With the 161st pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Minnesota selects from Hartford, CT Stephen Michalek. More than a few Wild fans were scratching their heads when this pick was announced. After all, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher had stock-piled three really great goaltending prospects in Matthew Hackett, Darcy Kuemper and Johan Gustafsson. Fletcher was so confident with the talent he was developing that he even felt comfortable trading Minnesota’s top goalie prospect at the time, Anton Khudobin, to the Boston Bruins. And it wasn’t a blockbuster trade by any means; the only purpose it served was to free up the net in Houston for Hackett to man fulltime. In return for the new Bruins backup, Minnesota received the rights to Swede Mikko Lehtonen—who will never return to play in the NHL—and career AHL defenseman Jeff Penner.
So what part does Michalek play in Minnesota’s future? Will he ever wear the Iron Range Red or Forest Green? The answer remains to be seen, but there are some good signs as to how good this kid may be.
Michalek played his high school hockey at Loomis-Chaffee Prep School in the New England Prep School League. He also skated for Team USA at the 2010 Ivan Hlinka U-18 Tournament in Slovakia between his junior and senior seasons. He started in three games for Team USA and stopped 23 of 24 shots in the championship game, stopping all but a first period goal by 2011 NHL #1 pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in a 1-0 loss to Canada. He returned to Loomis-Chaffee for his senior season, posting a 3.95 GAA and an impressive .918 save percentage in a 2-19-2 season. His performance during his team’s struggles had him ranked 5th among all North American goaltenders eligible for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and Minnesota felt comfortable enough to take him in the sixth round.
Michalek’s impressive performance continued during his freshman campaign at Harvard, posting a 7-7-8 record, 3.19 GAA and .894 save percentage as the team’s starter. He was even named to the ECAC All-Rookie team as a freshman. Michalek has certainly proved himself to be quite capable in net. For unknown reasons, he decided to take a year off from Harvard to play Junior hockey with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the United States Hockey League. So far, he has managed to post a 3-3-1 record with a 3.12 GAA and .885 save percentage.
The young goaltender from Connecticut seems to always have the misfortune of playing on struggling teams and has had to serve as the backbone that keeps the team in the game when no amount of offense will. If anything, his numbers have shown that he’s a quite consistent workhorse netminder and I think the Wild brass can’t help but be intrigued by what he could do on a more talented, gifted squad.
How and where does he fit in the Wild’s fold of goaltending prospects? As to “how”, well, it’s easy to see he fits in just perfectly, “where” is the hard part. Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has added quite the feather to his cap with the prospect pool he has developed. He has especially developed a very deep, talented group of goaltending prospects. Hockey’s Future currently lists Michalek in 4th in the goalie pool with a 6.0 talent score and a “C” probability of success. Some of the current NHL goaltenders listed in this class would be Scott Clemmensen, Ty Conklin and Alex Auld. Not only does it speak for how decent his talent is, but also how deep Minnesota’s goaltender pool is in general.
Will we see Stephen Michalek in the NHL someday? It’s certainly possible, and it’s just as likely he will not be in a Wild sweater. With the quality of netminders already in Minnesota’s system, he could very well make for some great trade bait for GM Fletcher in the future. There are more than a few teams looking to shore up their defenses in net and Michalek would certainly be a quality pickup for any NHL team. This year in the USHL will be great for his development and, with a few more years playing college puck and a year or two in the minors, he could certainly develop into one of the NHL’s top young goalies.