Friday Prospects is the weekly look around the world into what could be the Wings of tomorrow. It will feature a group of three different prospects each week. So far, we've looked at The Class of 2009, The Next Big Swede, and The 2009 Trio.
This week, the focus is between the pipes. Chris Osgood is 37-years-old and Jimmy Howard has not turned many heads so far. Detroit has made more of an effort to groom a goalie for their own and not have to rely on free agency to find a bunch of short-term fixes. Is the answer currently coming up the system, or will Detroit need to make a move for an outsider when Osgood finally hangs them up?
Detroit has not has a very good track record developing goalies from within of late.
Chris Osgood is a success story, and there was a time when Norm Maracle and Kevin Hodson were backing up Osgood and were thought to be possible successors. Ten years later, Hodson is out of hockey after fizzling out in Tampa Bay, and Norm Maracle is still going strong in Austria after working his way through the AHL, Russia, and Germany. Osgood is still around, but Detroit's seen Curtis Joseph, Manny Legace, Dominik Hasek, Bill Ranford, Ken Wregget, Marc Lamothe, and Ty Conklin all come and go without developing a quality NHL goalie for themselves.
Years later, the best product Detroit has developed is what they were able to salvage out of Joey MacDonald's career, who was a free agent pickup and AHL All-Star who started for the Islanders last season and is currently part of the goaltending fiasco that is the Toronto Maple Leafs. From 1997-2003, Detroit drafted five goalies: Jake McCracken, Stefan Liv, Drew MacIntyre, Nick Pannoni, and Logan Koopmans. Never heard of them? Exactly. Detroit was mainly just burning late round picks on long shots and only drafted one of these guys in the top 100. Since then though, they've made an effort to spend higher picks on goaltending in order to try to get an elite talent. So, what do they have to show for it so far?
I already talked about Howard in the first edition of this feature, so here are the other three.
Daniel Larsson, G, 23, 6'0, 180 lbs, drafted 3rd round, 2006 -- Goalies develop much differently than skaters. Traditionally, it takes them a little bit longer to get going. You generally don't see them in the NHL at all before the age of 24, and guys don't get a chance to start until 27 or 28. This is unless you're a superfreak like Steve Mason or Carey Price. So it made sense for Detroit to draft a player who, at the age of 20, had passed through two drafts already before Detroit made him the 92nd selection in 2006.
Larsson was not really on the radar at all his draft year, playing just four games with his junior team, and a handful internationally with the Swedish under-18 team with modest numbers. The following season, he started for Bodens IK in the Swedish Allsvenskan (SWE-2), but his 3.84 GAA likely wasn't drawing in many scouts. He made the move to Hammarby the following season in the same league, finally posting numbers expected out of a promising young goalie. It also helped that he starred for Sweden at the World Junior Championships, posting a 0.96 GAA and a .952 save percentage on the national stage. Detroit drafted him the following June.
He then moved up to the Swedish Elitserien (SEL) and quickly proved his worth to Detroit. He split time in net with Djurgarden in his first year, playing 24 games with a 2.53 GAA. The next season he took the reigns all by himself, playing in 46 games with a 2.29 GAA and a .921 save percentage, en route to winning the Rookie of the Year award (he was 1 game shy in his first year) as well as the Honken Trophy (Goalie of the Year, much better name than the Vezina). He signed with Detroit in the offseason.
He's a small goalie who doesn't play all that big either, however he makes up for it with ridiculous quickness. He's got a great glove and has shown the one thing in the AHL that Howard never did -- consistency. As a rookie in Grand Rapids, he basically picked up where he left off and had no adjustment to North America. Howard was supposed to start, but Larsson was too good to keep on the bench and they ended up splitting time. Larsson had six shutouts in the first half of the season and was an AHL All-Star for his efforts. He got a little banged up by the end of the year so Howard started in the playoffs, but it's Larsson's job to lose this year. Thomas McCollum is right on his heels, but Larsson looks like he might be ready for a taste in the NHL before this season ends.
Thomas McCollum, G, 20, 6'2, 210, drafted 1st round, 2008 -- In 2006, an undrafted and unheard of American goalie from attending the Guelph Storm training camp. Months later, he was considered one of the best goalies in the league. He went 26-18-10 and posted a 2.39 GAA with a .918 save percentage as a 17-year-old rookie on an average team. I got to see him play in the OHL a lot, and I remember thinking any team that drafted him would be lucky.
