February 04, 2018

Europe vs. North America – who’ll have the first goaltender in the 2018 draft?

They likely won’t go in the first round, but Jakub Skarek and Alexis Gravel are the goalies to watch in this year’s NHL draft. Photo: Getty Images

Rarely do you see a goaltender get selected in the first round of the NHL draft. Well, rarely is a somewhat strong word for it, but in the context of comparing goaltenders to defenders and forwards it is rare to see a netminder in the first round – especially in the early parts of it. This isn’t due to some grand conspiracy where NHL scouts and executives collude to exclude goaltenders from being selected in the first round. Mostly, it comes down to the fact that goaltending is a position that takes quite a while to master at the pro level. As such, it takes a considerably longer time to develop goalie prospects than it does defenders and forwards meaning a goalie selection in the first round is a bigger gamble than a steady two-way defender or a high-scoring forward.

You are not likely to see a goaltender selected in the first round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft either. Skip to the second round though and you stumble across two behemoth-sized goaltending prospects – Alexis Gravel and Jakub Skarek – in what will likely come down to a battle between Europe and North America on who gets selected first.

The younger of the two prospects, Alexis Gravel, was born in March of 2000 and is of German heritage, but holds a Canadian citizenship as well. Gravel has been playing hockey in North America for the better part of his hockey career and is currently ranked as the #1 goaltender in North America by NHL Central Scouting.

Jakuk Skarek, a late 99-born prospect, hails from Jihlava in the Czech Republic and has spent the vast majority of his playing days with the same organization:  HC Dukla Jihlava. He is ranked #1 out of all goaltenders currently in Europe.

Both goaltenders are 6’3” (191 cm) and around 200 lbs (90-100 kg) and considering their age, both have the potential to grow even bigger before they reach the pro level. Gravel is the favorite for now, at least according to Future Considerations (Gravel is ranked 44th overall with Skarek coming in at 71st overall), but has been struggling a bit this season in the QMJHL for his Halifax Mooseheads. Last season Gravel started 50 games as a 16-year old and put up a respectable .894 save percentage with a goals against average of 3.36. The hope was that there would be significant improvement in his draft year and while his numbers are slightly better – .895 % and 3.22 GAA – Gravel has yet to take that next step in his development.

Skarek on the other hand has seen quite an improvement in his quality of competition while still putting up good numbers. Last season Skarek featured in 28 games for HC Dukla Jihlava in the Czech second division, posting a .925 save percentage and 2.11 GAA. He then helped the team get promoted to the Czech top league for this season. This season Skarek has played 18 games and is currently boasting a 2.60 GAA with an even .900 save percentage. He also featured in five games for the Czech Republic in the 2018 World Junior Championships.

It appears likely Gravels extensive experience in North American hockey, both in terms of how the game is played and the size of the NA rinks, will tip the scales in his favor but don’t count Skarek out just yet. Should he continue to put up solid numbers for Dukla Jihlava it might just be enough for an NHL team to be willing to take a chance on the European goaltender.

Regardless of where Gravel and Skarek are selected, they will have to work hard to earn their stripes and become pro-level goaltenders but both certainly have the size and skill to do so.

Let the battle begin.


Hampus Duvefelt hampus_duvefelt@live.se
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