When I arrived at the Xcel Energy Center on Friday morning to cover the first day of Houston’s training camp, I had a sneaking suspicion a fourth goalie would be joining Matt Hackett, Darcy Kuemper, and Mike Brodeur.
But I had no idea that fourth goalie would be former Pittsburgh Penguins prospect John Curry. Sure enough, there he was, wearing unmarked white and blue pads, trying to make the most of a rare tryout opportunity.
When it comes to instructional goalie videos these days, there’s quite an array of choices out there. You can even find a vast collection of drills on YouTube, or by digging through different goalie training websites.
Amy Gist is a contributor for The Goalie Guild and the director of the Redfield Internship Program. Her goalie interviews and articles can be found on our website, and she can be followed on Twitter at @AmySnow17.
In the world of hockey, there are many multifaceted dimensions, and for lack of a better word, “kingdoms” that have to be studied and intellectually conquered. One such kingdom is that of goaltending.
I won’t be surprised if Wichita Falls goaltender Evan Cowley is selected in a later round of the 2013 NHL Draft in New Jersey.
During the 10th-annual NAHL Showcase, the native of Cranbrook, BC (but was most recently living in Evergreen, CO) generated more buzz than any other goalie. At least four different scouts from various colleges and independent programs mentioned he was already being considered as this season’s equivalent to Philadelphia Flyers prospect Anthony Stolarz.
After seeing him perform in his first two NAHL games, I wholeheartedly agree.
Cowley is obviously still a very raw-skilled 17-year-old athlete, but with plenty of size and decent athleticism, the potential for him to develop into a pro goalie is clearly there.
Not only does Cowley have the “optimal” frame at 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, but he’s just a rookie in the NAHL with a birth date of July 31, 1995. And despite going 0-1-1 with seven goals allowed on 63 shots (a .889 save percentage) during the showcase, Cowley displayed a lot of tasty traits for scouts to devour.
You will likely notice the same mannerisms in Cowley’s self-published video above, but when evaluating him, I was quickly reminded of Carey Price. Comparables were popping up all over the place; hand placement, that cool, calm and quiet demeanor, the positionally-based foundation, the way they wear Reebok pads…it’s all there, and all in a raw fashion.
Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean Cowley has the same skill upside as Price. It simply means he exhibits a style that tries to emulate Price, with similar movement mannerisms.
Furthermore, Cowley displays a decent level of raw athleticism and reflexes to excel in the NAHL and eventually thrive at the higher levels.
Most of my notes on Cowley came in his first game on Wednesday against the Aberdeen Wings. Despite suffering the 3-2 loss in the shootout, he stopped 28 of 30 shots and alongside Wings goalie Marcus Zelzer, was the star of the game.
In his first-ever NAHL game, with over 200 scouts in the building, Cowley displayed a calm, poised, and confident demeanor. He swallowed a lot of pucks, he smoothed out his movements as the game progressed, and he never once appeared to be out of place.
When watching a big goaltender play against the best talent he has ever seen, I always focus on movements more than technique. I want to see if the goalie can control his slides, recoveries, scrambles, and of course his rebounds, as the game goes along.
Cowley passed all of those areas with high marks. There were a few instances (especially in the shootout) where he over-challenged shooters, but for the most part, he utilized his size effectively. He didn’t challenge too far outside the blue paint, and he did a good job of letting pucks hit him. There was not a lot of excessive reaching or lunging, either.
Like most of today’s young goalies, Evan had the “fingers up, elbows tight” arm and hand positioning. The glove is very upright, but it was still active and highly mobile. He made a few nice glove saves in the game against Aberdeen, and he tracked the puck well.
It certainly pays to be big, and Cowley entered the NAHL at the right time. With Stolarz being drafted so soon (45th overall by the Flyers), it bodes well for Evan’s future. His performance against Aberdeen was a tremendous start; it got the scouts talking.
For those scouts that asked me about Cowley’s game, I really had nothing bad to say. The potential is there, he has all of the assets NHL teams are seeking, and he still has a lot of elements to add to his game as time goes on. He can really improve the way he uses his size, making himself even more economical and durable.
He can also get stronger, as he’ll look to gain anywhere from five to 15 pounds of muscle over the next year. Eating properly will be important, as weighing closer to 200 pound will really help his draft value next summer.
But because he reflects a lot of traits we see in an elite goalie like Price, and because he uses his size relatively well for his age and experience, Cowley is going to get a lot of looks.
Oh, and if everything I’ve said doesn’t prove that Cowley will be sought after by NCAA and NHL scouts throughout the season, he was also one of only seven goalies listed on NHL Central Scouting’s guide for the NAHL Showcase.
