The day is June 25, 2016. The Toronto Maple Leafs were feeling fantastic after selecting Auston Matthews first overall the day before. Leafs management still needed to do some work, however. Everyone could see the giant hole in the prospect pool. At the time, the Leafs had Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Zach Hyman, Connor Brown, Connor Carrick and much more in the system. The severely lacking area was goaltending. With just three goaltenders (Frederik Andersen, Garret Sparks, Antoine Bibeau) and no stand out prospect, a goaltender was guaranteed to be selected on the second day of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Maple Leafs.
Toronto, with two second round picks (31st and 57th), skipped on a goalie with both. Instead, they took Yegor Korshkov and Carl Grundstrom, both forwards. Four net minders went in that time, and in quick succession. Carter Hart, Tyler Parsons, Filip Gustavsson, and Evan Fitzpatrick all went in the second round. All four of the top ranked goalies were gone. Needless to say, some Leafs fans were unhappy.
Joseph Woll Emerging as Legitimate Prospect for the Toronto Maple Leafs
Becoming a Maple Leaf
Then, with the first pick of the third round, the Leafs finally took a goaltender. With the 62nd overall pick, the Toronto Maple Leafs selected Joseph Woll. The fifth-ranked North American net minder by Central Scouting, Woll was one of the youngest players in the draft. Just 17 years old at the time, Woll had just finished his season with the US National U18 Team. He had very solid stats: a 2.14 GAA, and a .918 SV%. Entering the draft, some scouts compared the young goalie to former Leaf James Reimer.
A Smart Selection
This made for a very intriguing selection from the Maple Leafs. They have control of Woll’s rights for four years, without having to give him a contract. Woll was committed to the Boston College Eagles in the NCAA and is currently playing there. The curious thing about goalies is that they can take longer to develop into NHLers. Recent examples of this include Devan Dubnyk (struggled until he was 28, a Vezina contender this year) and Sergei Bobrovsky (undrafted, a sub-.900 SV% at 22, then won Vezina at 23). It is very rare to see NHL goalies under 22, while with skaters it is common.
A goaltender drafted out of the CHL has less time to develop before needing a contract. Due to the NHL rules, a team retains the player’s rights for just two years. That means a goalie in the NCAA has double the amount of time to develop before a team needs to make a decision on them. This was a major factor for Toronto, as they are consistently close to the maximum of 50 contracts. With the number of draft picks the Maple Leafs have as well, acquiring a player with contract flexibility is key. This was evident in the entirety of Toronto’s 2016 draft class, but very important in the case of Joseph Woll.
Joseph Woll was also entering a very favourable situation. Having just graduated from the U18 team, he was headed to Boston College. Thatcher Demko, Boston College’s starter last year, was signed by the Vancouver Canucks after his junior collegiate season. This meant Woll, a freshman, would have the starting job. If need be, Toronto could have Woll start four years at a top-tier NCAA school. It is a perfect situation for the Maple Leafs.
Now that we have taken a look at why Woll was a smart pick back last June, why is he a legitimate prospect eight months later? After all, he was the fifth goaltender selected in the 2016 draft and was ranked lower than that by Central Scouting. As a freshman in a tough league, Woll has been very good. He currently has a .916 SV% and a 2.60 GAA in 25 appearances. For comparison, Thatcher Demko finished with a .919 SV% and a 2.24 GAA in 24 games in his freshman year.
His performances were good enough to earn an invite to the American World Junior camp. He impressed there are as well and made the team in a backup role. Tyler Parsons was the starter in the medal round, but Woll made a strong push for the starting job. He played ahead of Parsons against the Canadians on New Year’s Eve, in which he made an impressive 25 saves in the 3-1 victory. Woll didn’t play during the medal round but played very well when called upon.
Listed at 6’3″, 203 lbs, Joseph Woll is also a sizeable goaltender. He is also athletic, an active net minder in his crease. It is no secret that Mike Babcock doesn’t like small goaltenders. Jhonas Enroth (5’10”) was in Toronto for a very short time. His successors, Antoine Bibeau and Curtis McElhinney are both listed at 6’3″, as is Leafs starter Frederik Andersen. Woll still has time to grow as well. At the beginning of his draft year, Woll was listed at 194 lbs, meaning he has put on ten pounds of muscle already. It is still possible he reaches 6’4″.
Joseph Woll is still a long-term project, but he is emerging. His stats are impressive, but progression is vital. There is no need to rush the young goalie, as Frederik Andersen is around to stay.