For those that know me, I like to pretend that I know a lot about goaltending since I played goalie in junior high and high school and then briefly in a men's beer league in Connecticut. Perhaps the only thing I share with NHL goaltenders is that I know what it's like to stare down a 90 mph slap shot, except the one time I faced such velocity I was left with a bruise the size of a softball in my abdomen. I digress.
Justin Goldman knows goaltending. Founder of The Goalie Guild and a big friend of the blog, Goldman has become the premier online goaltending scout and he's turned his hobby into a full-blown career -- recently getting himself hired by McKeen's Hockey.
Goldman has always been a fan of the Dallas Stars goalies, almost specifically because of the presence of goalie coach Mike Valley -- generally considered perhaps the best in the business. He's helped turn Kari Lehtonen's career around since coming to Dallas and now it seems he's played a big part in finding a gem of a goaltender in Cristopher Nilstorp, who allowed just one goal in his NHL debut in Minnesota.
With Nilstorp in Minnesota to face the Wild on Sunday, Goldman had a chance to scout Nilstorp in person after waxing poetic about the Swede's skills since he first came to North America last summer. Nilstorp finished the game making 30-of-31 saves and was perhaps the lone bright spot for a team that appeared utterly lifeless after traveling the night before.
The article goes into great detail on Nilstorp's journey to the Dallas Stars and the NHL, and he goes deeper into scouting a goaltender's game than I've ever seen. Some great behind the scenes insight here:
During the first intermission, I chatted with Stars goalie coach Mike Valley. We were both impressed with his early body of work, as we discussed how he looked "pretty calm" in there. I asked what he thought the biggest change was in Cris' game from September to right now, and his answer was simple.
"His hands are more active," Valley said.
Being able to "activate" the hands, or simply push them slightly in front of the body, is an aspect of positioning that goalies are more focused on now than ever before. This subtle adjustment creates more room or more "range of motion" for a goalie to react with their hands, which improves their ability to take away time and space from a shooter.
It really is a great scouting report on Nilstorp and confirms everything we witnessed Sunday and have been hearing about in Austin since the AHL season began. Nilstorp will almost certainly get a few more chances this season and, with his contract up this summer, could get considerable interest as a possible starting goaltender or to be part of a goalie tandem in the very near future -- if the Stars don't bring him back to play behind Lehtonen.