The Goalie Guild

Avs Training Camp: Semyon Varlamov

For the seventh straight year, the time has come for me to scout and evaluate goaltenders at the Colorado Avalanche’s NHL Training Camp. Below you will find an Audio Report on all five goalies on the ice today, plus photos and just a few of my thoughts on Semyon Varlamov.

Avs Goalies: Training Camp Day 1 Thoughts (mp3)
+ First of all, the unfortunate and frustrating news of the day, given to me by the Avalanche: Cedrick Desjardins will not participate in training camp due to his shoulder injury. This is automatically a red flag situation for Lake Erie, as they are currently without their new starting goaltender. Hopefully he’s ready to go by the time their camp begins in another week.

+ Minus Desjardins, only five goaltenders were on the ice. For now, it means a spot is currently open in the AHL and Trevor Cann could be thrust into an AHL starting role. He spent last season mainly with the Tulsa Oilers of the Central Hockey League.

+ Adding to the current situation with Desjardins is the fact that Calvin Pickard is not yet eligible to play in the AHL and Sami Aittokallio is nowhere close to being ready to play professional hockey in North America. Both Kent Patterson and Kieran Millan are already in school (both are seniors), so the Avs might need to give a goalie a tryout in the next day or two.

+ This is the most talented group of six goaltenders the Avalanche have had at a training camp since Patrick Roy retired. Cann, who is a great guy and a good athletic goaltender, is the only weak link in my opinion. He is not very controlled or comfortable in scrambling situations around the net, but is a solid first-save goaltender.

+ Aittokallio is a bold and unique Finnish netminder with a very narrow stance and lots of double-coverage with his pads, but has quick reflexes and good instincts for a 19-year-old. The Avalanche have never developed a Finnish goaltender before, and a major opportunity to do so slipped through their grasp this week when Kirk McLean was not present for the informal Rookie Camp earlier this week.

— [ SEMYON VARLAMOV SCOUTING NOTES ]—

+ The sense I got from watching Varlamov way up close for the first time ever, then reviewing and editing my high-res photos (I love to use my Canon Rebel XTI), is that he does appear to put noticeable strain on his ankles, groin and hip muscles. To have that wide of a stance and still execute such powerful lateral pushes is rarely seen in the NHL right now. I can definitely see why he may be considered somewhat of an injury-prone goalie. Obviously his flexibility allows for him to be successful in this manner, but I almost wonder if he’s over-extending certain muscles without even realizing he’s doing it.

+ To me, making a half-butterfly save selection on a shot from this point is excessive movement and just a sign of it being the first day of camp. He’s not square, he’s inside the blue paint and he’s not sealing holes. Greg Mauldin hits the sweet spot and scores right over the pad and under the blocker. Just one moment in time from today’s camp, but a moment nonetheless.

+ I noticed a few situations where Varlamov could definitely learn to become more economical in terms of his stance, energy and movement. I feel like he’s putting more strain on his body than he needs to, and that he simply may not realize there are certain ways to alleviate some of that strain. This is why I wrote back in July that he should be doing Pilates. That would teach him how to better understand what type of strain he’s putting on certain muscles, and how to better balance the muscles he does use.

+ When it comes to the super-intricate positioning elements, Varlamov’s sheer reflexes and flexibility make up for whatever type of imperfect spine or hip or neck or hand alignment he might have with his body placement. Those things can be adjusted, refined and corrected over time, especially if he does some video feedback and analysis with his goalie coach. But pure reflexes like Varlamov’s are just in his blood. The reflexes are making a little “comeback” in the terms of how goalies are stopping pucks at the AHL and NHL levels, so Varlamov gains a huge advantage in that regard. Blocking and positioning has it’s limits, but athletic goalies that thrive on reflexes do so at a successful rate because of pure skill, talent and genes.

+ Over the past five years in Colorado, Peter Budaj was always regarded as a really athletic goaltender. But Varlamov takes that term to a completely different realm of existence. Die-hard fans out here will love him instantly because they either know who he is already, or they’ll notice his speed and aggressiveness right away. But Varlamov is also the type of goalie where you’ll hear the (numerous) casual fans say, “To be that good and that young is truly something special,” or things like that. And they are right.

+ I can’t say for sure, but it certainly seemed like Varlamov worked hard on glove hand discipline over the summer. In most of the photo sequences I took today, his glove was being actively held in a more prominent manner and with better net coverage than what I saw from him last season. It will be interesting to see how his glove hand thrives in the Western Conference this season. From what I saw today, it certainly seemed like he had more awareness as to where his glove was being held and of potential aerial angles, which is a good sign for sure.

+ In general, I would say it was a good first day for Varlamov. I look forward to seeing him getting more comfortable in his new pads and in an Avalanche uniform on Sunday and Monday. Similar to what I said about J-S Gigure in the Audio Report, there’s definitely an adjustment that goes into switching conferences and getting used to the speed and altitude in Colorado, but if anyone can handle the faster pace, it’s Varlamov. He just has to do it with as much control as possible.

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