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As we all know, goaltenders are voodoo. They don’t make much sense. Did any of you see Robin Lehner having a Vezina caliber season? Didn’t think so.

Projecting them is even more of a challenge. Which is why developing them properly is so important. One of the more interesting case studies from the Red Wings farm system is Keith Petruzzelli, a third round pick in 2017. To date, his play on the ice has not gone smoothly, but that shouldn’t take away from the promise he showed in his draft year. As I just mentioned, goaltending prospects need to be developed properly — which requires patience and an understanding for how they can improve upon their weaknesses.

In Petruzzelli, the Red Wings have a guy with loads of potential, which is why he deserves a longer leash. It seems as though many have given up on the former Muskegon Lumberjack despite what goaltending trends suggest has been a typical developmental curve.

Overview

Career Arc

Going back to Petruzzelli’s draft year during the 2016-17 season, he played for the aforementioned Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL. There he showcased his talents with 35 starts, posting an impressive .918 save percentage — which lead all under-18 netminders in the USHL that season.

Hey, he even scored a goal during his time in Muskegon!

Petruzzelli’s strong draft year earned him the second spot on NHL Central Scouting’s North American goalie rankings, and eventually being the 8th goaltender off the board in the 2017 NHL Draft. Certainly no small feat.

From there, however, he has dealt with his fair share of road bumps. His freshman season at Quinnipiac University became more of a season for learning, appearing in just 17 games, recording a mere .892 save percentage. From a growth standpoint, he was still filling out his large 6-foot-5 frame and at times just didn’t look comfortable.

The leap to his sophomore season didn’t get off to a hot start either. He had a horrible one game showing at the 2018 World Junior Summer Showcase, essentially squandering any hopes he had of representing the United States at the World Junior Championships in Vancouver. He returned to Quinnipiac and rebounded, winning his first five starts.

In fact, it seemed as though Petruzzelli had won the starting job for the Bobcats. He started in 12 of the team’s first 18 games, backstopping one of the nation’s best teams to an 8-4-0-0 record in that span. But then, something happened…

Andrew Shortridge.

As a 23-year-old junior, Shortridge just kept winning. He dominated games from the crease and flat-out took the starting job back from Petruzzelli, who was having a fine season. Shortridge would go on to be named ECAC goaltender of the year and was a finalist for the Mike Richter award, given to the top goaltender in Division I men’s ice hockey. After nearly taking Quinnipiac to the Frozen Four, he would turn pro by signing with the San Jose Sharks.

Sophomore goaltender Keith Petruzzelli (#31) taking warm-ups prior to an in-conference match-up against Colgate University.

A tough set of circumstances for Petruzzelli, who spent almost the entire second half of the season on the bench. Overall, his 2018-19 campaign saw him record a .904 save percentage in 14 games. On the bright side, however, with Shortridge now a member of the Sharks system, that pretty much makes the Quinnipiac starting job his to lose. The 2019-20 season will be a big one for the Wilbraham, MA, native, as he should push for north of 30 starts and continue to refine his on-ice play.

Prospect Profile

Evaluating the goaltender position with future projections in mind for players age 20 and under is often a difficult task. There have only been a handful of 18-year-old goalies over the years who proved to be a sure-fire elite talent. In large part because much of the position to reach being pro ready is developmental. Most goalie prospects have shortcomings that take time to improve upon.

What is important to look for is key attributes that make them standout. With Petruzzelli, his calling card is utilizing his size in all areas of the crease. He likes to come to the top of the crease to challenge shooters, which is what you want to see from someone with his frame, taking away more of the angles for the attacker to search for. The consequence here, however, is the increased difficulty of controlling rebounds. Some instances he absorbs pucks fine, but in others you lose faith in his ability to hold on to the rubber. That kind of inconsistency can get frustrating.

Also in his arsenal, with his length he is able to cover more ground and almost always stay in reach of a shot. That is key because his overall lateral movement is clunky, in which he could serve to smooth out and add more quickness too.

But there are plenty of goaltenders out there with size. What makes him worth the time? Well, he has shown an understanding to mesh all the different key characteristics together. He doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses that can’t be fixed over time, as well as how he uses his body to make life more difficult for the opponents is refreshing.

See some of the sequences below on how he displays smart positioning and utilization of his size and length to keep pucks out.

Petruzzelli is almost always in proper position and that is due to his traditional, calm play in the crease. He doesn’t get too aggressive or rely heavily on athleticism, but rather, remain relaxed and be in the right spots while staying square to the puck.

Where I may start to push back on how successful he’ll be long-term is that he has a tendency to let in some softies, shots that just have no business of going in. Stuff like that you would like to not be a persistent error at this age. I’m not sure Petruzzelli can be a workhorse 55-plus game starter in the NHL because he won’t have the dependability. But that doesn’t speak to his chances of carving out some sort of NHL career. Ultimately, however, not having that legitimate starting potential knocks him down on the collective prospect rankings of the WingsNation staff.

Future Projection

I’m going to cheat here and just say let the kid develop. Petruzzelli has two more highly important years at Quinnipiac left to continuing growing his game. The hope there is he’ll have shown enough to earn an entry-level contract (assuming he chooses to sign with Detroit) and right now I’d say he is on track to do so. Throwing out some projection at this moment in time is pointless.

Will he become a capable starter in the NHL? I lean no, but like I previously said, goaltenders are voodoo. They don’t make much sense. We’ve seen some netminders hit their stride by their mid twenties. You just can’t predict their timeline on making the NHL, or even the AHL for that matter.


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