How the Avalanche goaltender pipeline evaporated

What will the Colorado Avalanche do about goaltending in the future is a common question with few answers or even a hint of direction. The status quo of just using Semyon Varlamov as long as he’s functional seems to be Plan A. There will be a time either sooner or later where that no longer will be reality and the Avs will need to move forward to their future in net. What that future will look like is anyone’s guess.

What happened to the goaltender pipeline and how did the Avs get there?

After drafting seven goaltenders in the period between 2007 and 2010 including doubling up in drafts three times in that span, the Avs took a break from drafting goaltenders until they selected Spencer Martin at 63rd overall in 2013. Perhaps this is because the 2010 drafted tandem of Calvin Pickard and Sami Aittokallio began playing pro shortly after or simply because the 2011 trade to acquire Varlamov solved the organizational goaltending need right away at the top of the pyramid for the foreseeable future.

Spending a 3rd round pick on Martin in a strong 2013 draft seemed a smart move as he was ranked as the 5th North American goaltender by NHL Central Scouting and one that has NHL potential. Currently as the only developing goalie in the Avalanche system, Martin has seen ups and down but has made progress toward possibly becoming a NHL backup option down the road. That’s not bad for a third round pick, the issue is Martin is the only signed option right now for the Avalanche.

Martin is the last Avs drafted prospect the organization signed early to an ELC which could slide and allowed the player an early signing bonus. He is also the last North American goalie the Avs drafted, meaning they’d have to make a decision on signing him to a contract within two years after his draft selection. It’s tough not to wonder if Martin tearing his ACL just months after signing that ELC in 2014 made the Avs uneasy with giving out early contracts and especially forcing a quick decision on goalies because they’ve avoided the situation ever since.

Patrick Roy openly criticized the Avs’ previous drafting strategy stating that there was no plan in selecting two goalies at once, presumably that they’d be developing at the same stages and stepping on each other’s toes in the development system. This is a fair criticism but the solution then seemed to become draft as few goalies as possible instead with a grand total of four selections in the last seven drafts.

The much maligned and yet-to-bear-any-fruit goalie from Europe strategy was born in 2014 when in Rick Pracey’s last draft as head amateur scout he selected Slovak Maximilian Pajpach at 174th overall and after a knee injury of his own no longer seems an option for the Avalanche. The Avs took a break from drafting goalies in 2015 in Alan Hepple’s first draft at the helm even with a rare extra top 100 pick and as Martin was still recovering from ACL surgery that summer. Drafts in 2016 and 2017 saw more high round European goalie selections with overagers Swede Adam Werner at 131st overall and Czech Petr Kvaca at 114th overall respectively.

The advantages of selecting a goalie playing in Europe are obvious; the organization has four years to sign the goaltender, they can develop outside the system as most likely a pro level starter and when one is ready to make the move to North America they will be older and presumably closer to contributing in the NHL. For now the Avs are left with the one North American prospect playing already in the pro system and a lot more questions than answers.

The Avalanche’s tendency to give away mid round picks hasn’t helped their goalie pipeline either. They clearly like their European strategy and certainly there’s no telling who they would have chosen if they had held on to those picks, much less that any would have surely been used to select a goalie. But that area in the draft is the sweet spot to find NHL upside goaltender prospects and the lack of selecting in those areas has had at least some impact.

Some options who the Avs could have selected if they had held on to those picks are listed below. These are all goalies that were selected right after where the Avs would have picked but before the next Avalanche selection. If the Avs had any interest in these fellows they were gone before they had the chance.

2014 (54) Calgary-Reto Berra
(78) Ilya Sorokin

2015 (135) Montreal-PA Parenteau
(146) Luke Opilka

2016 (53) Arizona-Mikkel Boedker
(54) Tyler Parsons
(55) Filip Gustavsson
(62) Joseph Woll

2016 (101) Toronto-Shawn Matthias
(105) Evan Cormier
(123) Dylan Wells
(128) Colton Point

2017 (63) Montreal-Eric Gelinas
(64) Michael DiPietro

In the meantime the Avs patched holes in their goaltending depth chart by trading for and extending Reto¬†Berra, signing Roman Will from Europe to an ELC, and signing long time AHL journeymen Jeremy Smith and Joe Cannata to NHL deals. All except Cannata have seen NHL action for the Avs although he did get to be an Avalanche in spirit in Sweden and the season isn’t over yet.

Up until the expansion draft it seemed possible that Calvin Pickard was an option for the future in net even after partaking in the disastrous 48 point Avalanche season of 2016-17 with a .904 save percentage. Pickard had five solid years of pro experience and was perhaps the organizational safety blanket. That backup plan no longer exists and the Avs inch closer every day to Varlamov hitting free agency or the groin flu retirement home.

Developing the next goalie from within will take more time than the Avs have at this point so patching holes again seems the plan until another long term solution comes around. Scary thought is if it takes the same major assets of a first and second round pick as it did to acquire Varlamov or other premium assets to pay another organization for their drafting and development time to get a talent close to NHL contribution. Maybe Pickard will return or either Jonathan Bernier or Andrew Hammond (don’t lol) will sign an extension to bridge the gap in the short term. Regardless, the Avs have to start finding a way to get higher level talent in their system and it starts with acquiring, keeping and using high level mid round picks on higher upside goaltenders.

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