Goaltender, more than any other position in hockey, is evolving at a turbocharged pace. Principles including athleticism, technology, coaching, and geometry are turning the practice of keeping pucks out of nets into a science.
Consider Zane McIntyre one of the lab rats.
In June 2010, the Bruins identified the then-17-year-old McIntyre (his surname was Gothberg at the time) as a potential NHL goalie. He was tall, athletic, competitive, and open to learning. The latter quality would serve him best.
At the time, neither McIntyre nor the Bruins knew that a European technique, virtually unknown in North America, was heating its way to a rolling boil. Reverse VH, which goalie coaches believe originated in Sweden, was undergoing experimentation.
When McIntyre became Bruins property in the sixth round of the 2010 draft, he had yet to become a freshman at the University of North Dakota. Like most goalies his age, McIntyre stopped pucks by being big, quick, and agile. Athleticism came before technique.
“The first thing was that he had a lot of natural athletic ability,” Karl Goehring, McIntyre’s goalie coach at North Dakota, recalled of the freshman. “Whether it’s ping-pong or a game of golf, he’s got a lot of innate ability that comes through on the ice. Then you also see a second side of Zane with how competitive he is and how determined he is to be successful and to win.”
As McIntyre settled into his North Dakota career, he identified that he had a lot of learning to do. Even for a young goalie, some of the things McIntyre had learned were already approaching their expiration date. The position was evolving. If he didn’t adapt, younger goalies in line with modern technique would pass him by.
At the beginning of his college career, McIntyre usually did two things when forwards walked pucks out of the corners and inside the circles. He either stayed on his feet or tucked his lead pad upright against the post.
Few NHL goalies do either of those things now.
In 2011-12, the Kings’ Jonathan Quick was one of the NHL’s early adopters of reverse VH. By slamming his lead pad onto the ice and leaning into the post, Quick made a tighter seal to fend off short-side shots out of the corners. If the shooter aimed for the trail pad to create a rebound, Quick could take away the shot with his stick or angle the puck out of danger. If the shooter tried a wraparound, Quick could push off the strong-side post with greater control.
Where Quick was foiling shooters, goalies such as McIntyre who had yet to master the technique were leaving holes.
“There were situations where I was getting beat or situations where I was letting goals in that maybe looked a little awkward,” McIntyre said. “Or maybe they looked like, ‘Hey, you should never let that in.’ A couple squeakers, as they might call it. Then you obviously look at the pro level, too. You look at these guys at the highest levels of hockey doing these new techniques and different save selections. So you try and model your game a little bit after them.”
Reverse VH was an essential addition to McIntyre’s repertoire. So McIntyre went to work with Goehring and Dave Rogalski, his summertime goalie coach. Incorporating it into his game did not come naturally.
“I think the biggest transition was in game situations,” McIntyre said. “With the speed of the play, they’re not going to slow down and stop the drill for you. That was maybe the most difficult part. Being able to feel comfortable enough to use it in games was when I really started to feel good about my game. We spent numerous hours in practice working on it.”
With reps came routine. In 2014-15, the junior, with reverse VH as part of his toolbox, submitted the best season of his career: 29-10-3, 2.05 goals-against average, .929 save percentage. McIntyre won the Mike Richter Award as college hockey’s best goalie. He was one of the three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, which in 2014-15 was Jack Eichel’s birthright.
“It’s allowed him to use his size to his advantage a little bit more,” Goehring said of how reverse VH has amplified McIntyre’s game. “It gives him another avenue to play the wraparound behind the net, specifically. That’s simplified that portion of the game for him. He’ll use it in that situation. But he’s understood the right situation. He’s progressed in reading the situation and knowing when to use it and when not to use it.”
McIntyre is now a pro. On July 1, he signed a two-year, $1.85 million contract. He will begin his professional career in Providence this fall. School is over a year early.
But McIntyre’s days as a student will continue. He will learn the AHL game, with its battles and angry men and three-games-in-three-days weekend slogs.
“Every day, you’ve got to be a student of the game,” said the 22-year-old. “You’ve got to take different techniques and different ways to stop the puck from each guy, whether he’s from Europe, Russia, or a guy in Florida who’s stopping pucks in inline hockey down there.”
