On the third day of Bluesmas, our true love gave to us – three minor league goalies.
Not that long ago, the St. Louis Blues seemed like they had a log jam of goalies ready, or pushing to be in the NHL. It gave them depth, but also brought up question marks if they had a true number one.
Jordan Binnington entered the equation not long after, though his story told during the 2019 Stanley Cup run lets you know he was rarely seriously considered. Ville Husso, drafted in 2014, was considered the heir apparent if/when the team moved on from Allen.
Now, at the end of 2020, the Blues still have a log jam, but the clog is a bit further down. Their AHL franchise may now have to deal with the plethora of options.
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On the positive side, 2020 World Junior gold medalist, Joel Hofer has shot up the ranks. At just 20 years old, Hofer jumped over some previous drafted goalies and will be given serious consideration as the Springfield Thunderbirds’ top netminder.
In addition to going 5-0 during the 2020 WJC, Hofer had a fantastic season in 2019-20 with the Portland Winterhawks. The Blues prospect went 34-8-5 with a 2.49 goals against, which is more than solid at the junior level.
Also pushing to make his way back into the goaltender conversation is Evan Fitzpatrick. It was not long ago that Fitzpatrick won the CHL’s Memorial Cup, which is a tournament featuring the league winners from across Canada’s junior ranks.
Unfortunately, once he turned pro, things went south. Fitzpatrick spent most of the last two seasons loaned out to ECHL teams, which is hockey’s equivalent of double-A baseball. You’re not out of the picture down there, but you’re not highly touted any longer either.
Fitzpatrick was ok in 2018-19, with a record slightly above .500 and making the playoffs with the Tulsa Oilers. He got blown up in two appearances in the postseason, with a 6.30 goals against.
The following year, he played seven games in Tulsa and five with the Brampton Beast. With both teams he was sub-.500 and had bad stats as well.
Nevertheless, we must remember that goalies progress at different paces. Unlike their on-ice counterparts, they often don’t hit their stride until their mid or even late-20’s.
Speaking of which, we reach the log that jammed up things. In an effort to provide depth and, perhaps, a little more certainty in case the Blues need an NHL ready call up, the team signed Jon Gillies in the 2020 offseason.
Gillies is right on that edge of losing relevancy within the NHL or getting one last shot. At 26, he is on the cusp of being a career AHL guy who only gets called up in a pinch.
Like his current teammates, Gillies has the talent to win on a big stage, but lacks the consistency. Like Hofer, he won a gold medal when Team USA won the WJC in 2013. He also helped Providence College to an NCAA title.
Like Fitzpatrick, he just hasn’t found a comfort level as a pro. He hovered right around .500, give or take each season, with the Stockton Heat and had middling numbers to boot.
Gillies did not look bad when given an extended look with the Calgary Flames in 2017-18, but he did not wow them either. The Flames kept looking elsewhere for answers in net.
So, similar to their NHL situation in the past, the Blues have one goalie that seems destined to ascend above the others, one that is trying to fix his reputation and one that’s hanging on, hoping to keep his head above water.
Unfortunately for Fitzpatrick, if he does not show very well in whatever kind of camp the Thunderbirds are allowed to have (or maybe the Blues have), he might be the third wheel on a bicycle. The Blues are likely to keep Gillies around as insurance in case Binnington or Husso get hurt and Hofer would have to do something fairly bad to not end up being at least a 1A goalie.
But, the Blues might not have the luxury of an ECHL team even being around to bail them out. Thus, the three man system might be implemented.
That rarely works to anyone’s benefit. With 2021 likely to be an odd year anyway, let us all hope that having three AHL goalies does not hinder anyone’s development.