The nine best rookie goalies in the NHL this season - The Hockey News on Sports Illustrated

The nine best rookie goalies in the NHL this season

Twenty-three rookie netminders have appeared in the NHL this season. Seventeen of them have recorded at least one win. Nine have played at least 10 games. But only one has been his team's No. 1 since the start of the year.
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A grand total of 23 rookie goaltenders have appeared in at least one NHL game this season, and 17 of them have recorded at least one win. Only nine of them, however, have appeared in at least 10 games, and only one of them has been his team’s starter since the puck dropped in October.

Here’s a look at the nine rookie netminders who have played at least 10 games this season:

Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey: After a 23-game NHL introduction last year – enough to get the hang of things without losing his Calder Trophy eligibility – Blackwood has been his team’s starting goalie since the beginning of the season. No other rookie netminder can make that claim. As such, Blackwood has made more starts (42) and played more games (46) – not to mention, recorded more wins (22) – than any other freshman goaltender. It’s been a challenging year in New Jersey, but Blackwood has been a bright spot as he establishes himself as the team’s No. 1 going forward. His save percentage (.915) and goals-against average (2.74) are more than respectable for a rookie starting goalie on a 26th-place team. The 23-year-old, who was the 42nd overall draft pick in 2015, has posted three shutouts and had a six-game winning streak in February.

Elvis Merzlikins, Columbus: Elvis lives. Elvis has left the building. Elvis ain’t nothing but a hound dog. Whatever your preferred Presley-Merzlikins mashup, there’s no denying the NHL arrival of the 25-year-old native of Latvia by way of Switzerland. He’s big, he’s brash and, most importantly, he’s good. Merzlikins took over the starting job from Joonas Korpisalo at the end of December and stood tall in the Blue Jackets’ crease until he was sidelined by injury in late February. He cemented his status by going 12-2-0 in 14 starts from Dec. 31 to Feb. 7, including an eight-game winning streak and five shutouts in that span. He has the most shutouts among rookie goalies, and he’s tied for second-most among all NHL netminders. If only the Calder went to the rookie with the best name.

Ilya Samsonov, Washington: The best way to put it? He’s come in and made incumbent starter (and pending UFA) Braden Holtby expendable. The Capitals have had high hopes for Samsonov since making him a rare goalie drafted in the first round (22nd overall) in 2015, and he has exceeded expectations. In making his case for future full-time duty, the 23-year-old has gone 16-6-2 with a 2.55 GAA and .913 save percentage. Holtby, by comparison, is 25-14-5 – which is pretty good, but his 3.14 GAA and .897 save percentage leave a lot to be desired. Look for Samsonov in the No. 1 role next season, with a cheap veteran as his backup.

Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers: Let’s get this out of the way first: yes, Shesterkin has set the league on fire with nine wins in his first 11 outings in his NHL debut, helping to lift the Rangers to the cusp of a playoff spot and proving his worth as Henrik Lundqvist’s heir apparent. And, yes, his 2.56 GAA and .931 save percentage are impressive stats indeed. But while 11 might be louder for Spinal Tap fans, it’s not enough to amplify Shesterkin’s accomplishments in the NHL this season. It’s not nearly a big enough sample size, at least not enough to usurp the three goalies ahead of him on this list. The good news? Shesterkin will retain his Calder eligibility next season and could easily be a contender.

Thatcher Demko, Vancouver: For a while there, it looked like Canucks goalie-of-the-future Demko might push Canucks goalie-of-the-present Jacob Markstrom for playing time. Demko got off to a promising start in October and November, winning five of his first seven decisions and posting a .930 save percentage in the process. But after drafting him in 2014 and then letting him develop for three years in the NCAA and three more in the AHL, the Canucks weren’t about to rush their prized net prospect. So, Demko settled into the backup role, seeing action every third or fourth game. But fast-forward to late February, and a reported knee injury for Markstrom that required “minor” surgery thrust Demko back into the crease – and the pressure of the playoff race, as Vancouver battles to hold on to a wild-card spot. It’s great experience for Demko, whether he leads the Canucks into the post-season or falters down the stretch. The Canucks are a young, up-and-coming team, and Demko is getting the chance to grow along with them.

Chris Driedger, Florida: The Panthers signed Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year deal and drafted netminding prodigy Spencer Knight last summer, so the 25-year-old Driedger – who came over as a free agent last February after seven years in Ottawa’s organization – is in tough to see more than backup duty in both the short and long term. But he’s been great when called upon this season, going 6-2-1 with a 2.16 GAA and .936 save percentage.

Marcus Hogberg, Ottawa: Three goalies have stepped into the fray that is the Senators’ crease this season, and the 6-foot-5, 209-pound Hogberg has fared the best. He only has five wins in 20 starts, but his 5-7-8 record translates to 18 points and his 3.04 GAA and .909 save percentage are superior to the numbers posted by Craig Anderson and Anders Nilsson.

Adin Hill, Arizona: Injuries to Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta pressed Hill into a few spot starts, an occurrence that happened last season as well. His 2-4-3 record isn’t as good as last year’s 7-5-0 mark, but his 2.62 GAA and .918 save percentage are trending in the right direction.

Sam Montembeault, Florida: He gave up just two goals in each of his first two starts back in October, but has surrendered three or more goals in six of seven starts since. Overall, he’s 5-5-1 with a 3.34 GAA and .890 save percentage.

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