Friday, July 10, 2015

Canucks 2015 prospect development camp invitees: goaltenders

The Canucks' goaltending depth took a hit this off-season, as they traded Eddie Lack to the Carolina Hurricanes and chose not to qualify RFA Joacim Eriksson after he signed in the KHL. Meanwhile, goaltender of the future Thatcher Demko will head back to Boston College in the Fall and is at least two years away from competing for a job in the NHL.

Though the Canucks still have Joe Cannata and signed journeyman Richard Bachman to compete for starts in the AHL, they could still use another goaltender to start in the ECHL and step up to the AHL in case of injury.

That makes the goaltenders the most interesting group of invitees. There's a real need for another goaltender in the system and these invitees represent a cheap and easy way to plug that hole.

This is the final instalment of invitee profiles, having already covered the forwards and defencemen. Here are the four free agent goaltenders invited to development camp: Matt Ginn, John McLean, Jackson Whistle, and Clay Witt.

Apologies for not having this up a couple days ago as I had planned, but my wife went into labor a week early and our third son was born on July 8th. Understandably, I've been a bit busy over the last couple days.


Matt Ginn – Goaltender
5’11″ – 176 lbs – February 17, 1991 (24)
Lindsay, ON
College of the Holy Cross/Florida Everblades

Ginn steadily improved over the course of his college career, putting up a stellar .931 save percentage in his senior year last season, a school record and good for 6th in the NCAA. He also holds a school record for career shutouts, with 8, and career saves. He also had the unusual honour of being his team's captain. Ginn was one of just four seniors on the team and was voted captain by his teammates.

Ginn is described as competitive and consistent and is also a talented puck handler outside of his net, with his coach saying, "He's like a third defenceman." When he missed time with an injury last season, the team went on a losing skid; they needed him to win games as they didn't have a strong offence.

This past season, he was a nominee for the Mike Richter Award for the most outstanding goaltender in the NCAA and was named to the All-Atlantic Hockey First Team: essentially a first team all-star in the Atlantic Hockey Division. He was also under consideration for the Hobey Baker Award.

His performance with Holy Cross was enough to get him his first professional deal, signing an amateur tryout with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL, where he continued his strong play, posting a shutout in his professional debut. The Everblades didn't make it easy on him either, as they were outshot 16-1 in the first period, but he stopped them all and made 34 saves overall.

In his 7 games in the ECHL, Ginn went 5-1-0-1 with a .932 save percentage and 2.12 goals against average. The top save percentage in the ECHL last season was .936, and Ginn's .932 would have been good enough for second in the league if he had kept it that high over a full season.

Of the four goaltenders at camp, Ginn is the one that intrigues me the most, as he put up great numbers at Holy Cross and showed that he could do the same in a small sample size in the ECHL. He could be a solid ECHL starter next year and the best bet for the Canucks among these invitees.


John McLean – Goaltender
6’9″ – 210 lbs – January 9, 1990 (25)
Eagan, MN
Gustavus Adolphus College/Pensacola Ice Flyers

McLean has captured a lot of attention at Canucks camp simply because of his size. He's a foot taller than the shortest player at camp, Jordan Subban, and the crossbar comes up to his waist when he stands up straight in goal.

At 6'9", McLean is as tall as Zdeno Chara, the tallest player in the NHL, and two inches taller than Ben Bishop, the tallest goaltender in the NHL.

He wasn't always the tallest goaltender around, however: he was 5'10" when he started high school and 6'4" when he graduated, but he just kept growing. In 2012, he was 6'8". He's added another inch since.

The goaltender known as "Big John" just finished off his college career, where he posted some pretty good numbers, finishing with a .929 save percentage and 2.03 goals against average in his senior year. His college coach noted, "I’ve never seen a goalie go from his crouch and ready position to full-fledged splits as fast as he does. He’s really athletic for his size."

So, why aren't NHL teams scrambling to sign the athletic 6'9" behemoth with great numbers? Maybe because of where he posted those numbers: Gustavus Adolphus College is not a division one NCAA school. McLean spent the last four years playing in division three.

With that in mind, some of the excitement is overblown and McLean is a massive longshot to make the NHL. After his college career ended, he played three games in the Southern Pacific Hockey League, a step below the ECHL, and had mixed results. While he recorded two wins, he was pulled in the first period of his other start and had an .895 save percentage.

The Macon Mayhem, an expansion team in the SPHL next season, thought enough of him to take him in the expansion draft, so McLean has a place to play professional hockey next season, but that may be as far as he goes.

