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Carolina Hurricanes System Overview: Goaltenders

Carolina’s group of goaltenders is headlined by Pyotr Kochetkov, but there are questions about the rest of the goalies in the pipeline.

New York Rangers v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Seven Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

We’ve reached the final section of my system overview, a project that is the result of years worth of hard work. Goaltenders have always been tricky to evaluate because they normally take a little longer to develop. Normally, goalies start to break into the NHL by the time they’re 24 or so, whereas forwards and defensemen normally break into the NHL around ages 21-22. That may not seem like a huge difference, but it’s very possible that goalies that look average to start their professional careers can turn into NHL goalies. Alex Nedeljkovic is likely a backup, but don’t forget that his pro career started with him struggling in the AHL and then getting sent to the ECHL.

You just never know what’s going to happen with goalies, and a lot of the time, goalies that your favorite team drafts won’t work out. The way that save percentages are listed can be a little misleading, so let me break it down. A goalie that saves 92% of shots is considered a starter at the NHL level. A goalie that saves 91% is considered a backup. A goalie that saves 90% of shots at the NHL level likely isn’t going to be a full-time NHL goalie. The margin of success is so thin with goaltenders, which adds another layer of difficulty to the equation.

Projections for goalies are going to be a bit longer, as I mentioned earlier. And, with two NHL roster spots available, it’s going to be tough for any goalie to make it to the NHL. These projections will be when I believe that these goalies will be ready to play NHL games. It may not be when these players are full-time goaltenders, and they may not be with the Hurricanes at that point.

Pyotr Kochetkov

Projection: 2023

Kochetkov firmly cemented himself as the top goalie in the system this past season. He was elite with Chicago in the AHL after joining the team in early March, then going on an impressive run to end the regular season. Kochetkov was 13-1-2 during the regular season and posted an impressive .921 save percentage in those starts. Kochetkov had a brief NHL stint with the Hurricanes, and while his numbers weren’t fantastic, he showed flashes of elite level talent. Kochetkov went 5-1 en route to helping Chicago capture a Calder Cup championship, posting a .950 save percentage in the process.

He’s a fascinating goalie prospect. His raw athleticism, speed, strength and puck tracking are all either high end or elite. Kochetkov possesses the ability to steal games for his team based on his play, and once his rebound control improves, he could be a legitimate number one goaltender for the Hurricanes. He’s also a fiery personality, unafraid to mix it up after the whistle and stand up for his teammates. That sort of thing will make Kochetkov a fan favorite for sure. The team’s moves this offseason have reflected their confidence in Kochetkov’s abilities as well. Instead of signing a veteran like Alex Lyon, the team elected to sign Zach Sawchenko, a player that has been a backup goalie for most of his professional career. The Hurricanes seem content with letting Kochetkov be the Wolves’ starter this upcoming season, likely in order to prepare him for an NHL role in the fall of 2023.

So, what makes Kochetkov such a promising goalie prospect? For starters, it’s his explosive style and athleticism that gives him an edge over the competition. Kochetkov can make these spectacular saves and save a lot of high danger chances due to how quick and athletic he is. Kochetkov tracks the puck and sees two steps ahead, meaning that he’ll know when a player will pass or shoot before they do, allowing for a quick reaction and save. Kochetkov usually stays square to the puck but has the ability to make desperation saves if he is caught out of position. His style of play can be a bit erratic, to put it lightly, as Kochetkov can flail and drift but somehow find a way to make the stop. It’s a nonstop rollercoaster ride, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have high hopes for Pyotr. Alright, enough talk. Let’s look at some of Pyotr’s saves.

I love this save because Pyotr reads the pass all the way. He’s able to react to the pass right as it happens, then utilizing his agility and strong push with his right leg, he makes what looks like a very routine save. Here’s another save where Kochetkov reads the play and reacts immediately.

I’m going to be honest, I’ve watched this play no less than 20 times and I still have no idea how the Wolves forgot about the player at the right circle. Still, Kochetkov is able to stand tall and make a great save. I mentioned earlier that Kochetkov has the ability to make the desperation saves, and part of that is due to his agility and his ability to track the puck. He knows where the puck is going to land after it hits him and he will throw himself at the puck in an effort to make a save. Kochetkov shows little regard for the feelings of opposing forwards as well as the heart rates of Hurricanes fans, but oh boy, is it fun.

These next saves are tough because of how much traffic there is in front of the net.

This next save is pretty boring by Kochetkov’s standards, but it’s still a really good save.

Now, there are two aspects of Kochetkov’s game that do concern me right now. First, Kochetkov can struggle to track shots from beyond the circles. I’ve noticed that a lot of shots that beat him come from low to medium danger areas and it can be very frustrating. When Kochetkov was getting beaten on the first shot of the game for his first few starts, those were the shots that were getting past him.

