Drafting goaltenders will always feel like a mystery.
It doesn't necessarily need to be, and recent success has shown you can draft a goalie early and hit the jackpot. The starting goalies at both ends of the Stanley Cup final this year – Andrei Vasilevskiy and Carey Price – were both selected in the opening round of the draft, something that was starting to become a rarity in recent years.
There still is a ton of risk for any team selecting a goalie, but it comes with a real chance of paying off in such a huge way. Sure, you could draft another mediocre forward in the fourth round of the selection process, or you can take a run at a goaltender who may or may not be your starting goalie in five years. Drafting early has always been risky due to so many goalies becoming duds despite early selections, but, again, the payoff can be so rewarding.
The 2021 draft is considered one of the weakest ones in recent years, but the goalie market is definitely interesting. We could see two goaltenders – Jesper Wallstedt and Sebastian Cossa – taken in the first round for the first time since Vasilevskiy and Malcolm Subban went in the first round in 2012 (one became a star, the other... not so much). Are both worthy of going that early? Scouts definitely say yes, but with goalies, the development paths are never linear.
With that out of the way, here's a look at 10 of the top goaltending prospects for 2021, plus a few others to keep an eye on:
Jesper Wallstedt, Lulea (SWE)
The undisputed top goaltender of the class, Wallstedt has many wondering if he'll end up being the top player in the draft class, period. A big kid (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) with tremendous athleticism and speed in the blue paint, Wallstedt spent the year in the Swedish men's league with Lulea and looked very comfortable against the top competition he has ever faced. He's one of just a handful of goaltenders to have played over 20 games as a U-19 player, with the best being Jacob Markstrom over a decade ago. That's fitting, as some scouts like to compare the two. Whichever team selects the young Swede is getting a future No. 1, and very few drafted goalie prospects in the game today have as much overall skill as Wallstedt.
Sebastian Cossa, Edmonton (WHL)
It looks like Cossa will be the second goalie taken in the first round this year, which would offer a team that's likely a playoff contender for the next couple of years another good option in the crease. Already huge at 6-foot-6, Cossa is a giant in the crease and someone that most expect to really make it as a No. 1 in the NHL. There aren't a ton of downsides to his game – he's aggressive on his angles, but can easily get back into position with his quick feet. He sees around the net well and has a nice recovery for rebounds. Cossa played nearly every game in the WHL and led the league with a 1.57 GAA and .941 SV, a great first season in charge after sharing the net a year ago with Beck Warm and Todd Scott. Next year will be huge for Cossa as he looks to take the league's top goalie honors home with him.
Benjamin Gaudreau, Sarnia (OHL)
It's a shame that Gaudreau didn't get to play a full season because the short sample size we did get from him was quite something. Gaudreau was the top goaltender at the 2021 U-18 World Hockey Championship, leading Canada to gold after putting on an unstoppable performance despite missing over a year of game action. Gaudreau has added about 15 pounds of muscle mass to his frame this year, and you can tell from watching him in Texas that he looked stronger and bigger in the crease without sacrificing any speed. "His rebound control is a huge asset of his game," a scout said. " (He) tracks it so well and reads cross-crease passes effectively. When he gets aggressive at the top of the crease, he leaves the shooter guessing."
Tristan Lennox, Saginaw (OHL)
While a lost season may have taken a bit of the shine away from Lennox, he's been one of the best 2002 goalies for quite some time and could earn a spot on Canada's World Junior Championship team in a few months. The raw talent and size is there. At 6-foot-4, Lennox covers most of the net and has good athleticism for his frame. Even with a good record in the OHL, his personal numbers weren't that pretty. Having a good team in front will do that to you, but his 2019 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup performance showed he can hang with the best of them. He needs a bit of refinement because he can sometimes find himself out of position on shots he should have, but a good goalie coach should be able to drag that out of him.
