in his hockey playing career. In only one year, he won the following:
2006-2007: Gold Medal with Canada’s World Junior Team
2006-2007: Calder Cup with Hamilton Bulldogs
2006-2007: AHL - Jack Butterfield Trophy (Calder Cup playoffs MVP)
2006-2007: CHL - Goaltender of the Year (Canadian Major Junior)
2006-2007: WHL - Del Wilson Trophy (Top Goaltender)
What's so impressive about the 20-year old though is how calmly he approaches hockey games of huge caliber, consistently coming up with enormous efforts and instilling his teammates with confidence in the process. He has a huge frame at 6'3, 225 pounds, and he covers a ton of net. His tremendous poise allows him to rarely be rattled in between the pipes and he's also known to play the puck with precision. While he and his team stumbled a bit in the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it must be realized that the Habs were in fact a young team, with a lot of the players getting their first taste of playoff experience. If you ask me, I think the quick second-round exit will be beneficial for Price and the youngsters, rather than serving as a confidence drainer (who many non-Habs fans seem to think). Still, Price enjoyed a tremendous rookie season, playing 41 games and posting a .920 SV%, a 2.56 GAA, 3 SO and 24 wins to go along with that. If this year is any indication, I think he'll be among the NHL top 3 goaltenders in no time.
Last on the list, is Leafs goaltending prospect Justin Pogge. At 22-years old, he stands as the Leafs' most promising prospect. He started his hockey career on the right step, placing the following in his resume:
2005-2006: CHL - Goaltender of the Year (Canadian Major Junior)
2005-2006: WHL - Four Broncos Memorial Trophy (MVP)
2005-2006: WHL - Top Goaltender Trophy
2005-2006: World Junior Hockey Championship Gold Medal
2005-2006: World Junior Hockey Championship Team Canada MVP
Pogge possesses incredible poise, a lightning quick glove hand, fast lateral movements and the ability to make huge saves at crucial situations. While he struggled in his first season with the AHL Toronto Marlies, he followed it up with a great season this year, playing split duties with goaltender Scott Clemmenson. While Pogge posted more wins and better stats than his teammate, the Marlies still insisted on playing the veteran in Clemmenson throughout the playoffs, a costly move in terms of Pogge's development. It is no secret that the Leafs organization struggles when it comes to developing a successful franchise lately -- mainly due to their lack of commitment to their youth -- but it would be in their best interest to start using this young and talented goaltender to his fullest. If developed correctly, I think he could become among the NHL's better goaltenders in the future.
With these four goaltenders in mind, it's hard not to admit that the NE Division will be in for some low scoring hockey games in the foreseeable future.