Secondly, Kochetkov’s rebound control concerns me. He doesn’t give up as many juicy rebounds as some goalies of Hurricanes old, but he does give up a lot of rebounds that I’d like to see him control.

I believe that Kochetkov will be an NHL starter based on what I’ve seen from him. Very few goaltenders have his set of skills and fewer are able to use all of them in tandem with one another. Kochetkov has a ton of upside and is just getting started as a pro, and if his last season is any indicator of future success, Hurricanes fans should be excited. Kochetkov is vastly underrated by a lot of other prospect experts, failing to make an appearance on a number of top prospect lists. Hell, Dylan Garand, who has yet to play in a single NHL game, was a top goalie on someone’s list and Kochetkov wasn’t even an honorable mention. Kochetkov’s age may have something to do with that, as he’ll turn 24 in June, but goalies almost always take a while to mature.

There’s also something to be said about a goalie that can endear himself to the fans and have a personality. Goalies are always a bit weird, and let’s be honest, it’s a bit warranted. They block discs of rubber shot at 90+ miles per hour for a living. Kochetkov’s personality has endeared him to many Canes fans, especially after his debut.

Yes! Give me that competitive energy! Then, there’s also the fact that he slashed Brad Marchand during game two of the playoffs, which is immediately going to win over Hurricanes fans. These sort of things aren’t going to be the reason why Kochetkov makes it to the NHL, but it’s going to be a part of his game. He’s a fiery competitor and that’s a player that a team will love to play in front of. I fully expect Kochetkov to play in some NHL games this upcoming season due to our goalies being injury prone. However, he’s more likely to be a full-time NHL goaltender during the following season, as both goalies are on expiring deals this season.

Patrik Hamrla

Projection: 2026

Hamrla is a prospect that reminds me a lot of Petr Mrazek, at least stylistically. Both goalies are incredibly agile and can make saves that get you out of your seat, but there’s a sort of organized chaos to the whole thing. Hamrla can get out of position in order to make a save, and if he gives up a rebound, he’ll have to scramble back to try and make the next stop. Now, this sort of thing can be worked on, and I believe it’s something that Carolina’s goalie coaches will help Hamrla with as he continues to develop.

Don’t let his numbers from last season fool you, either. Hamrla was one of the bright spots on an absolutely awful Rimouski team. He was also in camp for Czechia’s World Juniors team for the August tournament but had to leave due to illness. This upcoming season, it’s my belief that he’ll be the starter in Rimouski and one of Czechia’s goalies when it comes time for the December World Junior Championship. I’m still unsure of Hamrla’s upside, but since the Hurricanes retain his signing rights until 2025, there’s still plenty of time. I would imagine that Hamrla returns to Czechia after this upcoming season, as he’ll be more prepared to take on a role at the top level.

Hamrla’s style of play gives him an advantage because he can use his big frame and quickness to come across and stop a lot of high danger chances. He takes up a lot of net and constantly challenges shooters, making it difficult to beat him cleanly. Hamrla had to fend for himself a lot this past season, as Rimouski was a fairly weak team in the QMJHL, but when I watched him play, I usually came away feeling impressed. He has the ability to make big time saves in key moments of the game that help keep his team in it, such as this save in the QMJHL playoffs.

Hamrla excels at these cross crease saves, relying on a massive push to get from side to side. You may hear Tripp Tracy comment about a goalie’s explosiveness on a Hurricanes broadcast, and that’s exactly what Hamrla does. He explodes out in an instant, getting across and making the save, as you can see in the following clip.

Playing on a mediocre team in a league that already doesn’t focus too heavily on defense can make it tough to evaluate a goalie’s numbers, which is why saves like this are so nice to see. The mechanics are there, and it’s clear that Hamrla possesses enough athleticism to play NHL games if he continues to develop as he has.

Hamrla gets you out of your seat with some of these saves and truly has the potential to dazzle at the next level. This next clip is one of those plays that will haunt this poor shooter in his dreams.

And finally, one more play from Hamrla to showcase his strong movement from post to post.

Hamrla has the potential to play NHL games, and at this point, it’s tough to project what his role will be with the Hurricanes in three or four years. He definitely has the athletic ability, quickness and hockey sense to play in the NHL, but I’m still undecided as to what his upside is. Perhaps he truly is what Petr Mrazek was for the Hurricanes, which was a strong goaltender that can play in 45-50 games over the course of a season. I’ll be interested to see what Hamrla can accomplish with Rimouski this year. I don’t believe that they’ll be much better, if at all, so his numbers may be misleading.