Stars improved in the offseason
This summer, the Stars improved at every position. They acquired Antti Niemi from San Jose to push Kari Lehtonen. They landed Patrick Sharp from Chicago in the Blackhawks’ march toward cap compliance. They signed Johnny Oduya to replace Trevor Daley, one of the pieces that went to Chicago in the Sharp deal.
But Dallas’s most important acquisition is one that will never pull on a green-and-white jersey.
On June 15, the Stars hired Jeff Reese as their goalie coach. Mike Valley, who previously held the position, shifted to director of goaltender development. Reese, formerly Philadelphia’s goalie coach, will be responsible for turning Lehtonen around and squeezing more performance out of Niemi. Reese’s pedigree suggests that neither task will be impossible.
Upon his exit from Columbus on April 3, 2013, Steve Mason did not resemble the up-and-coming goalie who won the Calder Trophy in 2008-09. Mason, sent to Philadelphia for Michael Leighton and a 2015 third-rounder, was on the bust trajectory.
But under Reese’s watch, Mason rediscovered his technique and swagger. In 2014-15, Mason went 18-18-11 with a 2.25 GAA and .928 save percentage. According to War On Ice, Mason was ranked No. 7 in saving goals above a replacement-level netminder. The top six were Carey Price, Cory Schneider, Devan Dubnyk, Marc-Andre Fleury, Semyon Varlamov, and Braden Holtby.
If Reese can submit similar work with Lehtonen, the Stars will be in good shape. General manager Jim Nill has shaped his high-skilled club into an attacking, dynamic group. The Stars play the game of the future, which centers on transitional speed.
There are few pairs more dangerous offensively than Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Sharp will be the No. 2 left wing. His shot and knack of carrying the puck with speed will push second-line center Jason Spezza to play at a higher pace. Coach Lindy Ruff will have complementary options on the wings with Valeri Nichushkin and Ales Hemsky, who both were slowed by hip injuries last season.
On defense, John Klingberg is a JV version of Erik Karlsson — smart, quick, and clever with the puck. Alex Goligoski also plays up-tempo.
Oduya, who played a shutdown role in Chicago, will do the same in Dallas. Jordie Benn is an underrated defensive presence.
The Stars will score. They’ll control the puck more than they’ll chase it. If they get anything resembling reliable goaltending from Lehtonen and Niemi, they won’t be missing the playoffs for a second straight season.
Europe on map in scouting world
Of the 211 players drafted in 2015, 76 were born in European countries, or 36 percent. It is the highest percentage of European-born players in the last six drafts. The previous high was 31.9 percent in 2011. The lowest was 24.8 percent in 2010. That year, 99 of the picks were from Canada, including the first four players: Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Erik Gudbranson, and Ryan Johansen.
Draft personnel believe such trends are cyclical. But based on the current depth and breadth of draft-eligible teenagers, especially in Sweden, the percentage of European-born picks is unlikely to dip. In fact, it could continue to accelerate.
“I think the European guys stand up pretty good to North American hockey,” said P.J. Axelsson, the Swedish ex-Bruin and current amateur scout. “It usually goes from year to year. You have the ’96s from last year, it was a good year from Europe. A lot of European guys went in the draft. They have good programs back home.”
In their draft years, some European players leave their countries to play US or Canadian junior hockey. For example, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, one of the Bruins’ three second-round picks in 2015, is from Stockholm. Forsbacka-Karlsson has played for Omaha of the USHL the last two seasons.
Other high-end picks to do the same include Pavel Zacha, Ivan Provorov, and Timo Meier. In 2014-15, Zacha (Czech Republic), Provorov (Russia), and Meier (Switzerland) played for Sarnia (OHL), Brandon (WHL), and Halifax (QMJHL), respectively. The thinking is that North American junior hockey remains the optimal training ground for NHL hopefuls.
But there are other Europeans who remain across the pond. Finnish prospect Mikko Rantanen (No. 10, Colorado) played for TPS Turku of Finland’s SM-Liiga. Russia’s Ilya Samsonov, the first goalie picked in 2015 (Washington, No. 22), played for Magnitogorsk of the KHL.
There is an entire continent, segmented into 14 time zones, full of prospective NHL talent. At current staffing levels, it is a challenging frontier for NHL organizations to monitor.
