Another of Boston’s 10 2015 draft choices is now under contract, as the Bruins announced Tuesday that they had agreed to terms with gigantic (6-foot-6) Czech goaltender Daniel Vladar, who was their seventh choice (third round), 75th overall last June.
Vladar left Europe to play in the USHL for the Chicago Steel, putting up solid, if not spectacular numbers as he split the goaltending chores evenly with John Lethemon (30 games played to Lethemon’s 31). Vladar’s .920 save percentage was best on the club, as was his 2.31 GAA and three shutouts. He posted a .500 record with the middle-of-the-pack Steel.
It is interesting that the B’s signed Vladar, as he could have remained in the USHL for another season, but NCAA was not an option, as he played 8 professional games in the Czech extraliga in his draft season, making him ineligible to go the college route. However, once he signed his ELC at max (three-years) term, his only option is to play professional hockey.
Here is where Vladar could end up next season:
- AHL: Not a sure thing as of today, but strong development camp and main training camp performances could put him there. Right now, Malcolm Subban (RFA) and Zane McIntyre (signed through 2017) are the only other B’s goalies in position to return. Jeremy Smith is an unrestricted free agent and could theoretically return, but you have to think he’ll seek a different organization to play for next season. That means that if the B’s were to promote Subban (barring a trade this summer and I don’t see that as very likely given his value isn’t high right now) to be Tuukka Rask’s backup next season, Vladar has a shot at playing in Providence with McIntyre in 2016-17.
- ECHL: This is another scenario, as Providence could bring in another veteran to split the chores with McIntyre if Subban is up with Boston. If the big club brings in another veteran backup for Rask as they did with Jonas Gustavsson, then a Suban-McIntyre duo again means no room at the inn for Vladar, and he’s better served in the ECHL where he can work his way up and potentially benefit from a lot of starts. He’ll need to earn them, though- he won’t just be handed the keys to the kingdom. Having said that, Braden Holtby, Martin Jones and Thomas Greiss are three goaltenders in the playoffs right now that saw time (albeit limited) in the ECHL when they were first starting out. It’s the equivalent of Double-A in baseball.
- Europe: This is the least likely of options, as letting Vladar play in Europe would mean the B’s would have little control over his development and the logistics of going out to check on him would be even greater. It’s one thing to draft a player and leave him in Europe when he is not yet signed, but the ELC is a game-changer, so it looks like North American pro hockey for Vladar next season. He’d be an extreme long shot to make the Boston roster as a raw 19-year-old, but you can’t completely rule that out either.
Scouting report: Huge, athletic netminder has some of the best natural gifts of any goalie prospect given how big and agile he is in the crease. Shooters have very little to hit when he’s square and at the top of the paint, and he’s adept at re-setting and recovering for secondary and tertiary scoring chances. Glove and blocker are okay, but not exceptional. Tracking the puck and rebound control are two major areas he needs to address: he has a tendency to kick shots straight out into danger areas and needs to work on deadening the impact of drives with his pads when he butterflies. He seems to lose track of the puck at times and might be a guesser- not instinctive and able to read the play as it unfolds. If that’s the case, he’ll have his hands full ever reaching the full potential of what his generous talent provides him. If, on the other hand, he develops more of a natural feel for the game and improves on his technique, he could find success at the NHL level sooner than expected.
Outlook: The timing of the Vladar signing is curious. Is it because he played his way into a contract, or more that McIntyre’s poor showing in Game 3 of the AHL playoffs (four goals allowed on 13 shots) forced the Bruins to re-think their goaltender development and timelines? On the face of it, Vladar is still quite young at 19 and extremely raw- playing another season in the USHL as a starter would not have been a bad option, but it appears that the B’s are accelerating him by getting him into pro hockey now. Because of the CHL’s ban on European goalies, major junior is not an option for Vladar, so Boston’s flexibility was somewhat limited here.
Tidbit: Vladar was the fourth-ranked goaltender (67th overall) in the 2015 Red Line Report Draft Guide after Matej Tomek, Ilya Samsonov and Mackenzie Blackwood. He ended up being the fourth goalie selected after Samsonov (Capitals), Blackwood (Devils) and Felix Sandstrom (Flyers). That’s a pretty consistent and on-point call by Red Line.