After this season, the Hurricanes have a couple of options as to what they can do with Hamrla. He could turn pro and spend time with the Wolves, he could remain in Rimouski for another year, or he could return to Czechia to gain experience against men before signing with the team. They have until 2025 to sign Hamrla, so if the team decides that extra playing time in a men’s league will be best for Hamrla’s long term development, then that’s what’ll happen. I don’t expect Hamrla to remain in the QMJHL beyond this upcoming season. He’s likely good enough to see consistent starts in the Czech elite league, so unless the Hurricanes want him to play for the Wolves starting in 2023, that’s where I imagine he’ll end up.

Jakub Vondras

Projection: 2027+

Vondras is still largely unknown to me. The fact that he catches with his right hand is interesting, as you don’t see very many goalies like that at any level. From what I’ve been able to see from his game tape as well as his play in development camp, Vondras seems to be in a similar mold to Hamrla. His puck tracking is solid and he can predict where a play is going to go on a regular basis. Vondras possesses solid athleticism, and while he may not be as explosive as Kochetkov or even Hamrla, he is able to get across and make some nice saves while moving from post to post.

So far, I’ve only watched four games of Vondras, plus a six minute appearance he had during a preseason game where he made two saves on two shots. I’ve only gotten a few quality clips from these viewings, so I’ll break down what I have. First, a really nice sequence of saves from a recent game to open the season.

Vondras’ stops here are quality, especially the last save or two. He is able to get out and take up space to prevent what should’ve been a goal. Now, I would have liked to have seen him challenge the shooter on the first opportunity, especially since he likely could’ve either swallowed the puck or deflect the rebound out of harm’s way. Then again, the rebound went to his teammates and they still messed up.

This is all of the film that I have on Vondras. It’s not a lot, but I can clearly see the athleticism and puck tracking ability that made him an NHL draft pick. I’m excited that we’ll be getting a chance to see him at the Prospects Showcase next weekend. I figured that he would be staying in Europe, but he’s actually making the trek over here and will hopefully get ice time in one of Carolina’s three games. Vondras is a project, and I’m unsure of his upside right now. There are some tools that you can build on, but in all likelihood, we won’t know what his ceiling is for another year or two. Once he breaks out of the Czech U20 league, we’ll have a better idea of where he’s at as a prospect.

Nikita Quapp

Projection: 2027

Quapp is in strong contention with Cruz Lucius in a competition for best name in the pipeline. His name is elite and there are some things about Quapp’s game that I’ve been a fan of when I’ve watched him play. For starters, Quapp has the ability to read where a play is going and react to it immediately, challenging the eventual shooter and taking away a lot of space. He’s a big goalie that relies more on the mental side of the game rather than pure athleticism to make stops. I’ve heard the term “cerebral goalie” thrown around, and that’s a category that I’d consider putting Quapp in.

I was disappointed when Quapp was unable to join the Norfolk Admirals this past season, as I felt that it would have been a good opportunity to see more of him. It was a pain trying to find his games this past season, but I was able to watch a handful and saw some things that I really liked. Quapp is definitely a more cerebral goalie, relying on his ability to track the puck and predict when a player will pass, where they’ll pass to, or where they’ll move to for a shot in order to make saves. Quapp is calm, cool and collected. He’ll never be the quickest goaltender, nor will he be the most athletic, which is why he has to rely on his hockey sense when faced with a shot attempt. Rebound control and general sloppiness can be a bit of an issue in Quapp’s game, but it’s hard to tell how much of his poor starts were his fault. Krefeld was an awful team this past season, and their defense on most nights was abysmal. Quapp would be faced with a lot of odd man rushes, and while he looked alright on breakaways, his team’s failure to clear pucks usually resulted in goals against.

Quapp’s World Junior tournament is likely one that he’d like to forget, as he struggled in the two starts that he had. There were good moments in both starts, such as how he managed to keep a flailing German team afloat with some spectacular saves in the first period, but that momentum was squashed after Quapp gave up a handful of soft goals in the second period.

Quapp is going to be a project and will take a long time to reach the NHL, if he manages to get to that point. He has some tools, such as his strong hockey sense and good mechanics, but the athleticism isn’t there and his rebound control is poor. I’m interested to see where he’ll end up playing this year. He has signed with Eisbaren Berlin until the end of the 2023-2024 season, but it appears that he’ll be starting the season in the German second league. That may prove to be good for Quapp’s development, especially if he can get consistent starts. Playing in 11 games a year isn’t going to be good for a goalie’s development, so if Quapp can get more starts, it doesn’t matter what league he’s in.