If he had gotten better goaltending instruction to take advantage of his size -- he says he plays his own style, because he can't mimic smaller goaltenders -- it might have been a different story, but you could see the weaknesses in the Canucks' 3-on-3 "tournament" at development camp. For a 6'9" goaltender, he manages to look remarkably small, allowing him to get beat high, and while he's quick to get down into the butterfly, he takes a lot longer to get back up.

That said, who knows? Maybe the Canucks see something in him, get him some quality coaching, and try to mould him into something special. But at 25, the opportunity might have passed.


Jackson Whistle – Goaltender
6’1″ – 182 lbs – June 9, 1995 (20)
Thunder Bay, ON
Kelowna Rockets

Whistle was an invitee at last year's development camp and the Canucks liked him enough to bring him back for a second time. He had strong numbers as a backup in 2012-13 and decent numbers as a backup in 2013-14, but his save percentage took a dip as a starter for the Rockets this past season.

It should be kept in mind, however, that the WHL has lower save percentages in general: his .909 save percentage was good enough for 11th in the league among goaltenders with at least 10 games played and 7th among goaltenders with at least 30 games. It's still not a great number, but it's well above average for the league he was in.

The Rockets were a strong team last season, boasting Leon Draisaitl and Nick Merkley up front and Josh Morrissey and Madison Bowey on the backend, so Whistle finished with a 34-10-5 record, then won the WHL championship with a .916 save percentage in the playoffs.

At the Memorial Cup, Whistle's .906 save percentage was second to Ken Appleby and he fell to Appleby and the Oshawa Generals in the final.

Though Whistle's season was full of success, it's worth asking how much of it was because of the team in front of him. The Rockets were the second highest scoring team in the WHL last season and they were also strong defensively, allowing the fewest goals against. Whistle should get some credit for that, but it's hard to say how much.

Whistle could return to the Rockets for his over-age season, but it's conceivable that he could get a contract and start his professional career. Will it be with the Canucks? Maybe. I would be hesitant because of his significant drop in save percentage as a starter.


Clay Witt – Goaltender
6’2″ – 200 lbs – August 24, 1991
Tampa, FL
Northeastern University/South Carolina Stingrays

Like fellow invitee Matt Ginn, Clay Witt was a nominee for the Mike Richter Award. Unlike Ginn, Witt didn't have one of the best save percentages in the NCAA. In fact, his .904 save percentage was 68th among NCAA goaltenders who played at least 10 games.

That's not a particularly good sign, though he had a much stronger season as a junior, posting a .932 save percentage, good for 4th best in the NCAA in 2013-14. He was credited with carrying Northeastern that season and was named to the second all-star team in Hockey East.

The question is, which goaltender is he? Is he the team-carrying wall from his junior season or the much easier to beat goaltender from his senior season? It's likely that he's a bit of both: he was both hot and cold in his few appearances prior to becoming a full-time starter in his junior year, capable of looking outstanding at times and completely lost at others.

It's worth noting that Witt suffered a concussion just a couple games into the season that forced him to miss a month. Perhaps some of his struggles can be excused.

Witt is an athletic, disciplined goaltender who, when he's on his game, makes saves look easy. With his good lateral movement and ability to read the play, he's adept at forcing shooters to hit him in the logo.

Witt reportedly signed an amateur tryout contract with the Adirondack Flames of the AHL after his season ended, but did not appear in any games. He then signed with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL and appeared in 4 playoff games, though he didn't start any of them. As such, it's hard to judge him for his .865 save percentage given the small sample and tough situations he was put in.

While he would have hoped for a stronger senior year to prove to NHL suitors that he has potential, his fantastic junior year should still garner some interest. Should the Canucks be the team to take a chance on him?


  1. Congrats on the new mini human!

  2. Congratulations to you and your wife! And well done on another thoughtful article.

  3. Hey buddy, there is no d2 NCAA hockey, no need to put d3 down

    1. Not putting it down by any means, just noting that it's highly unlikely that a d3 player has an NHL future.

      In any case, that's my mistake. Didn't realize that d2 schools that have hockey mostly compete in d1. There used to be a d2 championship, but not anymore.

  4. If John McLean would agree to yell "Yippee ki yay motherf*****r" every time he made a save, I say we sign him, statistics and age be damned.

    Oh and congratulations to you and Mrs. Wagner on the little bundle of joy.

  5. Are you going to go a week without updating? I know its the off season but is this blog dead without Vancouver Sun $$$?

  6. Cut him some slack, new baby and nice weather, it's family time.


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