The Vancouver Canucks open their summer prospect development camp on Monday at UBC, with 35 players on the camp roster. The majority of those players are in the Canucks’ system already, either draft picks or undrafted free agent signings, but 16 of them are undrafted and unsigned invitees.
These invitees always intrigue me, as they represent a low-cost way to supplement a prospect pool. The Canucks, under Mike Gillis, have done well in acquiring undrafted free agents, with Eddie Lack and Chris Tanev being the biggest successes. While neither of them were invitees to one of the Canucks’ camps, other players in the system, like Evan McEneny and Ronalds Kenins, were.
So, every year I research the invitees on the roster and write a brief profile on each. For this year’s development camp, let’s start with the goaltenders, as just one of the five attending is a Canucks prospect, this year’s 2nd round draft pick, Thatcher Demko. Of the other four, two come from the NCAA and two come from the WHL.
Michael Garteig – Goaltender
6’1″ – 185 lbs – November 5, 1991
Prince George, BC
Garteig’s claim to fame is with the 2011-12 Penticton Vees, who won a whopping 42-straight games, a North American record. Garteig started the bulk of those games, finishing the season with a 41-4-0 record. While the 2011-12 Vees were a dominant offensive club, Garteig was sterling in net, finishing with a 1.93 GAA and .927 SV%, leading the BCHL in both categories.
Amazingly, Garteig may have been even better the previous season, posting an unreal 1.39 GAA and .934 SV% for the Powell River Kings, leading the league in both categories by a wide margin. I have to think the only reason he didn’t get drafted is because he didn’t break into a starting role until he was 19 and it’s hard to project Junior A hockey goaltenders.
He may have been at his absolute best in the 2012 Doyle Cup and RBC Cup, posting a .944 and .933 SV% in each tournament, respectively.
Garteig was once again a backup in his freshman year at Quinnipiac, but he took over the starting job this past year as a sophomore, playing the most games of any NCAA goaltender with 40 (tied with C.J. Motte of Ferris State). He posted a fantastic 1.94 GAA, fifth best in the NCAA, but had just a .910 SV%, indicating that he generally didn’t have to face many shots.
That doesn’t mean that Garteig wasn’t good. In fact, he was repeatedly recognized as one of the top goaltenders in college hockey throughout the year. He was named the ECAC goalie of the month in both October and November and was named the goalie of the week five times throughout the season. With 6 shutouts, he also broke a Quinnipiac record for most shutouts held by the goalie he backed up as a freshman, Eric Hartzell.
His former coach describes him as “athletic, big, mobile, and intense” and Chris Kotsopoulos, who works on Quinnipiac’s broadcast team, said, “He’s very quick, he knows his angles, he has a good glove and blocker” and added “he has some of the best pad work for a butterfly goalie that I’ve seen in a long time.”
If Garteig continues to play well for Quinnipiac in his junior and senior seasons, he’ll likely have many suitors at the NHL level, but the Canucks might end up being an interesting fit, as Ryan Miller will have just one year remaining on his contract at that point and the futures of Eddie Lack, Jacob Markstrom, Joacim Eriksson, and Thatcher Demko are unknown.
On a side note, he also scored a goal back in December. That goal isn’t in this video, but a handful of his saves are.
Austin Lotz – Goaltender
6’1″ – 201 lbs – May 27, 1995
Lotz was a workhorse for the Silvertips last season, playing 57 games, 5th most among WHL goaltenders. His 2.53 GAA was good for 6th in the WHL, but his save percentage was a more pedestrian .905. Despite that, Lotz has his fans, with some speculating that he would be a late-round pick in 2013. He was ranked 10th among North American Goaltenders by Central Scouting in 2013, then fell down the rankings to 22nd in 2014.
Lotz was also named to Canada’s U-18 team in 2013, but didn’t see any ice time as Canada took gold.
Considering Lotz is just 19-years-old and fairly raw, he has plenty of time and room to improve and his low goals-against-average is a good sign. He is described as athletic and competitive and has decent size for the position. He’s able to step up at times for incredible performances, making 55 saves in a 2013 playoff win, following it up with 43 and 47-save performances in the same series. Earlier in the season, he made 65 saves in an overtime loss, stealing a point when the Silvertips were outshot 69-21.
He wasn’t called upon to make anywhere near that many saves this last season, as Everett kept the shot totals a little more reasonable, but he still had two 37-save games and a 36-save game.
Matthew O’Connor – Goaltender
6’5″ – 201 lbs – February 14, 1992
Of the goaltenders attending camp, two are from Boston colleges, with another just a couple hours west at Quinnipiac. Coincidence?
In any case, O’Connor has split starts with teammate Sean Maguire the past two years at Boston University, posting a strong .920 save percentage in his sophomore year last season — one point better, incidentally, than Thatcher Demko, though O’Connor is four years older. O’Connor may have started more games in his freshman season if he hadn’t suffered a season-ending injury: a collapsed lung.
Maguire himself has been hit with medical issues and will be sitting out next season, meaning O’Connor will likely be heavily relied upon.
The biggest thing about O’Connor is exactly that: he’s big. At 6’5″, O’Connor will be one of the tallest players at camp, bested only by the 6’7″ Nikita Tryamkin. He’s faced a lot of shots with Boston University and remained steady, getting named the Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week after making 92 saves on 96 shots in two games against North Dakota.
O’Connor was the 25th ranked North American goaltender by Central Scouting in 2011 despite truly terrible numbers in the USHL that season. The scouts clearly saw something in him, however, other than his size, as he has performed far better at the NCAA level.
O’Connor has already attended the New York Rangers development camp this summer.
Jackson Whistle – Goaltender
6’1″ – 183 lbs – June 9, 1995
Thunder Bay, ON
Whistle started in Major Junior with the Vancouver Giants as a 16-year-old, but struggled mightily, posting an .873 SV% and 3.61 GAA in 21 appearances. He turned things around completely, however, when he was traded to his hometown Kelowna Rockets as a 17-year-old the following season. While still only a backup, his .931 SV% and 1.96 GAA were third and second in the WHL, respectively.
In the above interview, Whistle describes his style as a combination of Carey Price and Marc-Andre Fleury, trying to combine the calm positioning of Price with Fleury’s athleticism. He was ranked 26th among North American goalies by Central Scouting in 2013, but didn’t attract interest.
He followed up his stellar 2012-13 season with a somewhat more pedestrian year, still as a backup. His .917 SV% and 2.65 GAA were still respectable, however, and with the Rockets’ number one goaltender, Jordon Cooke, turning 21, Whistle will likely be the new number one next season.
If Whistle can continue to post strong numbers with the more stressful and difficult starter’s job, he could definitely earn a long look from NHL teams.