FanPost

Who is the future in net for the Edmonton Oilers?

by: @paulvechkin

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched the Oilers over the past 20 years that sustainable NHL quality goaltending has been a major issue for the franchise since the departure of Cujo back in the late 1990s. Sure, there has been the odd season of quality goaltending since then under guys like Tommy Salo, Dwayne Roloson, Devan Dubnyk Cam Talbot, and Mikko Koskinen, but there has yet to be a 5-year span of consistent, quality goaltending in Oil Country. The Oilers appear to have dabbled in the goaltending market this summer, kicking the tires on credible NHL goalies like Jacob Markstrom, Matt Murray, and Thomas Greiss, but ultimately decided to bring back 38 year old Mike Smith and his 0.902 save percentage to handle the load with Koskinen. I have a lot of time for Mikko Koskinen, as you should as well, he’s a middle tier NHL starting goalie, and in todays NHL that’s all you really need to win, anything above league average goaltending is a luxury.

Mikko’s 2019-2020 Season

Statistic (2019-2020 Season)

Rank (min 30 GP)

Save Percentage (NHL.com): 0.917

12th

Goals Against (NHL.com): 2.75

21st

Goals Saved Above Average (Hockey Reference.com): 9.25

13th

Splice it however, you want, but Koskinen was at the very least an average NHL starting goalie for the Oilers last season. The issue is that Koskinen is 32 years old and only has 101 NHL games under his belt (regular season and playoffs). Not many goalies maintain, or improve their level of play into their mid to late 30s. Sure, there are the odd exceptions with guys like Hendrik Lundqvist, who played well up to his 34 year old season, but that’s only two years away for Koskinen, and even the biggest Koskinen supporter will admit he is far from being Lundqvist. Koskinen’s contract situation (two more seasons at a 4.5mil cap hit), also suggests we should not expect him to be the goalie of the future.

So, who is in the system?

Currently the Oilers possess four notable goaltending prospects (in no particular order). Here is a look at how each of the four prospects performed last year, and so far this season:

· Ilya Konovalov: 22 y/o, 5’11 196lbs – 3rd Round 85th Overall in 2019

o 2020-2021: Yaroslav Lokomotiv (KHL): 9GP, 0.927 Save%, 2.19 GAA

o 2019-2020: Yaroslav Lokomotiv (KHL): 40GP, 0.912 Save%. 2.45 GAA

· Olivier Rodrigue: 20 y/o, 6’1, 156lbs – 2nd Round 62nd Overall in 2018

o 2020-2021: Graz EC (Austria): 9GP, 0.897 Save%, 3.45 GAA

o 2019-2020: Moncton (QMJHL): 39GP, 0.918 Save%, 3.32 GAA

· Stuart Skinner: 22 y/o, 6’4 206lbs – 3rd Round 78th Overall in 2017

o 2019-2020: Bakersfield (AHL): 41GP, 0.892 Save%, 3.31 GAA

o 2019-2020: Wichita (ECHL): 3GP, 0.894 Save%, 3.62 GAA

o Not currently playing in 2020

· Dylan Wells: 22 y/o, 6’2 188lbs – 5th Round 123rd Overall in 2016

o 2019-2020: Wichita (ECHL): 10GP, 0.871 Save%, 4.98 GAA

o 2019-2020: Bakersfield (AHL): 7GP, 0.878 Save%, 3.77 GAA

o Not currently playing in 2020

With all due respect to Mr. Wells, I have yet to see any media personnel, blog, or major sports network see him as a viable NHL prospect for the Oilers, so for the purposes of this discussion, I will be focusing on Konovalov, Rodrigue, and Skinner.

