Hurricanes Prospect Depth: Goaltenders

In the final part of our five part series, we’ll examine the Hurricanes’ depth at goaltender. Goalies are tough to evaluate and often take a lot longer to develop than most prospects, and so you won’t see many of our goalie prospects with the Hurricanes for a while. As always, we’ll talk about each prospect, assess the strengths and weaknesses, provide some draft implications, and rank the prospects into tiers.

Prospects

Alex Nedeljkovic – Nedeljkovic is the only goalie prospect that the Hurricanes currently have that will see NHL time next season. He’s proven that he can be a top goaltender at the AHL level due to his athleticism and quickness, and we’ve seen him play a handful of NHL games as well. Ned isn’t the tallest goalie, which can make him a liability for some teams, but he can cover a lot of net and make explosive saves. There’s nothing left for him in the AHL and he will have to clear waivers next season if the Hurricanes want to send him down. His contract also becomes a one way deal, and so the Hurricanes will have to make a decision regarding which goalies to keep on the roster when the time comes. Nedeljkovic may still have starter experience, but at the very worst he’s looking like a capable backup.

Callum Booth – I’ve liked Booth for a while now and I think he combines size and athleticism well. He’s another goalie that tends to make flashy saves and could have pro potential down the line if given the opportunity. The problem is that he’s spent the majority of the past three seasons with various ECHL teams, and that’s limited his development. I would love to see Booth sign for another year and spend a full season with the Charlotte Checkers. Booth still has NHL potential and is another exciting goalie, but he needs an opportunity to shine at a higher level.

Pyotr Kochetkov – Kochetkov could be the goalie of the future, but injuries and a lack of playing time hindered his development this past season. He’s a smart goaltender that dominated every level he played at during the 2018-2019 season, so there was a considerable amount of hype. Kochetkov has a great push to allow for him to travel from post to post quickly, he can cover a large amount of the net due to his 6’3″ frame, and he doesn’t struggle in any particular area when it comes to making saves. The biggest complaint that I have about his game is his happy feet. Kochetkov loves to challenge the puck, and if he’s facing a smarter player, he can get exposed and left out of position. He can get back and make the save a few times out of ten, but ideally, you’d like to see Kochetkov stay in position more often. Kochetkov will need to stay healthy next season and see consistent starts with Vityaz in the KHL. His contract will not allow for him to play in North America until April 30, 2021 at the very earliest, and so it’s likely that we won’t see Kochetkov with Charlotte until the start of the 2021-2022 season.

Jack Lafontaine – The fact that the Hurricanes have an extra year to sign Lafontaine is huge. Two years ago, I was ready to give up on Lafontaine as a prospect due to his struggles at the University of Michigan and lack of playing time. He spent his “junior year” in the transfer portal, playing for Penticton in the BCHL. That year in the BCHL proved to be pivotal for Lafontaine’s development, which saw the Canes prospect boast a .923 save percentage in 45 starts. That performance earned Lafontaine the BCHL’s goalie of the year award as well. He’s now with the University of Minnesota and is a starting goalie for a program on the rise. Lafontaine doesn’t wow you with his athleticism like Nedeljkovic, Booth, or Kochetkov, but he’s reliable and will make plenty of good saves. He’s definitely a calm and collected goaltender, a stark contrast from what we see on a nightly basis with Mrazek and Reimer. After seeing his performance over the past two seasons, I’ve come around on Lafontaine. He’s shown that he can be a great starting goaltender in the NCAA, and after one more year as the starter at Minnesota, he’ll be ready to make the transition to the pros.

Eetu Makiniemi – Makiniemi is another goalie prospect that has been trending upwards lately. He has impressed at development camp with his great reflexes and size, but we haven’t seen what he can do at the Liiga level just yet. Originally in Jokerit’s system in the KHL, Makiniemi spent his entire Draft +1 season on their U20 team. A bad lower body injury kept him out of most of his D+2 season, limiting him to 13 appearances in Finland’s second-tier league. This year, Makiniemi spent most of his time in Mestis once again, but appeared in 26 games and was named the top goaltender in that league for the 2019-2020 season. Makiniemi also appeared in seven Liiga games with Ilves, boasting an impressive .936 save percentage. He was lights out when he was given the opportunity in Liiga, and if he can earn a spot on that team full-time next season, I could see Makiniemi being one of the Liiga’s best goaltenders as well. He’s more than earned that opportunity and is another goalie with NHL potential in the system, despite being a few years away.

Jake Kucharski – Kucharski has had a rough go of things since he was drafted. He’s been traded in the USHL and forced into a backup role and was the third or fourth goalie on Providence’s roster this season. With the Friars continuing to add goaltenders, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kucharski enters the transfer portal either this season or next season. He won’t see many opportunities with the Friars unless he can impress the coaching staff enough next season. Kucharski is a big goalie that can move well, but the one thing that I notice is that he can struggle to cover the lower half of the net quickly. He’s slow to drop down and cover the five hole from the butterfly. Kucharski has plenty of time to develop still, but the fact that he hasn’t played since the 2018-2019 season may make things difficult.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The Hurricanes have plenty of goalies in the system with the potential to play at the NHL level at some point. Most of their goalie prospects have the size that teams look for in NHL goalies, and even though Nedeljkovic is smaller than six feet tall, his athleticism makes up for it. Depth is an area of strength for the Hurricanes, especially with the addition of Pyotr Kochetkov in the 2019 draft. Lafontaine and Makiniemi’s surges also improve their odds of becoming NHL goalies. Both players have developed nicely, in my opinion.

The biggest weakness that I see in the current group of goalie prospects is the lack of a true number one goalie. It’s possible that Kochetkov will become the goalie of the future, but he’s still at least two or three years away from that level. Nedeljkovic could be a good NHL goalie, but once again, I can’t see him becoming a true number one at any point. I’m not saying that either goalie is bad, I’m just saying that we can’t label either as a true number one until it happens. Nedeljkovic is 24 and about to enter his prime. Even though it hasn’t been his fault, he’s still not playing in the NHL full-time. Kochetkov was the backup or third goalie in the KHL this season, so it’ll take time before he’s ready for the NHL.

Draft Implications

It’s never a bad idea to draft a goalie, because it’s incredibly difficult to draft a great goalie. Drafting at least one every year increases your odds of landing a future NHL goaltender, and so I would not be surprised if the Hurricanes use at least one of their picks on a goalie in the draft. Goalies such as Nick Malik and Joel Blomqvist could be second or third round targets for the Hurricanes. I would imagine that the Hurricanes are familiar with Blomqvist, who was a teammate of Tuukka Tieksola on Karpat’s U20 team. After that, it’s possible that a sixth or seventh round pick is used on a goaltender that’s taking the NCAA route.

Tiers

  • A: None
  • B: Kochetkov, Nedeljkovic
  • C+: Lafontaine, Makiniemi
  • C: Booth
  • D: Kucharski

Kochetkov and Nedeljkovic both have potential to be great goalies at the NHL level, but for now, we’ll put them in the “B” tier. I had to create a tier between B and C because I think that both Lafontaine and Makiniemi are rising rapidly and have pro potential. Booth still has a shot despite playing in the ECHL for the majority of his ELC, and Kucharski is still very much a raw prospect. Not every one of these goalies will work out and see time with the Hurricanes, but this is a group that’s on the rise. The Hurricanes will likely add to this group in the 2020 draft, and so we’ll have to revisit this whenever the draft does happen!

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