The Goaltending Picture
With the signing of goaltender David LeNeveu yesterday, it would appear that the organization's goaltending picture is set.
At the NHL level, there is of course Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon. The goaltending tandem in Springfield as it stands today is Gustaf Wesslau and LeNeveu. The Jackets also have two goaltenders in the college ranks- Allen York and Martin Ouellette. Mathieu Corbeil is plying his trade in the QMJHL.
In terms of talent alone, I believe this is the best top to bottom crop the organization has ever boasted. There are high expectations for most of these guys however, let's take a look at what they're up against:
Steve Mason: Mase is coming off an abysmal sophomore campaign. After winning the Calder trophy the season before, Mase's game slipped drastically. A lot of it had to do with the learning curve that young goaltenders face when making the jump from junior to the NHL. He admitted himself that during his rookie year things came a little too easy for him, and he wasn't prepared to face shooters in year two, shooters that were now armed with "the book" on his game. Preparation is another element that needed to be tweaked, and bringing his junior goaltending coach Dave Rook into the fold helped him salvage his season, statistically speaking. I think most believe Mase learned from his mistakes last season, and is primed for a bounce-back year in 2010-2011.
Mathieu Garon: For most of last season, Garon was the top goaltender in Columbus. He kept the team in games they should have lost by four or five goals. He also helped to keep Mason's head above water when he was struggling. Garon is the consummate backup at this point in his career- he knows his role and will do anything to help the franchise win, whether it's performing at a high level when he's called upon or to give advice and moral support to the team's franchise goaltender. More of the same will be expected from Garon, in this his final year of his contract. Given that, Garon should have a strong campaign while he works toward earning another contract. It remains to be seen if he will be with the Jackets after this upcoming season, a lot of it will hinge on the performance of new goalie Gustaf Wesslau.
Gustaf Wesslau: Unlike a lot of European goaltenders who make the trek over to North America, he is comfortable with the fact that he is penciled in as an AHL goalie. He's still a young man and has time to develop in Springfield. He has a strong resume from his days in Sweden, and it's expected that he brings that success to the Falcons. At this point he is the team's number three goaltender, so he should see time in Columbus, when the inevitable injury bug takes a bite out of Mase or Garon.
David LeNeveu: Slated to battle with Wesslau in Springfield, LeNeveu is a career minor leaguer, who had some success in Europe last season. I first saw him play when my home town of Halifax hosted the 2003 World Junior tournament, and to be honest I was surprised he was named to Team Canada. He served as Marc-Andre Fleury's backup. Unless two goaltenders go down (that would be a nightmare for Columbus) LeNeveu will likely spend the entire season in the AHL, pushing Wesslau.
Mathieu Corbeil: I was very excited when I saw that the Jackets drafted this kid. I have been watching him in Halifax for the past couple of seasons, and though the Mooseheads were a dreadful team you could see the talent and raw tools he possesses. On a good team, I'm sure he would have gone higher in the draft. He's a huge man but unlike other big goalies like J.S. Giguere, he uses athleticism rather than just positioning. Halifax is a much-improved team this year, but there is still a chance he will be traded to a contender. If the Moose struggle out of the gate, he will be a hot commodity. I foresee him being Mason's backup of the future, so he will be brought along slowly. There's no doubt the Jackets will be in constant contact with him throughout the year, giving him advice on improving his game. His focus should be to work on his deficiencies, and lead whichever QMJHL team (hopefully Halifax!) to the playoffs.
Allen York: York just completed an impressive sophomore campaign with RPI. He doesn't face as many top-notch shooters playing in the ECAC, but he needs to continue to build towards a move to the AHL. He fits the mold of recent goaltending prospects for Columbus- he's big, but athletic. It's hard to say if he's on a full four year plan, but a solid season this year and next will certainly facilitate a move to the pros, either the AHL or ECHL.
Martin Ouellete: Color me surprised when the Jackets drafted him in June. He was the second goaltender taken behind Corbeil, and is about to begin his freshman year at Maine. Like York, he won't be facing the best offenses that the NCAA has to offer, but at the end of the day he needs to hold his own, accept coaching and make the push for a transition to the pro level.
There's a chance that the team could sign another goalie before the end of the summer, one who could play in the ECHL and be called upon if there is an injury to one of the NHL or AHL level goalies. In recent seasons the AHL club either signed a goalie to a professional tryout or signed one outright if an injury happened (Dan Taylor from last year comes to mind) but if a decent prospect falls into the Jackets' laps they will sign him.
At any rate it will be a fun year to watch the goaltenders throughout the organization. A bounce-back year from Mason is a must, and watching Wesslau's transition to North America could prove to be exciting. He could be the next big import goalie, joining the likes of Henrik Lundqvist, Niklas Backstrom or Jonas Gustavsson.