Relative to age, Vasilevskiy is the best NHL goalie in 30-plus years

Looking at what 'Vasy' has already accomplished by age 26, he ranks among the five best goaltenders in the past half century.
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It’s rare for a highly touted prospect to meet his draft-day hype, especially if that player is chosen outside the top five picks or so, and especially if that player stops pucks for a living. Scouts are practically guessing when it comes to goalies.

Factoring out the past five years, since netminders take longer than skaters to develop, here are the last 25 goaltenders chosen in the first round, through the 2015 draft:

Pascal Leclaire, 2001
Dan Blackburn, 2001
Jason Bacashihua, 2001
Adam Munro, 2001
Kari Lehtonen, 2002
Cam Ward, 2002
Hannu Toivonen, 2002
Marc-Andre Fleury, 2003
Al Montoya, 2004
Devan Dubnyk, 2004
Marek Schwarz, 2004
Cory Schneider, 2004
Carey Price, 2005
Tuukka Rask, 2005
Jonathan Bernier, 2006
Riku Helenius, 2006
Semyon Varlamov, 2006
Leland Irving, 2006
Chet Pickard, 2008
Tom McCollum, 2008
Jack Campbell, 2010
Mark Visentin, 2010
Andrei Vasilevskiy, 2012
Malcolm Subban, 2012
Ilya Samsonov, 2015

It’s a game of pin the tail on the donkey. And, again, this is the first round, not a list of late-round fliers. We see a few borderline Hall of Fame careers in the making from Fleury, Rask and Price, a tier of solid No. 1 netminder careers from the likes of Lehtonen, Ward, Schneider and Varlamov, but also a long list of guys who pretty much disappeared in a cloud of dust, from Irving to Pickard to McCollum. Though we’ve seen the trend change in the past couple drafts with potential generational puck-stopping talents Spencer Knight and Yaroslav Askarov getting chosen, teams have mostly shied away from picking netminders in the first round over the past five to 10 years.

Which is why Andrei Vasilevskiy’s career trajectory is so darned impressive. In the months leading up to the 2012 draft, where the Tampa Bay Lightning picked him 19th overall, he was touted as a future NHL star, a big, powerful, athletic netminder to build a franchise around. And, like unlike most goalies selected in Round 1 of the draft, ‘Vasy’ has delivered. If the entire (horrifically weak) 2012 draft class were re-picked today, he’d be the No. 1 choice.

Watching Vasilevskiy, 26, post three consecutive shutouts over the past week, it’s exciting to put his career to date in perspective. In his seventh NHL season and fifth as a starter, he’s already a Vezina Trophy winner with two more top-three finishes. He’s a Stanley Cup champion. He’s led the NHL in wins three straight seasons and is on track to do so a fourth straight time. He’s the frontrunner to win the Vezina again this season, currently leading the league in goals-against average (1.65), save percentage (.942), shutouts (three), 5-on-5 SP (.950) and goals saved above average per 60 minutes (0.89).

But it’s not enough to say he’s the best goaltender in the world right now. It’s not even enough to say Vasilevskiy is on a Hall of Fame career path. He’s actually on track to become an all-time great given what he’s already accomplished at a position known for late bloomers. He’s doing things at his age consistent with what legends of the game did. Forget Price, Fleury, Rask, Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist or any other elite puck-stoppers of past decade at 26. Vasilevskiy is already well ahead what any of them had done by that age.

Andrei Vasilevskiy, age 26

- Stanley Cup champion
- NHL wins leader x 4*
- first-team all-star x 2*
- Vezina Trophy x 2*
- Goals saved above average per 60 minutes: 0.25

*If we project out the rest of the season, he’ll own four wins crowns, two Vezinas and two first-team all-star selections.

So how does he measure up to the greats at 26? Let’s compare him to the best goaltenders of the generations that preceded his, excluding my goalie G.O.A.T. Dominik Hasek, who didn’t become a full-time NHL starter until he was 29. 

Ed Belfour, age 26


- THN’s Top 100 Goalies of All-Time, 2018: ranked 18th
- NHL wins leader x 1
- First-team all-star x 1
- Vezina Trophy
- Calder Trophy
- GSAA/60: 0.56

Coming from the college ranks, ‘Eddie the Eagle’ didn’t debut in the NHL until he was 23, and he won his second Vezina for his age-27 season. Belfour truly took the league by storm in 1990-91, his first full season, but Vasilevskiy has already accomplished much more for his age.

Tom Barrasso, age 26

- THN’s Top 100 Goalies of All-Time, 2018: ranked 26th
- Stanley Cup champion x 2
- First team all-star x 1
- Vezina Trophy
- Calder Trophy
- GSAA/60: 0.17

Barrasso was a supernova, winning the Calder and Vezina as a teenaged rookie with the Buffalo Sabres in 1983-84 before winning two Cups in Pittsburgh. He has a strong case as the best eligible goaltender not in the Hall of Fame. If he had a better relationship with the media during his playing days, he’d likely be in by now. Lame. Give the man his Hall call.

Martin Brodeur, age 26

- THN’s Top 100 Goalies of All-Time, 2018: ranked 3rd
- Stanley Cup champion
- NHL wins leader x 2
- Calder Trophy
- GSAA/60: 0.39

Brodeur was already a star by the end of the ’90s, but he lived in Hasek’s shadow and didn’t start loading up on Vezina Trophies until ‘The Dominator’ exited his prime. Based on what Brodeur had done by his mid-20s, Vasilevskiy’s resume is at least as good if not better to that point.

Grant Fuhr, age 26

- THN’s Top 100 Goalies of All-Time, 2018: ranked 13th
- Stanley Cup champion x 4
- NHL wins leader x 2
- NHL first-team all-star
- Vezina Trophy
- GSAA/60: 0.21

Fuhr was an all-time legend in net relative to his age. The only thing hurting his case is the fact he was buoyed by one of the greatest dynasties in history, but those Oiler teams were obviously known for their offense, not their defense. Fuhr’s often-spectacular work in net allowed them to play the way they did.

Patrick Roy, age 26

- THN’s Top 100 Goalies of All-Time, 2018: ranked 2nd
- Stanley Cup champion
- Conn Smythe Trophy
- NHL wins leader x 1
- First-team all-star x 4
- Vezina Trophy x 3
- GSAA/60: 0.61

Roy is the best goaltender of the past half century through the end of his age-26 season. Winding back the clock further, Ken Dryden took his age-26 season off and accrued most of his biggest accolades afterward. Bernie Parent did his best work in his late 20s. If we look back to pre-expansion legends, who obviously had easier paths to Stanley Cups and less competition for individual awards in a six-team league, we get some major challengers. Frank Brimsek by 26 had an unbelievable track record (two Cups, two Vezinas, two wins titles). And Terry Sawchuk is the most accomplished 26-year-old goaltender of all-time:

Terry Sawchuk, age 26

- THN’s Top 100 Goalies of All-Time, 2018: ranked 1st
- Stanley Cup champion x 3
- NHL wins leader x 5
- First-team all-star x 3
- Vezina Trophy x 3
- Calder Trophy
- GSAA/60: n/a

Keep in mind, though, that the Vezina back then went to the starting goalie on the team with the fewest goals-against, not the goalie voted as the league’s best.

Even if we don’t project the rest of Vasilevskiy’s 2021-22 season to include another Vezina and wins title, what he’s done by his age-26 season puts him in all-time great company among Sawchuk, Roy, Brodeur, Fuhr and Barrasso.

So sit back and enjoy a what appears to be a generationally great career in the making. 

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