Of those seven goalies, Cowley was clearly the most promising in terms of long-term upside, and that will further boost his value as the junior hockey season continues.
Riku Helenius is back in North America to prepare for the new AHL season, and he’s on a mission to raise some hell in Tampa Bay’s goalie depth chart.
The starting gig in Syracuse rightfully belongs to Dustin Tokarski, but Helenius didn’t sign a new two-year contract (two-way the first year, one-way the second year) with the Lightning to sit on the bench. He wants to play every game, and he has the skills to earn just as many starts as Tokarski.
“Tick” won’t make it easy, however. He’s on the cusp of becoming a full-time NHL backup, so the former WHL standout is pushing hard to finally prove to the organization that, once and for all, he’s fit for the job.
And while I do think he’s close, he’s still not 100-percent ready to back up Anders Lindback.
But Helenius is a former first-round draft pick (15th overall in 2006) and is coming off an SM-liiga championship with JYP. He did this by posting a 1.64 goals-against average and .936 save percentage in the regular season, then a 1.73 GAA and .947 SV% in 13 playoff games. For his efforts, he earned the Urpo Ylönen Award as the league’s best goaltender.
Being a first-round draft pick might not make a difference to you and me, but to the Lightning, there’s a sense of urgency to legitimize his high selection. That means he’s likely to earn some opportunities that other goalies might not receive, and that bodes well for a guy with so much confidence right now.
Furthermore, Riku has been developing at a steady pace with JYP goalie coach Jarkko Hyytiä, and now at the age of 24, he’s ready to prove his worth at the AHL and NHL levels.
So the battle in the Crunch’s crease is on, and this intriguing duel is sure to see some sparks fly.
RIKU HITS THE ICE IN EDINA
Since Riku’s agent is friends with former NHL goaltender Robb Stauber, he was able to secure some ice time at Stauber’s Goalcrease training center in Edina. Goalie coach Jeff Hall personally invited me to come out and evaluate Helenius during their training session on Thursday, and even though I had originally planned to scout Day 2 of the NAHL Showcase up in Blaine, I couldn’t miss this rare opportunity to see one of the top Finnish goalie prospects.
So I was there faster than a Pekka Rinne reflex save.
Once we hit the ice, the first thing that stuck out to me was Riku’s extremely wide stance, but more importantly, how well it worked for him. His feet really flare out beyond his shoulders, and even for a flexible and athletic Finnish goalie, his balance points (front, back, and vertical) are pretty unique. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 198 pounds, he doesn’t necessarily look that big in the crease due to having such a wide stance, but he still sits very tall and upright in the butterfly.
Like most successful Finnish prospects, Riku’s quickness and athleticism are two of his finest traits.
To be honest, there’s not much I take away from a simple one-hour training session this early in the new season. He was clearly not at peak performance in terms of his stamina, which is only fair to expect from a guy that is just starting to fire up the blades in preparation for training camp.
I also hold off on posting more than a few scouting notes because I don’t have any comparisons to work with. He spent the past two years in Europe, so it has been quite some time since I’ve last seen him play a full game. Obviously he has come a long way since his run with Norfolk in 2009-10, as he has more experience, intelligence, and body control than ever before.
Either way, you can still get a good idea of how he moves in the crease from these three videos. For the most part, he was smooth and in control of his slides, yet extremely quick to seal the ice, or to pop back up to both skates and square up to Jeff’s shots.
I also really appreciated his stick discipline, his active hand placement (in front of the body), and his ability to make minor adjustments as verbally dictated to him by coach Hall.
Beyond the movement and recovery drills you see in the videos, Helenius did some unique skating and agility drills in the first 10 minutes, then finished up the session with some patented Goalcrease puck-handling drills.
Away from the technical stuff, it was a treat to personally meet Riku and talk about one of my favorite subjects, music. Many of you know I’m a huge Finnish metal fan, so I naturally had to ask him what kind of music he liked. Although his answer included country, I was excited to hear he was also a fan of some of my favorite bands, including Kalmah, Children of Bodom, and some others.
As a former first-round draft pick, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Riku’s potential in a Lightning uniform. Despite the fact GM Steve Yzerman signed Lindback over the summer and drafted Andrei Vasilevski in the first round, there’s no doubt in my mind he realizes that Riku has the potential to evolve into a very solid NHL goaltender over the next 2-3 years.
Otherwise that new two-year contract wouldn’t include a “one-way” clause in the final year.
Over the weekend, NHL.com posted an article on Mathieu Garon and his supportive role of the newly-acquired Anders Lindback. It included some quotes from Lightning head coach Guy Boucher, shedding light on how the tandem’s workload might play out.