Cam Ward has been the Hurricanes workhorse in goal for so long that it sometimes feels like the fans take him for granted. He'll have his share of bad starts and is coming off a rough, injury plagued season, but he has given the Hurricanes above-average goaltending for the better part of his career. Since 2009, he has the 12th highest save percentage of any starting goalie in the league. That doesn't put him in elite company, but he ranks well on that list and finding a goalie who can consistently give you above-average goaltending or a chance to win every night is something that a lot of teams wish they had.
Carolina got a little taste of what life without Ward is like during the latter half of the season and it wasn't pretty. I've stated before that Ward's injury wasn't the main reason why Carolina ended up missing the playoffs, but they probably wouldn't have gone on the skid that they did with average or above average goaltending. Back-up goaltender Dan Ellis might have been able to give them that for a handful of games, but his effectiveness dropped off after he got hurt. Justin Peters was also very poor in a 1 A/B role down the stretch and that contributed to the Hurricanes woes.
Finding a suitable back-up for Ward has been an issue ever since he took over the starting role in 2006-07 and finding an heir apparent for him is going to be an even more difficult task. Ward turned only 29 this February, so he still has plenty of years ahead of him, but the Canes will need to groom someone to take over for him eventually and right now, they don't really have anyone who can do that. Not that there is a huge rush to do so, but it's something that the Canes will need to address sooner or later. Even if they plan on keeping Ward for the remainder of his career, grooming a back-up for him would be a wise option. They tried to do that with Peters and he still hasn't worked out, so it might be time to move onto someone else.
The problem with drafting and developing goalies from within is that they take longer to break into the league than any other position. Their stock also changes on a yearly basis and their performance is generally unpredictable. I also believe that goalie development is rooted in how they are coached, so having a a good goalie coach or trainer can go a long way. This is why some teams prefer signing free agent goaltenders or an older prospect from Europe instead of using a draft pick on a teenager and waiting 5-7 years to see what they have in him. You generally never know what you'll get with goalies on a yearly basis, so tracking their development can be frustrating. I'm sure a lot of teams feel this way because a little under half of the starting goaltenders in the league last season played for the team that originally drafted or signed them.
That being said, the Hurricanes didn't have much depth at the goaltender position until last year's draft when they took two goaltenders, both of whom are still teenagers and years away from the NHL. They also decided to not sign Matt Mahalak, their 6th round pick from 2011, so they are still pretty thin at goalie even after last year's draft. After the jump, we'll go over their progress and talk about some of the other goalies in the Canes system.
Daniel Altshuller: 2012 3rd Round Pick, 6'4", 201 lbs.
Birthplace: Nepean, Ontario
Altshuller had a good season in his second year with the Oshawa Generals. His numbers improved from last season and he was their #1 goaltender for most of the year. He also ranked ninth in save percentage among OHL goaltenders and his goals against average improved dramatically from the previous season. To sum it up, Altshuller made a lot of progress and Hurricanes fans should be encouraged about his development. His overall save percentage still isn't great, but he did well compared to other OHL goalies. Junior hockey is always more high scoring than other leagues so there aren't a lot of goalies who post high save percentages like we've seen in the NHL in recent years. I am interested to see how much Altshuller's numbers improve as he gets older, though. He is only 18 years old and has a ways to go but he is at least making progress right now.
Another thing that is encouraging about Altshuller and his devleopment is that he is a pretty big goaltender and is very good positionally. That will definitely help him in the NHL. His rebound control, however, needs some work and his lateral movement is also a little slow judging from the Oshawa games I've watched. He has the makings of a solid NHL goalie even with those concerns, though it will probably be years before he gets to that level.
Collin Olson: 2012 6th Round Pick, 6'3, 197 lbs.
