VERSUS: Sebastian Cossa & Benjamin Gaudreau
Scouting for the 2021 NHL Draft is like nothing we’ve ever seen before with access severely restricted and many leagues and players unsure if they will even be able to hit the ice.
With a drastic change in the ability to watch prospects live, we must rely more heavily on other tools at our disposal such as film, anecdotes, and analytics. By using all these tools to project a player we hope to get the most accurate picture possible.
Considering that it’s difficult enough to project goalies in a normal year, this abbreviated scouting period will make it even more difficult to discern between the elite talent at the position. Sebastian Cossa and Benjamin Gaudreau are two of the top goalies for the 2021 NHL Draft, and both played their first season of CHL hockey in 2019-20.
A quick glance at the basic stats for each goaltender last season reveals that Cossa excelled for the Edmonton Oil Kings while Gaudreau struggled for the Sarnia Sting.
However, without context, these stats don’t tell us much about each goalie’s performance.
Let’s take a dive into the advanced stats and reports from the scouts here at FCHockey and try to build a more complete picture of the two goaltenders and find out why their ability is much closer than the numbers above suggest.
The uncontrollable factors for goaltender performance
Perhaps more so than any other player on the ice, a goaltender’s stats and performance are influenced by the play of their teammates. This isn’t something that can be held against the goaltender, but unfortunately is something that will affect the stats, especially the ones in the table above.
Looking at the difference between Cossa and Gaudreau’s statistics is a great example of this, as Cossa benefited from playing behind a strong team while Gaudreau had to attempt to constantly bail his team out. The Oil Kings only allowed 167 goals over their 64 games — an average of 2.61 per game — while the Sting allowed 299 goals over 62 games for a whopping 4.82 per game.
Despite these tough conditions, Gaudreau often made the best out of a bad situation and showed off that he could still perform with his back against the wall.
“He was very good at tracking the puck,” FCHockey scout Olivia McArtur said after watching him play. “Especially with traffic in front of him.”
Removing the context
Even more than just goals allowed, by looking at data from InStat for the 2019-20 seasons we can see that Cossa faced an average of 27 shots on target in games tracked, while Gaudreau faced an average of 33. This represents an extra 20 percent workload for Gaudreau on a night-to-night basis.
Not only did Gaudreau have to deal with a higher quantity of shots faced, but he also had to deal with those shots being of higher quality. On average, Sarnia allowed 3.5 expected goals during a Gaudreau start, while Edmonton only allowed 2.4 expected goals during Cossa’s starts.
Instead of comparing the goaltenders by the traditional goals-against average (GAA) metric, using an additional stat such as expected goals (xG) per goal conceded is applicable in this situation because of the large disparity between the strengths of the teams:
|Name||2019-20 xG Per Goal Conceded (InStat)|
Gaudreau actually had a higher expected goal per goal conceded — though they were both above average — and by attempting to remove some of the noise around the stats we can see that the two goalies played at a much closer level than it originally appeared.
Comparing Play Styles
While Gaudreau had to learn to see shots through traffic and deal with odd-man rushes, Cossa had the better opportunity to show off his skills this past season. At 6-foot-5, Cossa has a long frame that he positions well to shut down angles for opposing shooters.
“When in his butterfly he does a tremendous job of sealing the lower half of the net and shuffling proficiently to adjust his pad angles to kill rebounds or put pucks into the corner.” FCHockey scout Justin Froese said. “He doesn’t simply bat at shots to his blocker or trapper, he works his sight-lines to see where pucks are coming from and uses his hands to put pucks where he wants them.”
Cossa’s game possesses a maturity and attention to detail that’s impressive for his age and is attractive to scouts and coaches at all levels. Considering where he’s at in his NHL developmental journey, it’s impressive to see Cossa excel at these details.
Of course, it’s easier to show off these abilities when you have a great team in front of you and a bit harder when you’re trying to fend off oncoming waves of forwards. Gaudreau’s situation forced him to show off other strengths such as his ability “to stay strong during net-front battles” according to McArter.
Cossa and Gaudreau are both young, talented goaltenders who will be among the top five netminders selected in the 2021 draft. While their basic counting stats tell one story, by taking a closer look at their situations and the data from InStat — along with the reports from our great scouts here at FCHockey — we can see that the ability of the two goaltenders is much closer than it appears.
If the two goaltenders had switched teams they could have very likely switched counting stats. Using the other tools at our disposal such as advanced analytics and reports from scouts helped us build a better picture and comparison of the two goalies, something that was much needed in a year such as this one.
Strang is a freelance sports journalist and student at McGill University. You can read his words at a number of different outlets, including FCHockey, Nucks Misconduct, Canucks Army, and Silver and Black Today. Follow him on Twitter at @noahstrang_.