The St. Louis Blues have arguably one of the best goaltending prospect pools in the league. They’ve been able to draft Ville Husso, Evan Fitzpatrick and Luke Opilka. All three goalies are strong and close to NHL-ready. This especially goes for Husso, whose NHL-readiness is highly anticipated. Ben Kerr ranked him as the 69th-best prospect in the league right now, a stat that also ranked him fifth amongst goalie prospects on the top 100 list.
With so much depth at the position, on top of starting goalie Jake Allen pretty much solidifying himself as the starter for the next few years, there is a lot of backup in the system. The best way to fix this issue is to simply get rid of at least one goalie. The goalie that needs to go ultimately ends up being Jordan Binnington.
Jordan Binnington is Becoming Obsolete
Binnington was drafted by the Blues in the third round of the 2011 NHL Draft. Going into the draft, he was coming off a great year with the Owen Sound Attack in the OHL. He went 21-17-1 in the 2010-11 season, with a save percentage of .899 and a goals-against average of 3.05.
Binnington finished off his tenure with the Sound Attack, then went into the ECHL for a season. He didn’t become a fixture of the AHL lineup until 2014. He was the Chicago Wolves starting goalie for the 2014-15 season but has seen diminishing minutes ever since. The diminishing minutes, on average a loss of 300 each season, has come as players like Pheonix Copley and Husso have come into the AHL.
In his time with the Wolves, Binnington has put up good numbers. He’s set a combined record of 75-49-12 throughout his four years in Chicago. In his best season, the 2014-15 year, Binnington tied for fourth in the AHL in wins (25) and ranked fairly high in every other statistic. He would’ve been one of the best goalies in the league if players like Matt Murray and Connor Hellebuyck hadn’t made their AHL debuts.
Binnington got his first taste of competition after two years as a solid starter in the AHL. Husso, who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft, moved from Finland to North America prior to the 2016-17 season. The move was highly anticipated after Husso’s strong 2015-16 in Finland’s top league. The hype translated into his playing time. Save for a short stint in the ECHL, Husso was a platoon goalie with Binnington. Husso went 13-6-0 that year, ranking in the top 15 for goals-against average and save percentage. This was considerably better than Binnington, who had 10 more starts, and was fairly middle-of-the-pack in every statistic.
Since then, Husso has been a close competitor with Binnington. Last year’s AHL drama pitted the goalies on separate teams, but they both still had very strong seasons. Husso played in ten more games and saw a bit worse stats as a result; as well as the fact that his team was considerably worse than Binnington’s. Still, Binnington ranked as a top-five goalie in both goals-against and save percentage.
The Blues have also drafted Fitzpatrick and Opilka since Binnington became a mainstay in the AHL. While both are eligible to play in the AHL this year, only Fitzpatrick has a true chance. Opilka, who has struggled with surgeries for the past few years, likely won’t see very many minutes at all.
Fitzpatrick will easily get minutes, though. The 20-year-old is headed into his first year in the AHL, after a strong career in juniors; though a bit inconsistent. Last season he split the year between the Sherbrooke Phoenix and Acadie-Bathurst Titans. With the latter team, Fitzpatrick was a star player. The Telegram released an article ranting and raving over Fitzpatrick prior to the championship series of the QMJHL playoffs. For good reason. In 21 regular season games with the Titans, Fitzpatrick went 17-3-0.
Fitzpatrick went up a gear for the playoffs. He played 20 games during the playoff run, one less than Emile Samson, who played the most during the postseason. Fitzpatrick’s stat line was much better than the rookie Samson, though. He went 16-4-0, had the lowest goals-against average of a starting goalie and the highest save percentage. He recorded these stats despite playing many more games than almost every goalie in the league.
After a shaky and inconsistent career in juniors, Fitzpatrick seemed to finally mature in the latter half of his final year. He’s coming into the AHL riding the high that season left him and an excitement to assimilate into the pro level. With so much hype leading into this season for Fitzpatrick, he’s easily leap-frogged Binnington.
That leaves Binnington as the odd-man-out. He caught a lucky break, being named on the San Antonio Rampage’s opening night roster instead of Fitzpatrick. Still, the chance that he gets replaced is very high. He’s lost his role as a future backup to Allen and might quickly lose his role as the backup to Ville Husso.
Binnington isn’t obsolete yet. He had a very strong 2017-18 year with the Chicago Wolves and will have plenty of chances to repeat that this season. With that said, he has to outperform a very hot Fitzpatrick to start this year. He also still has players like Joel Hofer and Opilka breathing down his neck; two goalies who aren’t necessarily top-prospects but could still become AHL backups soon. With so much strong competition around him, it seems like only a matter of time before Binnington goes from being a highly anticipated goalie prospect to an AHL healthy-scratch or back down to the ECHL club.
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