Kirill Gerasimyuk, SKA (MHL)
There's a lot to love about Gerasimyuk. Gerasimyuk has a commanding presence in the net, tracking the puck well and covering his angles well. Some scouts have likened his skating ability – specifically how he gets himself into position from post-to-post and to the top of the crease – to Carey Price, which is a fairly underrated trait to have as a goaltender. Over the past decade, four goalies – Andrei Vasilevskiy, Ilya Sorokin, Igor Shestyorkin and Ilya Samsonov – have become solid NHLers. Can Gerasimyuk be the next one? We'll see, but the best bet is to expect him to become a KHL starter in the next few years, spend a bit there and then come when he's fully ready.
Owen Bartoszkiewicz, Wichita Falls (NAHL)
A personal favorite of Ryan Kennedy's, Bartoszkiewicz has a tendency to make big saves exactly when his team needs him to – he even refers to himself as a "Money Goalie". He has good size for an NHL prospect and never seems to give up on a play with what scouts describe to be a high compete level. Bartoszkiewicz got most of the starts for the expansion Warriors and was the easy choice for the NAHL's south goalie and rookie of the year awards. Bartoszkiewicz recently committed to play Division I for the University of Minnesota and after a few years of further conditioning, he'll put himself into NHL contention.
Alexei Kolosov, Minsk (KHL)
An overage prospect, Kolosov was originally set to make his North American debut in the OHL with Erie this season, but with that season never getting underway, he has remained in Europe for the time being. Kolosov made a name for himself with Belarus at the 2020 Division IA World Junior Championship en route to bronze, but his adjustment to life in the KHL was impressive for a 19-year-old. His 3-5-1 record was nothing special, but he tied top prospect Yaroslav Askarov in terms of starts from a U-20 netminder. Kolosov's flexibility and athletic style can make him an entertaining goalie to watch, and while entertainment isn't an actual goaltending trait, you can never count him out on a scoring chance. Kolosov is a small goalie and that can be a disadvantage, but he's got the raw abilities that make you take notice.
Patrik Hamrla, Vary (CZE)
Many scouts love Hamrla: he's got NHL-quality size, the talent is clearly there and is unafraid to dive for a puck if needed. Spending time against men is also a huge thing. But those same scouts will pull their hair out because his positioning can be an absolute mess at times. He's a hybrid goalie that makes highlight-reel stops on a consistent basis but other times, he'll push himself out of the crease too far and allow an easy goal. An NHL goalie coach will help temper those issues, so if he's available in the middle rounds, a team might have an interest because of his raw skill alone.
Arseni Sergeyev, Shreveport (NAHL)
A recent commit to the University of Connecticut, Sergeyev comes out of the often-overlooked NAHL, but it's hard to ignore it for much longer. "You can't help but love his confidence," a scout said. "He knows what he's capable of. When he has a bad game, he finds a way to bounce back." That's big for a young goalie, especially one that had to adjust to a new life overseas from his native Russia as a teenager. Sergeyev has good size at 6-foot-3 and he just never gives up on a battle when the game is on the line. Overall, a nice project guy that could become a solid backup with 1B potential if everything goes well in the NCAA.
Joe Vrbetic, North Bay (OHL)
One of the biggest goaltenders in the draft, Vrbetic didn't get a chance to prove he's better than the numbers he posted last year. The 6-foot-6 stopper really figured out how to use his size to his advantage later in his OHL rookie season and scouts say they really like Vrbetic's athleticism for his size. So while his numbers from 2019-20 weren't pretty, he just happened to play on the worst Battalion team since the club moved there for the 2013-14 campaign. There's a ton of raw ability here and a team with a solid foundation could be getting a potential steal here.
Other notables: Carl Lindbom, Djurgarden (SWE), Olivier Adam, Blainville-Boisobriand (QMJHL), Aku Koskenvuo, HIFK (FIN), Emerik Despatie, Gatineau (QMJHL), Carter Serhyenko, Prince Albert (WHL).