Birthplace: Apple Valley, Minnesota
|2010-11||16||U.S. National Development Team||USHL||19||1099||52||3||2.84||10||8||1||483||0.900|
|2011-12||17||U.S. National Development Team||USHL||16||846||36||1||2.55||7||6||1||316||0.900|
|2012-13||18||Ohio State University||CCHA||9||407||21||0||3.09||2||3||1||191||0.900|
As of right now, there isn't much we know about Olson's development because he played in so few games last year. He was a freshman at Ohio State and it was difficult for him to get playing time behind senior Brady Hjelle, who got the bulk of the starts in goal. Olson should get more starts next year, though and we'll know more about him after that. His numbers in limited action weren't terribly impressive, but they aren't anything to panic over because he played so sparingly. Hopefully Carolina will know more about him by this time next year. NCAA goalies generally take awhile to figure out if they don't get immediate playing time, which appears to be the case with Olson.
Mike Murphy: 2008 6th Round Pick, 5'11", 165 lbs.
Birthplace: Kingston, Ontario
|2009-10||20||Albany River Rats||AHL||20||1109||52||2||2.81||10||9||0||578||0.920|
Murphy left the Hurricanes last summer to pursue a career in the AHL. Needless to say, that didn't go as well as he hoped and he ended up back with the Checkers towards the end of the year. The Hurricanes qualified him last year, so he can stay with the organization if he wants and he might stick around if there are no other options available. Murphy might not have too many options, though since he wasn't good in the KHL and the Hurricanes own his RFA rights, which means that he could start next season in Charlotte. The question is will the Hurricanes want to keep him?
At 24, Murphy is at the stage where the Hurricanes need to find out if he has a future in the NHL at all. Based on his stint in the KHL, I'm leaning towards saying no but he is probably worth taking a chance on with the Hurricanes goalie depth being the shape it's in now. If Justin Peters starts the year in the NHL then that leaves Charlotte in need of a goalie, which is a void that Murphy could fill. Goalie performance is unpredictable and Murphy has succeeded in the AHL in the past. He could even have a chance to make the NHL if the Canes don't find a back-up goalie. If Murphy gets whatever happened to him last year out of his system, then he can probably be a serviceable AHL goaltender, which could be an immediate need for the Canes. How he performs next year or after that is anyone's guess. He could be great, he could be average or he could be awful. That's generally how goalies work.
John Muse: Undrafted, 5'11", 185 lbs.
Birthplace: East Falmouth, Massachusetts
Muse is a good example of how random goaltending performance can be. He went undrafted out of college and the Checkers signed him in 2011. Muse spent that year playing in both the AHL & ECHL and he was excellent in both leagues. He gave the Checkers elite-level goaltending in the 15 games he played in and also helped the Florida Everblades win the Kelly Cup. This prompted the Hurricanes to give him a one-year, two-way contract and unfortunately, his play fell off dramatically.
He started the year in the ECHL after the Checkers signed Dan Ellis to be their #2 goalie and his numbers there were just awful. Despite that, Muse would still be called up to the AHL after the NHL work stoppage ended and his performance there wasn't much better. It's funny what a difference a year can make. Muse looked like a potentail steal at this time last year and now he looks like he is barely an ECHL goalie and it's really tough to say what happened to him. Other teams have a year's worth of tape on him now, so that could have contributed to his struggles but I don't think anyone expected his play to decline this much. Regardless, he is a free agent this year and I can't see the Hurricanes or the Checkers re-signing him. Charlotte has a need for a goalie now, but I think they will probably give Rob Madore a contract over Muse.
To sum things up, the Hurricanes don't have a lot of promising goaltending prospects and virtually no one who can step in as the team's back-up within the next year or two. The only one who fits into that category is Murphy and his status with the team is currently a huge question mark. As for someone who can step in as Ward's replacement in due time, Altshuller could be that guy but it will be awhile before the team knows what they have in him.
So yes, this is a position that should be addressed but I don't think drafting a goalie is the right way to go because of how volatile their performance is. Their prospect status can change on a yearly basis and you have to invest a lot of time in them before you know what you have. Justin Peters' development is a good example of this, as the team spent a second round pick on him in 2004 and the team still doesn't know what they have in him. Going the free agent route or signing an older "prospect" from Europe might be the better way to go when it comes time to replace Cam Ward, as the Hurricanes will have less of a waiting period with them. It's also possible that one of Altshuller or Olson can be a starter in due time, but it will be awhile before we know if that is the case.