The following year, he started the year slow but finished strong, and was the top ranked North American goalie going into the draft. I followed the draft closely, but never even considered that the Wings would burn a first round pick on a goalie. They did, and that goalie was Thomas McCollum.
After a pretty impressive camp, Detroit signed him and returned him to the OHL. He got off to a red hot start including a .926 save percentage, one of the best in the league. At the trade deadline, he was traded to the contending Brampton Battalion. His GAA of 1.94 was good enough to be among league leaders. He even represented USA at the World Junior Championships. Playing behind a wonky defense, the team's performance as a whole was disappointing and McCollum was on the wrong end of a huge game by John Tavares that everyone will remember him by. However, when McCollum was drafted they mentioned how cool and composed he is, and he didn't let that bother him as he led Brampton to the OHL Finals.
This season, McCollum is a member of the Grand Rapids Griffins. He started the year very well, but saw his stats drop slightly after letting up seven goals against San Antonio, though with only three starts under his belt (two of them very good) his numbers will improve. McCollum is probably the most technically sound goalie Detroit has, and had one of the best glove hands in the OHL. He is big and quick for his size, though at times he is guilty of flopping around his net and trying for the desperation save and letting up strange rebounds. However, he's just 20, and Detroit will certainly give him all the time he needs in Grand Rapids.
Jordan Pearce, G, 23, 6'1, 201 lbs, signed as a free agent, 2009 -- To shore up goaltending depth this offseason, Detroit took a chance on a collegiate star -- both on and off the ice.
Pearce, an Alaska-native, developed through the US National Development Team and USHL before joining Notre Dame. He was a backup as a freshman and a sophomore, playing only 12 games in two years. He took over as the starter as a junior, and was a big part of Notre Dame's resurgence as a hockey program. His 2.04 GAA and 43 games played were enough to drive Notre Dame right to the top of the CCHA standings.
As a senior, Pearce's numbers were even better. Notre Dame took the overall #1 seed in the CCHA behind Pearce's 30 wins, 1.68 GAA, and .931 save percentage. Unfortunately, Notre Dame was bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the hands of the Bemidji State Beavers. This regional was in Grand Rapids, so I was lucky enough to attend and see it first-hand. It wasn't a great showing by Notre Dame, but it was impossible to root against the underdog Bemidji State. They've got a work ethic that Detroit could learn from, but I digress.
Pearce is an athletic goalie who seems to thrive in pressure situations. He's got a big frame and plays his angles well, at times he can look unbeatable. After the tournament, Detroit signed Pearce to a two-year deal and he even got a late season start with Grand Rapids. He was expected to push for the AHL backup job, but has started his professional career in Toledo, where he won his first start. He should get some time in the AHL before the season is over.
Off the ice, Pearce was a pre-med major at Notre Dame and may go to med school if his hockey career doesn't pan out.
Who's Hot: Gleason Founier has continued his good start with 8 points in 5 games ... Willie Coetzee is currently tied for the league lead in the WHL in scoring, with 23 points in 13 games ... Quietly, enforcer/agitator Mitchell Callahan has started the season at a point per game pace, with 11 in 11 ... Adam Almqvist continues to amaze with 26 points in 11 games ... Gustav Nyquist has picked up where he left off last year with 4 goals and 6 points in 6 games.
Who's Cold: Grand Rapids lost two games to San Antonio over the weekend by a combined score of 14-6 ... Daniel Larsson was beaten 5 times in 6 shots and currently boasts some cringe-worthy numbers with a 6.56 GAA and a .795 save percentage ... Jakub Kindl has not his the scoresheet for Grand Rapids yet ... Wisconsin was not happy with Brendan Smith's play in the team's first game and he was a healthy scratch for the second game.
Notes: Fournier's hot start got earned him QMJHL Defensive Player of the Week honors ... Nick Jensen was selected to play in the World Junior A Challenge for the USA, an honor that Max Nicastro had last season, helping the team to bring back to the gold ... Adam Almqvist was a surprising omission from the Swedish U20 A & B teams, but he was selected for Sweden at the World Junior A Challenge ... Jesper Samuelsson was promoted back to the SEL after being demoted to SWE-2 last week ... Brian Lashoff's Kingston Frontenacs will be wearing Don Cherry-inspired jerseys this weekend (that's Lashoff in the second picture) ... Tomas Tatar debuted for the Griffins, picking up an assist and being on the ice for both goals the Griffins scored ... Landon Ferraro is still on the sidelines with a knee injury.