• PROSPECT-UPDATE ARCHIVE
One this is very clear about the 2018 draft pool: It is loaded with potential NHL goaltenders. In fact, there are so many good goaltenders that this draft may set the record for netminders selected over nine rounds.
Saturday was proof of this. In a first for this top-performances list, half of the 10 players mentioned below are goaltenders, and they come from three countries. Having three goalies listed here is usually a big deal. Having five is incredible.
The five skaters here are also a diverse group, coming from five different leagues and representing four countries. Consider the incredible diversity of talent available as you go through this Saturday list:
JUSTIN BLANCHETTE -- Baie-Comeau's backup goaltender plays like a No. 1 when he gets the chance. Saturday was one such game. Blanchette stopped 22 shots for his first QMJHL shutout and earned No. 2 star honors as Baie-Comeau blanked Shawinigan 6-0. It was Blanchette's first win since Nov. 10 in only his third start since that date. Since he has good size for an NHL goalie, he has a good chance to be drafted despite limited playing time. (Note: Fifth appearance on this list in 2017-18)
STEPHEN DHILLON -- Ranked 21st among North American goaltenders for the 2017 draft, Dhillon did not get the call in Chicago. He came back to Niagara this year on a mission to get drafted, and so far he's looking very good. On Saturday, Dhillon stopped 29 shots in the IceDogs' 3-0 win at Ottawa and was honored as the No. 1 star for a second straight game. He has won six consecutive starts to rank fourth in the OHL with 15 wins, and he hasn't lost a start since Nov. 16.
SAMUEL ERSSON -- Sweden's goaltending gem for 2018 appears to be Ersson, who made 31 saves in Gavle U20's 5-1 win over Lulea on Saturday. Twenty of those saves came over the final two periods, as Ersson picked up his fourth straight win and his eighth in the past nine games. He leads all Swedish U20 goaltenders with 16 wins this season and ranks first in goals-against average and second in save percentage among the U20's Norra division teams. Sweden has produced some great NHL goaltenders, and Ersson has a chance to be one of them. (Note: Sixth appearance on this list in 2017-18)
JACK JENSEN -- Jensen, a left wing with Eden Prairie High School in Minnesota, picked up three points Saturday in a 5-2 win over Brainerd. The University of Minnesota recruit assisted on the game's first goal at 11:41 of the opening period, scored on a power play at 10:05 of the second for a 2-2 tie, and got the primary assist to make it 4-2 at 10:22 of the third. Averaging two points per game so far this season, the 11th-grader is helping fill the void left by first-round pick Casey Mittelstadt's graduation.
EVAN MacKINNON -- Sherbrooke's MacKinnon was shaping up to be a potential bottom-six forward in the NHL -- if he got drafted at all. All of a sudden, he's a big-time scorer for the Cataractes. On Saturday, he put home two goals and added an assist in a 6-4 win over Quebec, earning No. 1 star honors. MacKinnon's first goal, scored on a power play with 32 seconds left in the opening period, pulled Sherbrooke into a 1-1 tie. He later assisted on another power-play goal at 7:36 of the third period to tie it at 4-4 before scoring the game-winner at 8:57. With six goals and 10 points in 27 QMJHL games this season, MacKinnon has already passed the five and eight he posted over 54 games as a rookie in 2016-17 This was his first QMJHL three-point game and his second two-goal game in four outings.
K'ANDRE MILLER -- Miller, a key member of the U.S. NTDP Under-18 team, had a goal and assist in Saturday's 4-2 USHL win over Central Illinois. The big defenseman took the initial shot that led to a Joel Farabee goal at 6:48 of the second period for a 2-0 lead. Seven minutes later at 13:54, Miller drove in for the eventual game-winning goal and a 3-0 lead. Miller's two-point night snapped a four-game scoring drought. He already looks like and NHL player and has a strong chance to be drafted in the first round. (Note: Second appearance on this list in 2017-18)
NIKLAS NORDGREN -- Nordgren's seven-point performance on Saturday is the highest point-producing game to date by any draft prospect this season. The undersized Finnish right wing picked up six assists as Helsinki IFK rolled to a 12-2 Finnish U20 rout of Vaasa. Nordgren had three assists in the first period, a goal and assist in the second, and two more assists in the third. Four assists came on the power play, and his goal -- at 13:14 of the second period, pushed the lead up to 9-2. Nordgren has registered points in four consecutive games for a total of 11 over the span. Nordgren has seen time in the Liiga this season, but his 26 points in 17 junior games are the big story. He ranks second on IFK in points, but he has the highest points-per-game average by far. (Note: Third appearance on this list in 2017-18)
BLAKE PIETILA -- What better way to welcome your twin brother to town than by helping crush his USHL team? Pietila, Cedar Rapids' goaltender, made 32 stops on Saturday in a 7-1 win over a Dubuque Fighting Saints team that includes his twin, Logan. Blake, the No. 3 star, was at his best in the second period, stopping 18 of 19 shots. Over the weekend, he put together his first back-to-back USHL wins, denying 57 of 58 total shots. That is great news for the Michigan Tech program, where he and Logan will play their college hockey. (Note: Fourth appearance on this list in 2017-18)
OLIVIER RODRIGUE -- Rodrigue might be the first Canadian netminder drafted in June. He continued his strong season on Saturday with 34 saves in Drummondville's 3-2 OT win at Cape Breton. Rodrigue stopped 16 of 17 shots in the second period alone. He has won three straight starts and five of his last six. his .905 save percentage could be a bit higher, but he is tied for the league lead with 16 wins. (Note: Seventh appearance on this list in 2017-18 -- leads all goaltenders)
RADIM TOMAN -- This diminutive center from the Czeh Republic just keeps getting better. After picking up three points on Friday, he came right back Saturday with a career-high five points (a goal and four assists) in Vitkovice U20's 7-5 win at Olomouc. His first three assists all came in the second period, -- at 4:21, 9:14, and 12:50 -- pulling Vitkovice into a 3-3 tie. At 1:44 of the third period, he notched the primary assist on a goal that made it 5-3 and followed that up at 11:34 with the game's final tally. Toman has 15 goals and 20 assists in 18 U20 games this season. Now on a five-game scoring streak, he has points in 17 of his 18 games. (Note: Fourth appearance on this list in 2017-18)