Recently various media members have begun releasing their rankings on the Oilers current prospect pool. Concerning the three aforementioned goalie prospects above, some of the ranking were as such:

Prospect

Bob Stauffer (Oilers Now)

Craig Button (TSN)

Copper and Blue – Top 25 Under 25 (SB Nation)

Cult of Hockey (Edmonton Journal)

Stuart Skinner

10th

10th

19th

12th

Olivier Rodrigue

9th

Not ranked in the top 10

18th

9th

Ilya Konovalov

Not ranked in the top 10

9th

16th

17th

If you were to average out these rankings Olivier Rodrigue averages out to be the most highly regarded goalie prospect for the Edmonton Oilers (based on these four rankings), followed by Skinner and Konovalov respectfully, but does the statistics and projections support this order? I don’t think so, in fact I believe only Copper and Blue and Craig Button have the top goalie prospect correctly identified. Ilya Konovalov is the best goalie prospect in the pipeline, and in my opinion, it is not particularly close. I'd even go as far as to argue he's the 3rd best prospect after Bouchard and Broberg.

Who is Ilya Konovalov?

As mentioned earlier, Ilya Konovalov was the Oilers 3rd round pick in the 2019 NHL entry draft with the 85th overall pick. As some of you may have noticed by now, Konovalov was passed over in the NHL Entry Draft twice, both in 2017 and 2018. In fact, he is the same age as Stuart Skinner who was drafted with a similar pick two years prior. The fact that Konovalov was drafted two years later than his 1998 birth year dictates he "should" have been, likely works against him in the eyes of many evaluators. In 2017 (the year Konovalov was first eligible for the draft, Konovalov was playing in the MHL (Russian Junior League) where he played 36 games between the regular season and playoff. In the regular season, he posted a .920 Save% to go along with a 1.9 GAA average. In the playoffs he improved and posted a 0.931 Save% and a 1.67GAA. Numbers like that in the CHL would surely have got him drafted, likely in the first round. For comparison, Carey Price posted a 0.920 Save% and a 2.34 GAA in 2004-2005 and was selected 5th Overall. What likely happened here, is the quality of competition in the MHL is seen a serious step down in talent from the CHL in the eyes of scouts and draft experts, leading Konovalov’s performance to not be taken at face value. If we compare Konovalov’s first draft eligible year (regular season only) to Skinner and Rodrigues’s (both drafted their first year of eligibility):

League

Games Played

Save %

Goals Against

Record

Konovalov

2016-2017

MHL

32

0.920

1.90

17-11-3

Skinner

2016-2017

WHL

60

0.905

3.26

34-18-2

Rodrigue

2017-2018

QMJHL

53

0.903

2.54

31-16-1

Now, I am not sure what the equivalency of the CHL to the MHL is, but it apparently was enough to overlook a 0.15 difference in Save% and a 0.64 GAA difference between Konovalov and his closest competitor in each category. Just for comparisons sake, a 0.15 difference in save% is the difference between Tukka Rask and James Reimer, and a 0.64 GAA would be the difference between Tukka Rask and Mikko Koskinen. I think we can all agree Rask is a significant upgrade over Reimer and Mikko.

Let’s now skip a few years for each goalie and jump to Konovalov’s actual draft year, 2019 (his D2 season) and compare it to Skinner and Rodrigue’s respective D2 seasons.

League

Games Played

Save %

Goals Against

Record

Konovalov

2018-2019

KHL

45

0.930

1.89

25-15-1

Skinner

2018-2019

ECHL

AHL

41

6

0.903

0.879

3.16

2.99

15-14-7

4-2-0

Rodrigue

2019-2020

QMJHL

39

0.918

2.32

31-7-1

In the D2 season for each player, the gap between Konovalov and the two Canadians becomes much wider. In the case of Konovalov, he is playing in the KHL, widely regarded as the 2nd best pro-league in the world, and he’s dominating. At 20 years old, Konovalov is ranking 11th in Save%, 7th in GAA, and 4th in wins in the entire KHL. Skinner is having first year struggles adapting to pro-hockey, but that is to be expected for a rookie goaltender. Rodrigue has been traded to a powerhouse Moncton team and is thriving, as a highly touted 20-year-old net minder should. At this point all three goalies are remaining viable prospects, however what Konovalov is doing in the KHL as a 20 year old is elite and very rare. Here is how to ranks compared to other well regarded Russian born goaltending prospects in their 20 year old seasons in the KHL:

