Of the 150 players selected in the first rounds of the past five NHL drafts, only five have been goaltenders.
It’s easy to see why. There’s a lot of risk in drafting a goalie; very few ever pan out. Historically, goalies have almost always been selected in later rounds – even the very best. The exceptions (Martin Brodeur, Grant Fuhr) are few and far between.
Ron Hextall, though, knows a thing or two about what it takes to be a top netminder. As a general manager, might he take the risk and choose a goalie in the first round?
“I would draft a goalie in the first round,” Hextall said. “I wouldn’t hesitate. It would have to be the right guy. If he’s locked in with a bunch of players, you’ve got to separate them, but I wouldn’t hesitate to draft a goalie in the first round.”
This year, there’s just one goalie who has a chance to go so early: Thatcher Demko of Boston College. There’s no reason to believe the Flyers are targeting him (they picked a goalie, Anthony Stolarz, early in the second round two years ago), but if the team were in need of a netminder, and liked one that was available, Hextall wouldn't give selecting him a second thought.
That's a notable position, because most other GMs are far more cautious. Chalk it up to Hextall's intimate understanding of the position.
“Teams are still hesitant for the obvious reasons,” he said. “There’s a lot of mental stuff with a goalie that he’s got to overcome. I think teams are a little bit reluctant. If you hit on one, you’re set for 10 or 15 years. So there’s a risk-reward there.”
Hextall spent 13 years as an NHL goalie, achieving a good amount of success in the process. He has a sense of what a goalie has to go through in order to mature enough to handle such a high-pressure position, and remembers what it was like to be a young netminder and to get drafted. But don't misunderstand -- he might have been a goalie in the past, but he's a general manager now.
He has no pro-goalie bias.
"I will tell you, I won’t shy away from a goalie," Hextall said. "But I’m also not going to draft a goalie for the sake of drafting a goalie.”
As far as Demko, Hextall hesitated to give any insight into his thoughts on the 18-year-old, saying he didn't want to "lay his cards on the table."
The Flyers drafted Hextall in the sixth round of the 1982 draft, a more common round for netminders to get selected. He understands why, even though his experiences have informed his perspective in a way most general managers don't share.
“It’s hard,” Hextall said. “You look at the history of drafting goalies, and it’s hard. It’s the hardest position to draft. And again, we can all see the skills, but the mental part, that’s the part you’ve got to try to figure out, and it’s the hardest part."
And for what it's worth, even with some organizaional needs, it's unlikely the Flyers do target a goalie early in this year's draft. Overall, Hextall said, this year’s class of goalies is “probably average. No better.”