“We need better goaltending this season,” said about 15 of the 20 OHL teams heading into this season.
Some went out and addressed the situation through the import draft, which was reopened to import goaltenders after barring them for several years.
Sudbury (Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen), Windsor (Kari Piiroinen), Barrie (Maksim Zhukor) and Saginaw (Ivan Prosvetov) all picked up import goalies, in Windsor’s case in preparation for the inevitable trading of Mikey DiPietro.
The Guelph Storm didn’t go out and look for a better goaltender. They feel they have one in Anthony Popovich.
They believe that the 2018019 version of Popovich will be an improved, more consistent version of the one they’ve had the past two years.
And why not.
He is older, more mature, works hard at improving, coming off a nice stint at the Dallas Stars training camp and has a better team in front of him than ever before.
If he isn’t better, this team’s in trouble.
That career 3.79 goals-against average and .890 save percentage isn’t good enough to help this team contend. The team can’t have the inconsistency he showed last year.
He will have to be better if this team is going anywhere. That’s just a fact.
Not that the Storm has much choice in putting all their eggs in the Popovich basket.
The team has shown a history of not drafting goalies high. They were set at the import slots with Dmitri Samorukov and Alexey Toropchenko and there aren’t exactly a lot of proven goaltenders available out there.
Heading into the season you could pretty much count on one hand the number of reliable goaltenders in the league: Dipietro being the gold standard in Windsor, Stephen Dillon in Niagara, Kyle Keyser in Oshawa, Joseph Raaymakers in London and Matthew Villalta in Sault Ste. Marie would pretty much be it.
There are always others who emerge, and the Storm is hoping the third-year is a charm for Popovich.
It’s one of the reasons the Spitfires must be drooling at the thought of the return that DiPietro will bring when they move him, quite likely the highest return for a five-month rental player in the history of the league.
London has two good goalies in Raaymakers and Jordan Kooy, so they might be forced to move one of those. Keyser, Dhillon and Villalta aren’t going anywhere.
There is no question that Popovich has the skill to be a top-flight goalie in the league. He just needs to be a top-flight goalie most nights.