League

Games Played

Save %

Goals Against

Record

Konovalov

EDM

2018-2019

KHL

45

0.930

1.89

25-15-1

Igor Shesterkin

NYR

2016-2017

KHL

39

0.937

1.64

27-4-6

Ilya Sorokin

NYI

2016-2017

KHL

39

0.929

1.61

25-7-6

Shesterkin and Sorokin are both their respective teams "goalies" of the future based on their success in the KHL, and NHL in the case of Shesterkin. Craig Button in his "Top 50 NHL-Affiliated Prospects" article, ranked Shersterkin as the top overall prospect in the NHL, and Ilya Sorokin ranked 13th (Konovalov did not make the list). By comparing them to Konovalov, things look eerily similar. All three were drafted with mid rounds picks, both Konovalov and Sorokin 3rd rounders, Shesterkin the 4th. All three were full time KHL starters by 20 years old, all three posted sub 2.00 GAAs and 0.929+ Save%, and all won at least 25 games for their respective clubs. So, why are two of these goalies celebrated as "the answers in goal", and why is one widely considered to be only the 2nd or even 3rd best goaltending prospect for their team?

To me there are three main reasons for this:

1. The Russian Factor:

Yes I am aware that all 3 goalies above are Russian, but the "Russian Factor" in Canada, and especially in Edmonton is still alive and well. The more established media in Edmonton has always been more critical of Russian born players than their North American/Nordic European counterparts. Whether it’s fear of them leaving/staying in the KHL at any moment, not being willing to leave high paying jobs in the KHL to ride the bus in the AHL to develop, or is just good old ethnocentrism, there is still a bias in favour of Canadian born players in Edmonton. Statistically speaking, there is no solid argument in favor of either Skinner, or Rodrigue to be more highly touted than Konovalov as a prospect. He’s has been putting up better numbers, in a better league for years now, and somehow is still overlooked by some.

2. His Height:

The year is 2020 and still we are discussing size when it comes to a player’s ability to be successful in the NHL. Over the past few years we have done a good job of moving away from the idea that all forwards need to be 6’0 and 200lbs to play with the "real men", and that all defenders need to be 6’3 225lbs of pure "grit", well most of us have at least… But for some reason the idea that goalies need to be 6’5 giants still exists. Sure, would I like all my goalies to be as tall at the 6’7 Mikko Koskinen, yah absolutely, being bigger does result in more body mass for pucks to hit, which is logical. However, does a player NEED to be that tall to stop a puck effectively? No. The NHL is becoming faster paced, and more and more athletic. The physical freaks are still out there, but now their size is secondary to their skill. Ilya Konovalov is somewhere between 5’10 and 6’0 depending on what website you use (Hockeydb and Elite Prospects both have him at 5’11), that is small compared to most NHL goaltenders, however, and this may be groundbreaking news, he has never been any taller than he is now, and his numbers have always been elite. Either height does not matter, or he has found a way to be successful despite being "short". There is no evidence to suggest that his height will suddenly be more impactful at the NHL level than it has been at the KHL level, to write him off simply because he’s sub 6’0 would be the equivalent of saying Kailer Yamamoto is too short at 5’9, to play against the boards in the NHL. Anyone who has watched KY play knows he has adapted his game to accommodate his smaller frame. Why do we not give Konovalov the same opportunity?

