After a season where four different goalies started at least ten games ( Josh Harding, Niklas Backstrom, Darcy Kuemper, and Ilya Bryzgalov,) the future of goaltending for the Wild seems to be unanswered. With this, it is time to take a look at goaltending depth chart , including all of the prospects.
Darcy Kuemper appears to be a lock to start the 2014-2015 season on a one-way deal, battling Harding and Backstrom for the #1 goalie spot. That is, of course, if contract talks between the Wild and Kuemper resolve. With Kuemper the presumptive heir to the goalie throne in St. Paul, let’s take a look at the Wild’s other prospects between the pipes.
At just 22-years old, Swedish keeper Johan Gustaffson is currently the only prospect other than Kuemper playing within the Wild system. Drafted in the 6th round (159th overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, the 6-foot-2 Gustaffson already possess NHL size. In 2012-2013, his final season with Luleå of the top-tier Swedish Hockey League, Gustaffson posted an impressive 20-13-0 record with 4 shutouts and a 1.70 GAA over 33 games.
Last season, backstopping a faltering Iowa Wild, Gustaffson went 12-20-4 with a 2.98 GAA and 0.901 save percentage, including one shutout.
Gustaffson clearly needs more time to develop and get used to the nuances of the North American game, but looks very promising given his numbers in Sweden.
If Gustaffson can develop to the NHL style of game after a second full season in Iowa and find the form he had in Sweden, he stands to contend for time with the club in St. Paul as Josh Harding’s contract is set to expire after the 2014-2015 season. With Niklas Backstrom beginning to show his age, Gustaffson could see time as the #2 goalie in 2015-2016.
The NHL’s fourth-ranked international goalie in the 2014 NHL entry draft, the 6-foot-2 17-year-old Finland native was acquired in the fourth round, 109th overall by the Wild. In a post draft interview , Kähkönen called himself a “…like a butterfly style goalie.”
Kähkönen still has much to prove, having spent the last two seasons in juniors playing for the Espoo Blues in Finland. With a .912 save percentage and 2.39 GAA through 38 games with the Blues last season, Kähkönen looks to graduate to the men’s clubs for the 2014-2015. Presuming that serves as his first season with the men’s team in Espoo, Finland, Wild scouts will get their first real look at the newest addition to the goaltender corps.
With some great NHL goaltenders coming from Finland, including Wild all-time win leader Niklas Backstrom, it’ll be good to leave Kaapo to develop in his native country for some time and reevaluate when the time is right.
18-year-old Belanger, drafted 200th overall in 2013, will continue his development with the QMJHL for the 2013-2014 season. A Native of Quebec, Belanger will play for The Royun-Noranda Huskies, where last season he posted a 24-13-1 record through 44 games. His serviceable 3.46 GAA and .875 Save percentage carried his team to the QMJHL Semi-Finals.
Belanger seems to have the most need for growth, but as the second youngest player on this list, the future may be bright for the young keeper. In a CHL league that previously served as home to Wild winger Charlie Coyle and defensman Marco Scandella, the competition should be strong enough to test the young netminder.
Connecticut born goalie Steven Michalek was taken in the 6th round, 161st overall in the 2011 NHL draft. The 21-year-old goaltender spent last season with the Harvard Crimsom of ECAC hockey, after spending 2012-2013 in the USHL due to an academic suspension. Playing in 18 games and starting 15, Michalek accrued a record of 5-8-2; however, his save percentage of .921 was good enough for 4th in the ECAC.
Michalek seems to have the toughest road to climb, having lost a year of NCAA eligibility due to academic suspension. With a great showing this season; however, Michalek may find himself in the AHL soon.
Well, There you have it. With 4 young goaltenders waiting in the wings and the contracts for both Harding and Backstrom completing in 2015 and 2016 respectively, it may not be long before we see some of these prospects in a Wild sweater.
Who do you think deserves a shot in-goal for the Wild? Tell us in the comments below.