March 20, 2024

Draft class brings goalie intrigue despite absence of top prospects

There’s a crease conundrum at the 2024 NHL Draft.

While the annual selection showcase provides the opportunity for teams to select their next cornerstone player, the 2024 offering doesn’t have a franchise-defining goaltender in its midst.

Not at this stage, at least.

And while the 2024 draft has plenty of talent atop the draft board with names like Macklin Celebrini, Ivan Demidov, and Sam Dickinson — all likely to hear their names called within the top-10 even top-5 selections — it’ll be a longer wait for those tasked with the last line of defense.

It’s a position, some say, that is the most important, but also the hardest to evaluate talent. Goaltenders typically take years of development before being NHL-ready, and another couple of years just to find secure footing in the league.

The 2024 draft may not have a headline name between the pipes, but with names like Mathis Rousseau of the Halifax Mooseheads in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Sebastian Bodnar of New Hampshire Mountain Kings in the North American Hockey League, Ivan Yunin from Omskie Krylia in VHL and Eemil Vinni of JoKP in Metis Finish League, and Cameron Korpi of Tri-City Storm in the United States Hockey League, there is plenty of intrigue for netminders heading into June’s draft.

Korpi, the elder statesmen of the group as a spring 2004-born netminder, has chosen the longer route to professional hockey. Having spent the last three season playing in the USHL, the Michigan native is heading home for the 2024-25 season having committed to Michigan University.

And there’s plenty to like.

“Korpi arrives early at shot locations and presents a big obstacle for a shooter to deal with,” FCHockey chief goaltending scout Shaun Richardson said. “Already a smart player, there is still growth potential in his play. A very doable development plan would see a team work on his physical package. He could easily hang another 15 pounds of muscle to his frame, which would increase his speed and strength and pay dividends to his overall ability.”

Having committed to NCAA will allow Korpi the schedule to focus on the off-ice training that Richardson states.

But while there is plenty of potential with Korpi, there are still holes in his game that need working on. One area of strength that is apparent for netminder, is his ability to track plays laterally across the zone and close down shooting options.

“What stands out to me is his game management ability,” Richardson said. “He’s a cerebral goalie who reads situations, understands attack patterns and can get into a shooter’s head and see their options.”

Rousseau, another 2004-born goalie, has exemplified what it means to be patient with a goaltender’s development.

“Rousseau has an extremely high athletic ability in combination with a competitive streak that enables him to frustrate opponents,” Richardson said. “Makes everything from routine saves to heroic stops and steal wins. NHL teams are going to love the way this guy battles for his ice, establishes position and adds a boost of confidence to the overall team defense.”

Rousseau’s compete and battle are trademarks of his game, key attributes for an undersized goaltender, which ultimately saw the Montreal, QC native earn the starter’s net for Team Canada at the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship.

“Undersized, athletic, with game stealing ability,” Richardson said. “Even keeled, controlled emotions, looks good with a lead or when playing from behind. Has big stage ability.”

Vinni, No. 64 in FCHockey’s Midterm ranking for the 2024 draft, is the top-ranked goalie at FCHockey and is one of the surest goalie prospects entering this draft.

“Vinni’s upside is a starting goalie,” FCHockey goaltending scout David Phillips said. “He already is adjusting to professional hockey in his draft year, and if he continues to move up the ranks in Finland he should project very well to NHL hockey a young age.”

The Finnish stopper enters the draft with adequate size at 6-foot-2, and has tremendous athleticism and control of his movements,

Vinni shows no major flaws and has incredible numbers as a draft-eligible goaltender in Finland’s second tier pro league.

“A team should be attracted to Vinni because his stance covers a lot more net than one would expect from a median-sized goaltender,” Phillips said. “His athleticism and technical understanding also makes him one of the best movers in this year’s class.”

Yunin, ranked No. 92, is one of the more curious goaltenders in entering the draft.

“He interests me because of his intriguing draft situation,” Phillips states. “Yunin hasn’t played much at all this season because of Omsk’s amount of junior-aged goaltenders. He is very unique because of this situation, and he could be someone who comes across to North America for a bigger opportunity.”

Though having that noted limited action, Yunin’s skill is evident each time he stands between the pipes.

The young Russian has maintained a save percentage north of .900 in the Russian junior league.

“I think if a team wants Yunin it will definitely be because of his athleticism,” Phillips said. “He is far and away the best athlete I’ve seen from this class, with premier flexibility and strength. Goalies like Yunin are coveted assets for any goalie coach who can utilize that athleticism.”

Bodnar brings just as much intrigue.

Plenty of uncertainty, too, in his overall projection which ranges from an organizational depth player to a goalie who completely falls out of the professional game altogether.

“Sure, Bodnar has some traits that catch the eye — size, foot-speed, and puck-tracking to name a few,” Richardson said. “But what really intrigues me is how he plays. He looks like he has a lion by the tail and he’s just on the edge of control. He will launch himself towards the puck and, while his rebound management is a work in progress, he is able to steal great scoring opportunities from his opponents.”

A very all-or-nothing goalie, Bodnar brings great enthusiasm and aggressiveness to the crease. He his very raw, but NHL team’s may take on the project to reign in the reckless abandonment for a goalie that will constantly challenge shooters every time.

“What NHL teams will like is his ‘never quit’ attitude,” Richardson said. “He’s going to have shots get by him that he wants back but on anything around the crease he will hold his ground, take a beating and make some saves that he shouldn’t get to.”

Other netminders to keep eyes on going into June, are Ontario Hockley League duo Carter George (No. 65) and Ryerson Leenders (No. 79), both of whom could challenge Vinni for top goalie of the class.

And while none pop off the page at this stage as having franchise-altering potential, that type of declaration will come long after draft day.

For now, though, there is definitely some intrigue amongst the goaltending prospects the draft does offer.

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