Following the reacquisition of Roberto Luongo last March and the signing of free agent Al Montoya last July, the goaltending position has been stabilized for the foreseeable future. With the clock slowly ticking, do the Panthers have someone in the system who could one day take the reins from Luongo or Montoya? We’ll run through the ranks and take a look at the goaltending depth of the Panthers after the break.
In his second year with the Rampage, Houser started 37 games and posted a 2.83 GAA, obtained a .900 save percentage, had 2 shutouts, and earned 19 wins, which is a slight improvement over last year. He split the 76-game season with Sam Brittain and Dan Ellis, both of whom spent time up with the Panthers following the injuries to Luongo and Montoya. Houser was undrafted out of the OHL, where he played 3 seasons with the London Knights, the third of which was his best and earned him an award for the league’s most outstanding player, two ‘Goaltender of the Week’ awards, and the ‘Goaltender of the Year’ award. The Panthers signed him to a contract in July of 2012 after he attended the team’s development camp, and although he’s an RFA once the Rampage’s season ends, it’s likely he’ll be resigned after posting some admirable stats and due to the Panthers’ somewhat thin goalie prospect pool.
After 4 very good seasons with the University of Denver during which he posted only one season with a GAA above 2.50, Brittain played in his first season of professional hockey. He started off in the ECHL with the Cincinnati Cyclones where he compiled a 14-11-0-1 record in 27 games played, including 4 shutouts, a GAA of 2.71, and a save % of .895. After being called up to the Panthers in March and serving as the backup for Dan Ellis, he returned to the San Antonio Rampage, where he played 7 games from March 25th to April 14th. His play was stellar as he earned a shutout and allowed just 11 goals, giving him a very respectable 1.76 GAA and .943 save %. Out of all of goalies in the Panthers’ system, he has one of the best chances to become the team’s starter in the future.
Cowley was drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 Draft and just finished up his sophomore season at the University of Denver. In his freshman season, he played just 5 games while backing up fellow Panther prospect Sam Brittain, and he registered a 1-2-0 record including a stellar 1.76 GAA and .949 save %. This year, he played 20 games, splitting the season with goaltender Tanner Jaillet and posted a 2.16 GAA and .924 save %. He has not yet signed a contract with the Panthers, however it’s still early in the development process for Cowley. With his progress so far through two seasons in the NCAA, it’s expected that he’ll continue his strong play.
Fresh off signing a 3-year entry level contract with the Panthers one month ago, Stevens has been with the San Antonio Rampage, although he has yet to play in his first professional game. He spent 4 seasons with Union College, including two seasons as the starter, during which he led the team to an NCAA Championship in 2014 and won the Goaltender of the Year award after earning 6 shutouts. Through the four seasons, he never posted a GAA above 2.31, and he only once had a save percentage below .920. Stevens has yet to play a professional game, so it’s tough to say what he projects to be with any degree of certainty.
The four goaltenders listed above are largely unproven, especially at the professional level, aside from Houser. The fifth is Hugo Fagerblom, the Panthers’ 6’6″ 7th round pick in the 2014 Draft. He’s considered a ‘project’ and has spent his time playing in Sweden for the Frölunda junior team. While he’s likely a long way from making the Panthers’ roster, he’s put up decent numbers thus far. As a 19-year-old goalie, it’s likely he won’t be given a hard look until he plays for the Frölunda men’s team or another junior/pro team, whether it be in Sweden or the CHL. Also, Dan Ellis is currently in the last year of his 2-year contract, and it’s very likely he’ll want to test the free agent market come July, so whether or not he’ll return to the Panthers next year remains to be seen.
Overall, the Panthers have a middle-of-the-pack goalie prospect pool, however it still carries an air of uncertainty as it lacks a high-end prospect that can project to be a #1 goalie. The Panthers may be looking to fill that hole a bit more at this year’s draft, or they may decide to make a trade for an established goalie when necessary.