3. He’s an Over-Ager:

Perhaps the reason most people doubt Konovalov is the fact that her was skipped over twice in the NHL draft. That means 30 teams passed on him 14 times each in a span of two years. How could he be any good if not one team was willing to take a chance of him for two season? That is actually the easiest one of the three arguments against to dispel. Ilya Konovalov was playing in the MHL (Russian Junior League) as a 17 year old in his draft year, very few players each year are drafted from this league, and not many of these players are goalies. In his second eligible draft year, Konovalov was bouncing around between Russia’s three main leagues, the MHL, the VHL (Russian version of the AHL), and the KHL. That season he played 31 games between the three leagues, starting 7-12 games in each league (his Save% was 0.933 in his 7 KHL appearances). He also dressed two games for the Russian U20 team that year, although he did not play in either. It is unlikely that one scout saw enough games in any one league to be able to make a real decision on his abilities. In 2018-2019 however, he played exclusively in the KHL, started 45 games, and warranted a 3rd round pick from the Oilers. You never seen 20-year-old over-agers drafted that high. Normally they are free agent signings, or 7th round picks. The fact the Oilers felt they needed to use a top 100 pick on him, shows a clear level of interest league wide.

So, how does Konovalov project going forward?

To put it as simply and biasedly as I can, he’s the answer in net, or at the very least, the most likely answer of the three Oilers goal prospects to be the answer. Now I am no analytics expert, nor am I a scout, and I won’t every claim to be, but I get my information from people who are. Once such person is Bryan Bader of HockeyProspecting.com. His data and charts on player projections, probabilities, and scouting are some of the best in the analytics community, and as of December 1, 2020, he now has goaltenders available on his site. All of the tables below are from HockeyProspecting.com, with these tables we can not only compare Konovalov to the other two main goaltending prospects, but also to some notable young talented goaltenders who are either established NHL starters, or top tier prospects.

As you can see here, Konovalov in now in his D4 year (age 22), and according to Bader’s model, has an 81% chance of being an NHL goaltender, a 54% increase since he was first draft eligible, and a 13% increase from his odds when he was actually drafted. Skinner on the other hand current is a coin flip in turns of projecting to be an NHLer, the issue here being his odds have decreased since his draft year. Now let’s look at Olivier Rodrigue:

Again, we see a similar theme; Konovalov looks much more favorable than Rodrigue, with Bader’s model being the least optimistic on Rodrigue’s potential NHL career. Based on Bader’s model, as their statistical performances since their draft eligible years, I believe it is obvious that Konovalov is the top Oilers prospect.

Now, Comparing Konovalov to some notable NHL goaltenders. Since I used Shesterkin and Sorokin above as comparable, let’s start there:

Konovalov’s chart is above so I won’t post it again:

Here we can see that in their D3 years all three goalies look very similar, however in their D4 Sorokin has broken into the 90% probability while the other two were lower in the 80s. Konovalov is currently does not have D5 information yet, but it stands to reason his probability will remain high, maybe not to the levels of Sorokin or Shesterkin however as both appear locks to be impact NHL goaltenders.

Perhaps my favorite comparison that I have found with Bader’s Goalie Comparison tool is Konovalov vs. Carter Hart, and Oilers fans, this will make you happy.

Carter Hart is widely considered to be one of, if not the top young goalie in the NHL. Look at any Canadian Olympic roster projections and odds are he is one of the three goalies on the list. Hart has provided hope to Flyers fans, who may have had worse luck with goaltending than any other team in NHL history. Comparing Konovalov to Hart show’s two goalies with very very similar career paths, especially in the D3 and D4 years. If Carter Hart is being penciled in for Team Canada and Vezina trophies, shouldn’t his Russian comparable be considered in similar ilk? Both are 1998 birth years, both solidified their NHL odds in their D3 years, the similarities are eerie. The only difference is three inches of height, and the fact that one was drafted two years after the other, that’s it. Is that enough to merit one as the franchise savior, and the other as a prospect not worth mentioning by some in the hockey media? I don’t think so.

Oiler fans, the future in net is bright, and that future is Ilya Konovalov.