While much of the criticism levied at Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman is focused around an inability to make the struggling NHL club bigger, or tougher, or better on defense and in goal, the reality is Yzerman has made quite a few moves since taking over the franchise in an effort to solidify the future in net.
While he didn't draft a goalie in his first NHL Entry Draft during the summer of 2010, since then he has drafted at least one each year, brought former 1st round draft pick Riku Helenius back from Finland, sent a small ransom to the Nashville Predators for Anders Lindback, flipped fan-favorite forward Cory Conacher for Ben Bishop, and swapped the once-promising Dustin Tokarski for Cedrick Desjardins.
To say that Steve Yzerman is not always actively looking to improve the goaltending situation is patently false, and these moves paint a very clear picture of his overall strategy -- spread your chips around on promising young goalies, give them an opportunity to develop, and hope that one becomes an elite NHL starter.
One such chip is Adam Wilcox, goaltender for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, who was drafted out of the USHL in 2011 (6th round, 178th overall).
Here's how the panel ranked him:
|Kyle Alexander||John Fontana||Clark Brooks||Clare Austin||Patti McDonald||Mike Gallimore|
At just 6'0, 186 lbs., Wilcox doesn't really fit the physical mold of the prototypical Yzerman goalie (see Bishop, Ben or Lindback, Anders), but he does fit in with the current cadre of netminders due to the way he plays in net.
Raw Charge staffer Clare Austin on Wilcox's style:
Watching video of Wilcox, he and Kristers Gudlevskis are fairly similar, which may not mean anything to anyone. Both are what I've come to think of as a typical Yzerman draft picks: guys with explosive movement and dynamic instincts who need taming. Wilcox is very aggressive, up very high in the crease, up on his toes, hands active. In some ways all that's helpful, given his size, but there are certainly "small" guys who rely less on depth and more on posture. I love the way he stays on his skates that extra half second rather than dropping to the ice as early as a lot of kids do. Again, that's part of playing where he does; staying on the skates maximizes lateral mobility as well as allows him to telescope with more control. That's a tricky thing to get right, though. He'll get victimized by that when he starts playing pro and will have to adjust as he learns to read plays at pro speed.
But it's been hard for me to get a lot of access to good video of his season at Minnesota, so it's hard to confirm exactly what kind of progress he's made. He's very young, though, and needs much more experience to be able to grow into a professional game.
As Clare noted, Wilcox is still a very young and raw prospect. He started his freshman season at the University of Minnesota this past season in what was supposed to be a rotation with junior goalie Michael Shibrowski, but an injury and poor performance in net hampered Shibrowski early in the year. Wilcox took the starting job and ran away with it -- Shibrowski managed only 3 appearances the whole season (including 2 starts), while Wilcox appeared in 39 games as a freshman and started the team's final 37 games of the season, finishing with a 25-8-5 record, and a .921 save percentage on the year, stellar numbers for a rookie goalie in the NCAA/WCHA.
He was the HCA Division 1 rookie of the month for November (also winning mutliple rookie of the week awards along the way) and was named to the All-WCHA Third Team at the end of the season, solidifying himself as one of the top young goalie prospects in all of college hockey.
Wilcox is a flashy reflex-based goalie with visibly high levels of athleticism and competitiveness. He loves to be active moving the puck up the ice and has very quick hands and feet.
It's been a while since the Lightning have had a goalie known for his puck-moving abilities, but try to forget all the times Mike Smith made you wince in net (or rather, when he came out of his net):
As always with goaltenders that like to play the puck, decision-making and on-ice vision/awareness are key, because one mistake very easily becomes a goal against. Continuing to develop these traits with at least one more season at the Unviersity of Minnesota will be key for Wilcox, who now has the added pressure of a strong start to his college career and the weight on his shoulders of being the presumptive starter for what should be a championship-contending team.
He's likely at least one full year away from joining the Lightning organization, but after he wraps up his college career (be it after his sophomore, junior, or senior seasons) expect him to make the jump straight to the AHL Syracuse Crunch, assuming there's a spot open for him there when he does decide to leave college.