The first pick for the San Jose Sharks on day two of the 2021 NHL Entry draft wasn’t until the third round, where they initially held pick number 71 overall. They exchanged that pick with the St. Louis Blues, who treated the team to pick 81 overall, as well as a sixth-rounder, 177 overall.
With the 81st pick, the Sharks selected goaltender Benjamin Gaudreau from the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League.
Of course, the last year was not easy for the 18-year-old netminder. The Sarnia Sting were unable to play in 2020-21 due to the coronavirus pandemic cancelling the OHL season and attempts to find Gaudreau somewhere to play in Europe on loan were unsuccessful.
So the sample size of his recent play is incredibly small, limited to just five games in the 2021 Under-18 World Juniors Championship, where he backstopped Team Canada all the way to a goal medal. His .919 save percentage, 2.2 goals against average and 5-0-0 record all topped the tournament, earning Gaudreau the title of Best Goaltender for the competition.
The larger sample size of 2019-20 doesn’t paint a great picture, but it’s worth mentioning that the Sting had one of the worst records in the league that season, sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference with 50 points. With that, and the team’s 22-34-6 record, in mind, the then-17-year-old goaltender played 28 games for the Sting in 2019-20, with an .890 save percentage, 4.34 goals against average and 10-13-2 record.
Gaudreau turns 19 in January, standing at 6-foot-2 and 174 pounds. He catches left-handed and hails from North Bay, Ontario. Pre-draft, he was ranked second among North American goaltenders by the NHL’s Central Scouting. Goaltenders are difficult to predict, but many rankings had him between the end of the first round and beginning of the second round, with his lowest ranking coming in at 69 overall. That the Sharks were able to trade down and still take him late in the third, acquiring a sixth-round pick along the way, is an incredible value.
If Gaudreau pans out, it will be interesting to note that he might be the first goaltending alumnus of the Great North Midget League (GNML) to make it to the NHL (per The Hockey New, Dallas Stars prospect Colton Point may take the title first).
The refrain in scouting reports and interviews with Gaudreau emphasize his athleticism and training regime, both of which are encouraging in terms of NHL potential. His coverage and positioning is strong, as is his skating.
In terms of risk, there’s the obvious gap year, but as far as his play, it’s just a matter of him learning when to be more aggressive and making those decisions quickly. Otherwise, the Sharks took the best available goaltender, and for the first time in too long, the team actually has a potential franchise goalie of the future. But given that gap year, eyes will be on Gaudreau’s continued development to make sure he ultimately gets there.