Axelsson and Sven Svensson are the Bruins’ two European amateur scouts. They are based in Sweden but responsible for the other countries, as well. In comparison, Detroit lists five European scouts, including the renowned Hakan Andersson, the draft wizard who identified Pavel Datsyuk (sixth round, 1998), Henrik Zetterberg (seventh round, 1999), and Jonathan Ericsson (ninth round, 2002).
NHL teams do not have endless resources to hire more European scouts. But if clubs determine that North American saturation is taking place, they could shift personnel overseas.
No decision yet on Peverley
Rich Peverley is still undecided about his future as a player, according to agent Allain Roy. Peverley became an unrestricted free agent July 1. The ex-Bruin has not played since his episode with atrial fibrillation on March 10, 2014. Peverley was cleared for off-ice workouts last season. He also served as an eye-in-the-sky helper during Dallas home games. Peverley turned 33 earlier this month.
Flurry of cash for Grigorenko
Upon expiration of his entry-level deal, Mikhail Grigorenko wanted the security of a one-way contract. The Sabres, who picked the forward No. 12 overall in 2012, believed a two-way contract was more appropriate of a player with only 68 games of NHL experience. Partly because of the disagreement, Grigorenko became part of the package that brought Ryan O’Reilly to Buffalo from Colorado. On Thursday, Grigorenko signed a one-year, one-way contract with the Avalanche for $675,000. This means the 21-year-old Grigorenko is likely to stick with the varsity in 2015-16. Last season, Grigorenko split time between Buffalo and Rochester. In the AHL, Grigorenko scored 14 goals and 22 assists in 43 games. Grigorenko posted a 3-3—6 line in 25 games with Buffalo. He’ll get his chance in Colorado with Patrick Roy, his junior coach in Quebec.
Not shaping up as a good summer
Based on the Canadiens’ estimate, Max Pacioretty is one week into a 12-week recovery process after suffering a knee injury during an off-ice workout July 9. Like all players, Montreal’s No. 1 left wing puts in critical time during this stretch of the summer to prepare for the grind. In previous offseasons, Pacioretty has worked out with Connecticut trainer Ben Prentiss. It’s unknown how Pacioretty’s injury will affect his summer sessions. Pacioretty is always in good shape when he arrives in training camp.
Things are settling down
Monday is the first day of arbitration hearings. Originally, three cases were scheduled to be heard: Brendan Shinnimin (Arizona), Andrew Agozzino (Colorado), and Craig Smith (Nashville). Shinnimin and Agozzino came to agreements on Thursday, scrubbing the need for hearings. Of the 23 players who filed for arbitration, most will settle before they reach the courthouse steps. The exception could be Derek Stepan (July 27). The Rangers’ No. 1 center is in line for a significant raise from his previous $3.075 million average annual value. The 25-year-old Stepan is coming off a 55-point season in 68 games. In comparison, O’Reilly also scored 55 points last season while dressing in all 82 games. O’Reilly cashed in with Buffalo for $7.5 million annually for the next seven years. They are different centers. Stepan likes to carry the puck and slow the play down. O’Reilly is a high-paced, 200-foot pivot. But arbitration is based strictly on numbers, not style of play. Stepan will get paid either way.
The Bruins’ development camp at Ristuccia Arena drew some local college coaches, including Ted Donato (Harvard), Jim Madigan (Northeastern), and Nate Leaman (Providence). Leaman joined the team’s staff on the ice on Wednesday. The camp is an excellent resource for coaches to poach drills as well as monitor their charges . . . Ryan Kesler, who signed a six-year extension on Wednesday, will be 37 in the final season of his extension. Anaheim’s No. 2 center already has a lot of mileage on his engine. That the Ducks committed to a six-year term underscores how important Kesler is behind Ryan Getzlaf and how they don’t have a younger center with a similar skill set. There aren’t many centers in the league, let alone one organization, with Kesler’s skill, nastiness, and experience . . . As one of the few remaining members of the knuckledragger club, I’m hopeful that John Scott (Arizona) and Brian McGrattan (Anaheim) stick with their teams all season, if only to fight themselves. Few others in the Pacific Division are cuckoo enough to tangle with either heavyweight.
Bruins fans will remember Milan Lucic for his physicality, punishing hits ... and frustrating habit of disappearing on the ice for long stretches. Here’s a look at some playoff series in which Lucic showed both sides of his game: