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The Coming Thing: Goaltending's Continuing Evolution

Andrew Fiorentino

Managing hockey editor, talent wrangler, football columnist, FSWA's 2015 fantasy hockey writer of the year. Twitter: @akfiorentino

This week, as I was browsing through the invaluable Hockey-Reference.com, I came upon the entry for one Patrick Roy. You may have heard of him – four Stanley Cups split evenly between the Canadiens and the Avalanche, widely considered the greatest goalie of all time (why not Dominik Hasek, you ask? Me too!), now the Avs' head coach.

Here's something you probably don't know or didn't remember about Patrick Roy: He led the NHL in save percentage only four times in 20 seasons, with all four coming in his first seven campaigns: 1987-88, 1988-89,1989-90and 1991-92. His save percentages in those seasons: .900 (yeah), .908, .912, .914. Even the best mark in that group would have been good for No. 24 on the list among qualified goaltenders last year.

That's not to say that Roy wasn't amazing, but rather that the league has changed. The '80s represented the greatest sustained peak of offensive dominance in the NHL, averaging a full goal per team per game more than today's league. In '88-'89, as a for-instance, the Flames' Mike Vernon went a league-leading 37-6-5 … with an .897 save mark, 2.65 GAA and zero shutouts. Such was the nature of the game. With that knowledge in your pocket, you may not be surprised to learn that Roy exceeded that league-leading .914 save mark six times subsequently in his career despite never finishing atop the list again.

Nonetheless, he changed the game, most notably by popularizing the butterfly style of goaltending, which was then unsurprisingly built upon by his contemporaries and successors. The butterfly then evolved into the pro-fly, as popularized by more modern goaltenders like Henrik Lundqvist (whose style Martin Brodeur had always trashed until finally coming around a couple years ago and grudgingly admitting to what everyone else already knew) and Roberto Luongo.

Which brings us to today's hottest young goalies, Frederik Andersen and Darcy Kuemper. They're a curious style in contrasts – Andersen, the winner in of 25 of his first 31 NHL starts, is built like an NFL linebacker, a hulking 6-foot-4, 236-pound monster who plays a curious mashup of the old standup style, the butterfly, and a style I can only call "being effing huge." The physical growth of the NHL goalie has had a lot to do with the decline in scoring, so it won't surprise you to learn that Kuemper (who's started the year with three shutouts in four starts) is, if anything, an inch taller than Andersen – but he gives up 30 pounds and almost plays Roy's traditional butterfly style, with some modern variations from the Benoit Allaire school of goaltending.

The NHL went through a period of time where it was an older goalie's league, and while you still don't see too many guys break in effectively before age 22, the continued evolution of the game has made it a young goalie's league again. Which is great for keeping me in business. In honor of all that, let's start with the goalies, shall we?

Notable Promotions

John Gibson, G, ANA – Remember when Gibson was going to take Andersen's job away from him? Yeah, about that. Gibson burst onto the scene with three nice starts late last year and then some fine work in the playoffs, but a six-goal shellacking in the season opener combined with Andersen's continued dominance ended up leaving him parked in the AHL for a couple games. He didn't impress there, either, allowing six goals on 55 shots (.902 save percentage, 3.05 GAA) over two outings with Norfolk. He's back to serve as the backup – there is no more competition. But he is starting Friday against the Jackets, so use him well.

Anton Forsberg, G, CLM – Forsberg's the kind of goaltending prospect I love – a seventh-round pick out of Sweden (just like Lundqvist!). He quietly came over to finish last year with AHL Springfield after a terrific season for MODO of the Swedish Hockey League in which he tied for seventh in the circuit in save percentage (.920). In seven games of action with Springfield between this year and last, all Forsberg's done is dominate – he's allowed just 11 goals in total. And he's probably available even in your deep keeper league. You're welcome.

Scott Darling, G, CHI – Not quite a spring chicken anymore at age 25, Darling has turned out to be an old-fashioned late bloomer in net. After years of bouncing between the SPHL (a league I didn’t even know existed until just now), ECHL and AHL, Darling settled down last year with the Preds' AHL affiliate in Milwaukee, posting a 13-6-2 record with a .933 save mark and 2.00 GAA. He kept up the good times over his first two starts with AHL Rockford this year, stopping 53 of 55 shots, and now he's in the NHL, backing up Antti Raanta while Corey Crawford works out his upper-body injury. He could make his debut Sunday against Ottawa, as the 'Hawks have back-to-backs coming up this weekend.

Jonathan Drouin, C, TAM – Sure, he was technically on a rehab assignment, but don't think that's going to stop me from putting ink to paper (or, well, black pixels to white pixels) about Drouin. The 2013 No. 3 pick and a two-time 100-point scorer in juniors despite never even playing 50 games in a season, Drouin is one of the greatest talents of this generation, but I do have some concerns, and they start the fact that at 19 years old, he's got the injury history of a much older man. While Drouin's point totals in junior were impressive, he missed at least 19 games in all three of his seasons with the Halifax Mooseheads (at least once due to a concussion), and he already suffered a thumb injury that kept him out for the start of this season. Don't let that scare you off from the pure, unbridled talent (which he's already shown in his limited AHL and NHL action since recovering), but be aware that there may be other budding stars who are safer to own.

Anders Lee, C, NYI – Caught in a roster crunch at the end of camp, Lee ended up being shipped off to AHL Bridgeport, but it's no surprise to see the former Notre Dame star earn his way back up in a hurry. He posted two goals and three assists over five games in the AHL and returned to a reasonably sized third-line role Thursday, skating 13:04 with nearly a minute on the power play. The Flyers have a lot of room to shake up their lines right now, with Josh Bailey (hand) out long-term and Mikhail Grabovski (concussion) not quite back, so Lee has room to carve out a real role for himself. With his size and skill, and the Isles a team on the rise, there's a lot of upside here.

Joe Morrow, D, BOS – Best known as the ostensible top prospect in the trade that shipped Tyler Seguin out of town, Morrow was the Penguins' first-round pick in 2011, 23rd overall. Even though he got traded twice before ever seeing NHL action, Morrow's still only 21 years old and coming off a strong postseason for AHL Providence in which he collected two goals and seven points in 10 games. Off to a solid start in the minors again this year, Morrow is just an emergency recall thanks to Zdeno Chara (knee) and Kevan Miller (shoulder) going down. Still, he should get the chance to break into a now-uninspiring blue-line mix that certainly has room to accommodate him in the top four if he shows well early.

Seth Griffith, RW, BOS – Griffith's one of those prospects who just makes you ask, "Where do they find these guys?" A fifth-round pick in 2012 without particularly impressive size, Griffith makes up for it with legitimate offensive talent , delivering 20 goals and 50 points in his professional debut last season with AHL Providence. He didn't miss a beat to start this year, potting three points over three games in the minors, and now all of a sudden he's in Boston, playing alongside some big names. Curiously, Griffith did nothing (no points, four shots, minus-2) while averaging more than 15 minutes of ice time (including three-plus of power-play time) per game over his first three contests with the Bruins, then was demoted to third-line minutes and has responded by playing much better (two points, six shots, plus-2) in two games since. He's still seeing ice time with Milan Lucic and David Krejci, too.

Cedric Paquette, C, TAM – Remember the player you've stopped hoping Steve Downie could be again? Well, Paquette could be that guy in the long run. He's got that combination of toughness and scoring ability that plays wonderfully in fantasy . Last year, Paquette surprised in his rookie AHL season by putting up 20 goals and 24 assists to go with his 153 PIM, and this year he's off to an even better start, ripping off five points, seven PIM and a plus-5 rating in his first four games. With Ryan Callahan (lower body) and Alex Killorn (undisclosed) hurting, he should crack the lineup, but he's not going to really break in quite yet with Tampa's depth up front.

Prospect of the Week
Emile Poirier, LW, CGY – The Flames' first-rounder in 2013, 22nd overall, Poirier is speedy, scrappy and slick with the puck, and after delivering 43 goals and 44 assists in his final junior year last season, he came to the AHL for the end of the year and ripped off four points in two games. That's a way to make an impression. While he hasn't yet appeared for Abbotsford this year due to offseason shoulder surgery, Poirier's one to watch once he gets his campaign started; if he gets hot and the Flames find themselves looking for answers on the wings (which wouldn't be a surprise), it wouldn't be a surprise to see him making his NHL debut as soon as the second half of this season.