Jake Kucharski

Projection: not likely

Kucharski was picked 197th overall by the Hurricanes in the 2018 draft. At the time, he was one of those picks that you sort of shrugged your shoulders at and said “sure, why not?” because after all, it’s the seventh round and you just never know. On paper, Kucharski looked intriguing. He was 6’4” and just over 200 pounds, meaning that he’d take up a lot of net, and he was committed to play college hockey at Providence starting in the fall of 2019. Then, the following season happened and his USHL team wouldn’t play him. He had one start before he was traded to Omaha, where he then only appeared in eight games. His numbers were poor in those eight starts, and I started to wonder what the Hurricanes saw in him. Kucharski then sat out the following season at Providence before transferring to American International College, where he has put together two solid seasons.

When I saw Kucharski at rookie camp back in 2019, I noticed that he wasn’t overly quick at covering the five hole and left a lot of space open in the lower half of the net. Now, he has improved since then, but what I’ve seen hasn’t convinced me that he’s going to be a pro goaltender. He hasn’t taken over as the starter for a team that plays in a horrible NCAA conference, and his numbers haven’t been at the level that you’d expect given how he plays. Kucharski was not in attendance for prospects camp, which could be for a variety of reasons, but it’s still something to note.

Now, you never say never with goalies. I’ve been wrong plenty of times before, and I’ll be wrong about something again. However, I’m fairly confident when I say that Kucharski may not be a professional goaltender, at least not with the Hurricanes. He has size and when I watched him against UMass, I thought he was solid, but there wasn’t anything there to make me think that he could be more than a solid college goalie.

Yegor Naumov

Projection: shrug emoji

I’m going to be completely transparent with you all. I’ve got nothing on Naumov. It doesn’t help that he didn’t play in a single game last year and only nine games during his draft year, so there really isn’t much to go off of here. I’ve been trying to look into why he didn’t play last year, and as of right now, I don’t have any information to share with you all. So, sadly, I’m not able to talk about this player a whole lot. Naumov is not listed on Loko Yaroslavl’s page on Eliteprospects and they have not shown that he has signed or played for another team. We’ll have to wait and see who this mystery prospect is.

Zach Sawchenko

Projection: AHL Goaltender

Sawchenko was signed by Carolina in free agency after splitting time between San Jose’s NHL team and AHL affiliate this past season. He hasn’t proven to be a starting goaltender at the AHL level just yet, which leads me to believe that Chicago’s crease belongs to Pyotr Kochetkov and that he’ll be the one getting the bulk of the starts. Sawchenko isn’t some scrub that we can write off, however. His numbers at the NHL level were decent, and it’s really hard to judge his AHL numbers given how bad of a team the Barracuda were this past year. In Chicago, Sawchenko will be expected to play behind Kochetkov and be sort of a mentor for him in the process. After all, Sawchenko also has NHL experience and can help Pyotr reach the next level.

Final Thoughts

The Hurricanes’ goalie pipeline is filled with a lot of question marks. Kochetkov looks like the real deal, but this year is going to be a big year for him since he’ll have to prove that this past year wasn’t a fluke. I have full confidence that he’ll be an NHL starter someday, but it’s far from a sure thing. I also like Patrik Hamrla’s odds at playing NHL games. I’m still not sure if he’s a starter, 1A/B, or backup, but I like the potential in his game and there’s a lot that you can build off of. Hamrla has a ton of time left to develop outside of the organization as well, and the Hurricanes could certainly elect to go that route if they felt that it would be better for his development.

Aside from Kochetkov and Hamrla, however, there are a lot of question marks. Quapp and Vondras all have tools that I like but both are so early in their development that it’s difficult to project exactly where those two goalies fit into Carolina’s future plans. Yegor Naumov is quite literally an unknown prospect for a few reasons, and I’m close to closing the book on Jake Kucharski. It’s clear that losing Eetu Makiniemi via trade hurt the Hurricanes’ depth in the pipeline, but when you think about it, it’s clear that Kochetkov was going to be the guy moving forward, especially after the season he had.

Carolina has selected a goalie in every draft except one since 2014, and that was the 2020 draft. They made up for it the next year by selecting three goalies, so I’d say it evens out. I like the strategy of selecting at least one goalie per draft because you truly never know which one is going to work out. You can make projections based on their draft year, but there’s so much that can chance in such a short period of time to make or break a goalie. Moving forward, I would expect Carolina to continue the trend of picking at least one goalie per draft.

With that, my system overview is complete. You can find the section on forwards here and the section on defensemen here. I’m so grateful for all of the support for this project and I hope that it has helped you get more familiar with the prospects and players in the pipeline. I know that right now, the team’s present is great and we don’t have to look toward the future, desperately hoping for better days anymore. We can sit and enjoy a great hockey team. The future of the team is still important, and it’s always nice to know the players that are coming up from Chicago or their various teams looking to make the Hurricanes. Folks, I’m truly grateful for the support and I can’t express enough thank you’s. It truly is a great time to be a Carolina Hurricanes fan.