by Corey Pronman
Canada dropped their final World Juniors preliminary game versus Sweden by a score of 5-3, where projected starting netminder Mark Visentin let in 4 goals on 17 shots and was pulled for Scott Wedgewood. Visentin, a Coyotes first round pick in 2010, was the victim of some criticism on twitter and other outlets afterwards as Canadians aren’t quick to forget his meltdown in the Gold Medal game last winter.
Visentin and Hockey Canada have also faced some public scrutiny when Head Coach Don Hay said during the selection camp it was Visentin’s job to lose. Here were the candidates invited to Canada’s camp:
Name 2011-12 SV% Career %
Mark Visentin (OHL) .899 .906
Scott Wedgewood (OHL) .904 .906
Tyler Bunz (WHL) .922 .910
Louis Domingue (QMJHL) .924 N/A
And two others who were not invited:
Calvin Pickard (WHL) .911 .911
Malcolm Subban (OHL) .938 .915
I would be lying if I didn’t hear some opinions within the NHL industry about some of the goaltending decisions made by Hockey Canada. From cutting Tyler Bunz, to not even offering Calvin Pickard a chance, the only player amongst this group who can claim to three consecutive years of having a SV% over .910 in the CHL, a feat Scott Wedgewood has yet to accomplish once.
If you remove Mark Visentin’s worst season, his 16 year old campaign it bumps his career SV% up to .911. Of course, just about any CHL goalie’s worst season will be his 16 year old one so I’m not trying to make an avocation for Mark using that kind of selective sampling, but more or less to make an argument for Pickard.
That isn’t to take away from Visentin though. Despite a horrible season, there is reason to be optimistic about last year’s OHL Goaltender of the Year who posted a .917 save percentage and a .929 in 14 playoff games. The guy has some tools. He’s got a well filled out frame, he moves very well, he’s athletic, he can play the puck well, he competes hard, and he’s well-conditioned. When Visentin was drafted he was seen as the kind of prospect who has all these nice pieces that could one day come together to make a desirable asset, but was lacking a little bit in the refined aspects of stopping the puck but still did that at a fine level. Then next year took a step forward on that front and combined with his athletic and intangible assets was looking like a player who could possibly get to the NHL by 2013.
Visentin has been bad this year, but he’s not this bad. Goalies perform wildly in small samples, which is what his 21 games so far in the OHL have been. Of course one cannot sweep that to the side, as it has to be mounted on to his career totals to build evidence for or against his case. His true talent level, based on a numerical standpoint indicate he was one of Canada’s weaker options in net to choose from, but on a tools level I could at least argue he was average, and if you wanted to look at him from purely an athletic tools standpoint and not things more goalie-specific it would be above-average.
One could certainly argue there were better options for Team Canada at the number two or one spot for goaltending, and to be honest on a scouting and stats level, I likely would have gone with Calvin Pickard last year, and this year as well. The truth is though despite all the words I’m writing on this matter, it likely won’t matter.
That’s not to say goaltending won’t matter. It always does in every hockey game at any level. However the thing is you only need to have paid marginal attention to save percentage numbers for goalies across leagues to see the wild variation in performance over weeks, months and seasons. Good goalies play bad in small samples, bad goalies play well, and mostly because the position is highly dependent on random chance. I won’t cite NHL level studies, just because those are researches based on that individual talent distribution across the NHL goalie population, but simple common sense understands that if you have an average goalie for a certain competitive level, you cannot put any weight into a four to six game performance because it won’t get anywhere close to indicative of his true talent. That it was what the World Juniors is.
Canada going with Visentin to start isn’t what I would call the greatest move, but they probably like his tools and he’s an incumbent. Even if they went with any of the other options, the difference in what the alternative would produce when you account for randomness will be very marginal at best.