LOVELAND, Colo. – Coming into 2018-19, the Colorado Avalanche organization had three goaltenders signed that played the majority (or all) of their time in the AHL or ECHL: Joe Cannata, Pavel Francouz, and Spencer Martin.
This coming season? Cannata is playing in Sweden, Francouz will be backing up Phillip Grubauer in the NHL, and Martin signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning organization.
When it comes to netminding in year two of their AHL existence, it’s fair to say that the Colorado Eagles are back to square one. However, just because last year’s NHL-contracted goalies won’t be appearing for the Eagles or Grizzlies this coming season, it doesn’t mean the Avs/Eagles/Grizzlies affiliation hasn’t reloaded in a significant way.
For simplicity’s sake, we will be focusing on the goaltenders either on NHL or AHL deals for the 2019-20 season (sidebar: the Grizzlies announced the signing of netminder Blake Wojtala on July 26, a month after former Utah goalie Kevin Carr was proclaimed starter for the Nottingham Panthers (EIHL) next season).
McDonald is fresh off his entry-level contract with the Calgary Flames organization, playing for the ECHL’s Kansas City Mavericks in 2018-19 and posting some respectable statistics (23-10-3, 2.54 GAA, .917 SV%). With four non-rostered goalies entering contract years in the Flames’ system (and McDonald the only one hitting free agency), Calgary’s choice to move on from the 23-year-old netminder was an easy one in spite of his resurgence in net. On July 25, the Eagles scooped up McDonald on an AHL deal.
The Sin Bin’s Kansas City Mavericks Analyst, Paige Siewert, covered Mason McDonald during his time in KC the past two seasons:
“McDonald really grew into the role of starting goaltender in his last two years with the Mavericks. He found confidence and chemistry with every other guy in the locker room, and will put it all out there for his teammates. McDonald does not give up, no matter what the score is or how long is left in the game.
“He will deliver highlight reel saves with ease, to the point that regular home fans come to get used to them. He is a classy player on and off the ice, and works hard for every minute of playing time he gets. McDonald has earned his spot in the AHL; I look forward to seeing what he does for the Eagles.”
Although McDonald faltered a bit during last year’s ECHL playoffs (3-3-1, 3.52 GAA, .901 GAA), he seems ready to make the push into the AHL. However, with the depth the other two contending netminders bring to the table, my take is McDonald will spend most (if not all) of 2019-20 down in West Valley City with the Grizzlies. He’ll undoubtedly start ahead of the already-mentioned Wojtala on the depth chart.
Splitting time with Arizona Coyotes prospect Adin Hill the past two seasons in Tuscon, Miska’s stats were steady in 2017-18 (22-9-0, 2.63 GAA, .901 SV%) before dipping in 2018-19 (10-12-1, 3.08 GAA, .895 SV%). With Hill also accruing a losing record last season (16-19-2), an overall team effort could have very well contributed to Miska’s down year. Miska’s two-year, entry-level contract with the Coyotes expired after the 2018-19 season, leaving him open to sign with the Eagles on July 12.
Current Greenville Swamp Rabbits (ECHL) Broadcaster Jordan Kuhns covered Miska during the goalie’s lone season in the USHL with the Dubuque Fighting Saints:
“Hunter was a huge reason the 2015-16 Fighting Saints had a strong season and made it to the Clark Cup Final, and a huge reason University of Minnesota-Duluth made it to the national championship in 2016-17 in only his freshman year.
“He is one of the most flexible, dynamic goalies out there. His game is very similar to Jonathan Quick: he covers the lower part of the net very well, has incredible lateral movement and reverse V-H push off the post, plus he can make big-time saves that you have no idea how he did it. The beginning of his pro career seems to be an adjustment, but knowing how hard he works, it’s only a matter of time until Hunter figures it out.”
Based on firsthand analysis alone, Miska is my favorite for the Eagles’ starting job. He has had championship runs at both the USHL and NCAA levels, so he clearly knows how to win with a proper cast of skaters in front of him. With two complete AHL seasons to his credit, Miska also boasts the most North American pro experience, as well. Undersized as he may be for the modern-day goaltending standard, I still believe Miska gets the go-ahead as the primary netminder for the Eagles next season.
Werner is the only Eagles netminder on an NHL contract, with the Avalanche signing the Swedish goalie to an entry-level deal on May 13. Drafted in the fifth round (131st overall) by the Avs in the 2016 NHL Draft, the 22-year-old has been playing professionally in Sweden for the past three years (two seasons in ‘AAA’ Allsvenskan, one season in the highest-tier SHL). His most recent season in Sweden’s top pro league speaks for itself: a record of 15-9-0, 2.02 GAA, and .926 SV%. Standing at 6’5”, he’s also the tallest of the three AHL goalies featured (McDonald is 6’4” and Miska is 6’1”).
In the video clip below, Mile High Hockey’s Cat Silverman broke down a desperation save from Werner, further explaining the mechanics behind his goaltending:
“The promising aspect of the save is that Werner is able to maintain enough control over his body to effectively reach back and bat the puck away with his paddle, and his tracking seems effective even with the chaos in front of his net.
“But despite playing a good inside-out movement path, keeping him from getting caught hanging out too far from the blue paint, his positioning leaves a lot to be desired. As he adjusts to North America, he’ll need to clean up that kind of extra movement to avoid getting burned by the tighter space around his crease on a smaller rink.
“The good news is that Werner seems to play to his height strength, staying fairly conservative in his crease instead of playing aggressively to allow for extra movements. And while he doesn’t seem to have overly agile movements, he does move quickly enough to suggest that his numbers this season aren’t just a fluke; he could be quite good, he’ll just need a little extra work to get there.”
As Silverman stated, there will more than likely be a learning curve for a goaltender outside of the United States and Canada coming into the AHL. Werner has improved in every season of his three-year career. Should that trajectory hold true stateside, he may find himself playing beyond the AHL, backing up Grubauer in the NHL. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves…my forecast is that Miksa and Werner split time as starters for the Eagles next year, with Miska as 1A and Werner as 1B to start the season.