It has always been said you can never have enough of a good thing, whether it’s forwards or defensemen, but in the St. Louis Blues’ case, they are particularly loaded with goalie prospects. They have loaded up in this position in recent years through the draft due to the issues they have had in past years. They have never really had that legitimate number one goalie such as Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens or Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers. In recent seasons Jake Allen, Carter Hutton, Ryan Miller, Brian Elliot, and Jaroslav Halak have been tried and tested and none have been that true number one goalie that the Blues desperately need. With the prospects who are waiting in the wings for full-time employment in the NHL, do any of these prospects have any hopes of becoming the St. Louis Blues’ netminder for the present and the future? Jordan Binnington, Ville Husso, Luke Opilka and Evan Fitzpatrick are all waiting in the system. Who is most likely to make the jump, whether it this season or beyond?
Jordan Binnington (24) was selected 88th overall in the 2011 draft, he has played only one game for the Blues back in the 2015/16 season, coming on in relief for Brian Elliott in a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in January 2016. Binnington is a little older than the other goalies in the Blues’ system and his chance may come at some point in the future. He has a couple of years of AHL experience under his belt, and although he is not projected to be a starter, would be a suitable backup for Jake Allen.
He has had strong numbers in the AHL since turning pro, back in the 2012/13 season he was the AHL goalie of the year and had the most shutouts across the league. He has spent most of his time with the Chicago Wolves during his time in the Blues organization but at the start of the 2017/18 was loaned out to the Providence Bruins as the Blues were playing without a sole AHL affiliate. Binnington went 17-9-0 in the regular season with the Bruins. He was also ranked second in the AHL overall with a 2.05 goals-against average and fourth with a .926 save percentage which brought Binnington to be part of the 2018 AHL All-Star team. He has plenty of seasoning but the Blues are still unsure if he is ready to make the step up. With that said, in recent times, Ville Husso has moved ahead of him in the depth chart. He just recently signed a 1 year, two way contract. There is a firm believe that Binnington still has an active role within the organization.
Husso (23) was taken 94th overall in the 2014 draft and is considered the most probable of all the prospects to get NHL time as soon as next season. He would likely be in for a workload of five-10 starts in the season depending on the play of Jake Allen and recently acquired Chad Johnson. Management seems to believe he could be the real deal. In May 2014, he was touted as the sixth best European goaltender from the 2013 draft. Scout Bill Placzek commented that Husso was a “top European goaltender who displays good technique, athleticism, glove and movement.” Husso came to America last season from his native Finland where he was a star for the HIFK in the Finnish Liiga where, in the 2015-16 season, he posted a .927 save percentage and 1.91 goals against average. In May 2016, he signed his three-year entry-level contract after that standout year.
Husso is carrying on the tradition of elite goalies coming out of Finland such as Boston Bruins’ Tuukka Rask, Nashville Predators’ Pekka Rinne, and Kari Lehtonen of the Dallas Stars; the early comparisons are that of Lehtonen. Since coming over from Finland he has adjusted well to the different size of ice and the different angles of the shots he faces. With the San Antonio Rampage this season, he made the All-Star rookie team in a fantastic season where he recorded four shutouts, making him a franchise-high among rookies and also along the way had the highest saver percentage among rookies at .922. The previous year with the Chicago Wolves, he had a .920 SV% and a 2.37 GAA. Husso was a starter for Finland at the IIHF World Championships in Denmark which is further enhancing his reputation. He has great size and plenty of resilience but needs to be more consistent to be successful at the NHL level. He needs more seasoning perhaps in the AHL to continue his development, working on his puck handling and consistency, he has the tools to be an elite goaltender for the future.
Luke Opilka (21) was picked 146th overall back in the 2015 draft and has had a dreadful time with injuries from the offset, which most recently made him miss the entire 2017/18 season with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. Looking past all the injuries, he is a promising goalie. Opilka does have all the tools to become an NHL starter, he has an ability to steal games for his team when he is on his game. He is an athletic netminder and will continue to develop as he grows and adds strength to his game. After those first couple of promising years with the Kitchener Rangers and the US national team, the future looked very bright for Opilka. In the 2015/16 season, he posted a 2.70 GAA and .096 SV% in the 44 games he played, but after a number of hip injuries sustained, his progress has haltered. However, like all teenage goalies, he is a mystery to his long-term potential. Avoiding these troublesome injuries in the future will give the Blues a chance to see what his potential is and whether he has a future with the organization. Opilka currently has two years remaining on his contract until he becomes an RFA in 2020/21, so he does have time to prove his worth to the Blues
Fitzpatrick will likely continue to spend time in the QMJHL to develop with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan team that was the 2017-18 Rogers President Cup Champions, where he started all 20 playoffs games posting 2.10 GAA with .925 SV% on their way to the championship. Although with that form he may be pushing for time with the Rampage battling with Husso for game time. Back in the 2016 draft, he was ranked number one goaltender in North America, even topping Philadelphia Flyers goalie prospect Carter Hart. Fitzpatrick has the potential to be a top flight goaltender who moves well laterally, has quickness and technical skills, and is capable of making highlight reel saves. However, his game needs improvements on his puck handling and general consistency. Fitzpatrick has been compared to future Hall of Famer Roberto Luongo in terms of his style and is likely to be the franchise goalie of the future if his progression continues.
There is so much depth in the goaltender position, the Blues have plenty of choices but they will likely have to move at least one or two of them in the future. It is a bit early for Fitzpatrick and Husso as they still need a little more time but are definitive possibilities for the future. Binnington has plenty of AHL experience and could be the man to step into the backup position behind Jake Allen, although it is clear Husso has moved above him in the pecking order and is seen as a goalie with huge potential. Olpika has had so many injuries that he requires more time in the minors to get to his game before he is even in the thought process and hopefully those injuries to his hip will clear up.
As time goes by, the goalies will all feel they deserve their chance at NHL playing time but it is going to be difficult with all four of them pushing to be Allen’s backup. The Blues will have to be patient like they were with Allen, who didn’t get a starting job in St. Louis til 2016/17 after he was in initially drafted back in 2008. So the Blues acquiring backup goalie Chad Johnson from the Buffalo Sabres just recently made a bit of sense. It may be the safer option at this time so the prospects can continue to develop and are not rushed to the team, which could shatter their confidence if it doesn’t go well.