Wings' young goaltenders are a long way from ready

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Goalie Jimmy Howard, 34, is in the last year of his contract with the Wings.

With training camp approximately a month away, Red Wings beat writer Ted Kulfan will analyze each of the Red Wings’ position groups in upcoming days. Today: Goalies. 

Detroit — Young goaltenders are similar to young pitchers.

Different sports, but normally, people playing those positions take a bit longer — unless there’s the sure-fire phenom — to develop and reach the NHL or major leagues.

With that mind, you see the Tigers patiently waiting for many of their young, talented pitchers to develop.

The Red Wings are the same way with their goaltending.

Veterans Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier, who was signed July 1 as a free agent, will handle the goaltending chores this season — and very well could for another two or three seasons given the current situation.

More: Henrik Zetterberg's return 'a real unknown' for Red Wings, Ken Holland says

Below Howard and Bernier, the Wings have potential NHL goaltenders, but they’re a long way away.

“We have some young goaltenders in the system who we think have potential,” general manager Ken Holland said. “(But) the reality is, it’s going to take some time. A young player has to establish himself at they’re at, and then they do, we put them in a new level and they have to do it again.”

Howard, 34, is in the final year of his contract, earning $5.3 million per season. A potential unrestricted free agent next summer, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the veteran goalie — who has only known one organization in his NHL career and whose family is comfortable in Detroit — and the Wings reach some sort of one- or two-year extension during the season.

But if the Wings fall out of playoff contention, and a situation exists where a playoff team is looking for goaltending help, Howard would be a valuable trading chip to have — a rental with playoff experience who could take a team on a playoff run.

Howard’s somewhat hazy future was one reason the Wings intrigued Bernier, who signed a three-year contract worth $9 million ($3 million salary cap hit) at the start of unrestricted free agency.

“We need to be strong in goal and we think with Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier, we’re going to have a good one-two punch,” Holland said.

Goalie Jonathan Bernier said part of the reason he signed with the Wings is he thought he would have an opportunity to start.

Bernier, 29, re-established himself in Colorado last season and is arriving in Detroit ready to push Howard for playing time.

“For me I didn’t want to be in a position where I played 15-20 games, I want to come in and have a chance to play as much as possible, obviously depending on my play,” said Bernier, after the announcement of his signing. “But I just thought it was a great opportunity that me and Jimmy can battle for games.

“I know Jimmy a little bit, playing against him, and we’re going to push each other to bring this team back into the playoffs.”

The fact Howard only has one year left on his contract was a consideration.

“It was,” Bernier said. “I had some other teams that were kind of in the same situation. I could have stayed in Colorado, as well, Varly (goalie Semyon Varlamov) had one year left, but I just decided to move on.

“I’ll be 30 (in August) but my body feels like I’m 25. I know how to take care of my body better than when I was younger. I’m more mature now, I’ve been through ups and downs in my career, and I know how to handle a lot more situations now.”

But beneath Howard and Bernier, in the organizational depth chart, there’s much unknown.

The Wings chose not to re-sign Jared Coreau and Tom McCollum, two veteran minor leaguers who didn’t progress toward the NHL. Coreau had brief opportunities at the NHL level the last two years, and failed to impress.

Replacing that tandem in Grand Rapids will be Harry Sateri (signed out of the Florida organization) and Patrik Rybar (European free agent).

Where there’s hope is in the past several drafts, and a group of goaltenders who could offer promise in the future.

Jesper Eliasson (2018, third round) and Victor Brattstrom (2018, sixth round) were selections in June with plenty of upside.

Brattstrom, 20, (6-foot-5, 198 pounds) was rated higher in several mock drafts, and had a .919 save percentage playing Swedish junior last season.

“They’re great workers,” said Hakan Andersson, the Wings’ director of European scouting, of Brattstrom and Eliasson. “We’re hoping we have two good goalie prospects.”

Joren van Pottelberge (Switzerland), Filip Larsson (USHL goaltender of the year/will play at University of Denver), Keith Petruzzelli (Quinnipac University) and Kaden Fulcher, who was signed as an undrafted free agent and will either play in Toledo (ECHL) or play more year of junior, are all in the organization.

Each has had positive moments in their amateur careers, but none has yet to perform at the pro level.

“They’re good, young players trying to establish themselves at their level,” Holland said. “When they do that, you have to prove yourself all over again. We have some good goaltenders who are prospects but the reality is, when you draft a goalie, he’s probably five or six years away.”

Works in progress

Here are the goaltenders in the Red Wings’ organization:

Jimmy Howard: At 34, the No. 1 on the NHL roster but with only one year left on his contract. Both sides appear willing the relationship to keep going.

Jonathan Bernier: Signed as a free agent, Wings are hopeful Bernier improves backup goaltender position.

Harry Sateri: Likely No. 1 in Grand Rapids, Sateri had brief look in Florida last season.

Patrik Rybar: Undrafted European free agent, Wings like Rybar’s athleticism and size.

Victor Brattstrom: June’s sixth-round pick, Brattstrom, 20, is thought to be a late bloomer who has progressed well last two seasons in Sweden.

Filip Larsson: Goaltender of the year in the USHL, Larsson will play college hockey at Denver this season. Fair to say Larsson is Wings’ best goaltending prospect currently.

Jesper Eliasson: June’s third-round draft pick, Eliasson was one of the top European goalies in the draft.

Kaden Fulcher: Signed as an undrafted free agent, the Wings might place Fulcher in Toledo (ECHL) or return him to junior level.

Keith Petruzzelli: The 2017 third-round pick had a difficult transition to college hockey at Quinnipac.

Joren van Pottelberge: Playing pro hockey in Switzerland, van Pottelberge needs to be tested at more difficult level.