The New Jersey Devils are eventually going to need another goaltender. They have a legend and a backup both in the twilight years of their career. Jeff Frazee hasn't developed too much in Albany to think he's got a shot. While it's arguable there's a glut of goaltending talent out there, it could cost the Devils dearly to find a capable goalie. In the short term, they may have to do so. However, the team does have three goaltender prospects that could address the issue in the mid-to-long term. Maxime Clermont is considered to the be the third of the bunch and so he was ranked #22 on our Top 25 Devils Under 25 list. Keith Kinkaid is the closest to the top level as he's in Albany; but he was more modestly ranked at #15. The remaining prospect is considered by some Devils fans to be the best prospect of the bunch for a variety of reasons. That goaltender is Scott Wedgewood, and our collective ranking led him to be #8 on our list.
#8 - Scott Wedgewood - G - Height: 6'0" - Weight: 194 lbs. - Age: 20 - 2012-13 Team: Trenton (ECHL)
Wedgewood first turned heads in the 2010 OHL playoffs with his junior club, the Plymouth Whalers. He was the backup to the very good Matt Hackett (league's second best save percentage in 2009-10 season) for much of the season, yet the situation led to Wedgewood to start in the crease for the post season. He wasn't bad as a backup and his team was swept, but he did everything possible to keep Windsor at bay - including a 70-save performance. I don't think Wedgewood was drafted by New Jersey only because of those four games, but he definitely got some attention. When he was picked in the third round, it was remarked by the then-few scouting reports on him that he had trouble with rebounds. The hope then would be that he would work on his game and become the starter at some point.
As it turned out, Wedgewood not only became Plymouth's starter but one of the better goalies in the OHL. He handled much of the workload for the Whalers in 2010-11 and put up a save percentage of 90.8% in the regular season. That may not be all that impressive on it's own, but it was the sixth highest save percentage among all top goalies by the league in that season. He didn't just work on his rebounds, but also his general athleticism, reflexes, and puck handling began to be seen as strengths. Wedgewood took another step forward in 2011-12. While he didn't play as much for Plymouth, his save percentage improved a bit to 91.1%. Goalies as a whole improved in the OHL last season, so that mark was only good for ninth among top goalies. It's still a sign that he was one of the league's better goalies.
An arguably more impressive sign was his selection to Canada's World Junior Championship team. Hockey Canada saw Wedgewood develop and picked him out of a very talented class of players to be on the roster. Not only that, he got three appearances as part of the team's bronze-winning effort. While international performance doesn't always lead to success at the next level (see: Jeff Frazee), the honor of being selected and the experience is nothing but a positive for both the player and his prospective future. For a relatively unknown player at the draft, Wedgewood turned out to have a very good career in junior.
In addition to his traits, Wedgewood has the additional advantage of age. With a birthdate on August 14, Wedgewood is still only 20. He could have gone back to Plymouth as an over-age player, but the decision was made to turn professional this fall. Again, it speaks to his talent to make that move now. Besides, it doesn't appear to me that he had more left to prove at that level. Wedgewood went to Albany for training camp at the time when we ranked all of these players. He didn't make it, instead he was loaned to Trenton of the ECHL. Already, he's had starts and he's off to a good start. The ECHL isn't a weak league, just ask Maxime Clermont; so a good rookie season for Wedgewood there gives more reason to believe he's got a future.
It is for those reasons that most of the writers ranked Wedgewood in their top ten. He had a very good junior career. He went from being a backup who had four brilliant playoff games to be a very good starter in the OHL to getting three appearances for Canada's WJC team to going pro a year earlier than he had to. In the process, profiles on the goalies such as this one at Hockey's Future and this short one by Corey Pronman at Hockey Prospectus both note that he moves well within the crease, he reacts well to shots, and he can play the puck well with his stick. Rebounds don't seem to be a large enough issue for him to warrant any opinion that it is an issue. This is all very good and I can see why Devils fans see what he's done and what others think of him, and then conclude he's the goalie of the future.
That all said, there are two main reasons why enthusiasm may need be dialed back on Wedgewood for the time being. The first is has to do with his upside. It's Pronman's main weakness for the goalie according to his profile. I agree in that I'm not sure where he'll end up. Could he be a good goalie in the minors? Possibly. Could he be a good NHL goalie? I don't know. I'm not saying he will or he won't; but it's truly a question mark. The second reason just has to do with how I view goalies in general. Related to the first, they are difficult to project in general. I've discussed this when I posted Clermont's rank. We can say he definitely wasn't just hot in Plymouth given the amount of time he played there. We can say he's made his way to the pros; but who knows what he'll do there. A good or a bad streak by him and/or his team could easily skew how he'll be seen as opposed to who he'll really become. He's got a lot of time to develop, which is good, That's why I have ranked Wedgewood as low as I did; I actually ranked Kinkaid ahead of him since he's higher up the depth chart.
Still, that's driven by own perspective on goalies. Again, there's plenty to like about this goaltender prospect. Wedgewood did quite well at the junior level, he's demonstrated a number of strengths you'd want a goalie to have at the next level, and he's a young 20 years old. He's got plenty of time to grow and playing in the ECHL will definitely help him out. It may be some time before he can really be seen at the next level, but it's worth keeping a close eye on him in the meantime. That may be enough to consider him the goalie of the future. The hope is that he continues to take the next step.
That's how we ranked Scott Wedgewood; now we want to know your opinion. Was Wedgewood ranked too high, too low, or just about right? Do you think he's the best goaltender prospect in the system right now? What do you expect him to do in Trenton? What is his eventual upside and do you think he'll reach it? Please share your answers and other thoughts about Wedgewood in the comments. Thank you for reading.