MacKenzie Blackwood: Devils’ Backstop Quickly Climbing The Ranks Among Fellow Goalies
|Photo Credit: Zak Krill/Getty Images|
It’s not easy trying to replace a legend, especially one thought by many to be the best to ever do it at that position.
The 2013-2014 season was the last time that Martin Brodeur wore a New Jersey Devils’ jersey, and since that time they have waited for some to emerge as a bonafide number one netminder.
New Jersey made waves during the 2013 NHL Draft in search of Brodeur’s eventual replacement, trading the ninth overall pick to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Cory Schneider.
Schneider was long thought as a potential number one goalie, but was blocked in Vancouver by Roberto Luongo.
To be fair, Schneider did play well early on during his tenure with the Devils, posting a combined .923 save percentage in his first two seasons in New Jersey. To reward him for his success, and wanting him to be the long-term answer in net, the Devils front office signed him to a seven year deal, worth $42 million ($6 million AAV).
Devils Draft Another Potential Successor
That offseason, despite committing to a long-term deal with Schneider, the Devils used their second round draft pick on another goalie, Mackenzie Blackwood from the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
Blackwood was the second goalie selected, behind Ilya Samsonov, and was the top rated goaltender in North America according to NHL Central Scouting.
After spending another year in the OHL, Blackwood would spend the next two and a half years with the Albany/Binghamton Devils of the American Hockey League (AHL), eventually making his NHL debut last season.
A rough 2017-2018 season left Blackwood with underwhelming numbers at the AHL level. In 88 games at the top developmental league, Blackwood posted a 2.95 goals against average (GAA) with a .897 save-percentage (SV%).
It was a different story when he hit the NHL, as Blackwood started to make an impact from day one. He would make his NHL debut on December 18 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, stopping eight of ten shots in relief.
He stopped 36-of-38 shots in his first career start, a loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. His first career win came on December 27, making 42 saves in the process. On December 29 and 31, Blackwood posted back-to-back shutouts against the Carolina Hurricanes and Vancouver Canucks, respectively.
Second Year Leap
Blackwood entered this past season as the go-to guy in New Jersey, officially passing Schneider as the later struggled to stay healthy and consistent while he was able to get on the ice.
Looking at his advanced numbers at 5v5, Blackwood to a step forward and quickly established himself as a breakout candidate and potential franchise goaltender for the Devils.
While his save percentage and saves above average (GSAA) were both better in his rookie year, Blackwood really improved on how he handled the high-danger opportunities. He finished 44th among goalies with at least 1,000 minutes at 5v5 last year in HDSV%.
Only Tuukka Rask finished with a better HDSV% than Blackwood this past year, when upping the minutes to 1,500 to account for his increased workload (He still finished third if you kept it at 1,000 minutes).
His high-danger saves above average per 60 minutes was also second best and even with his tough showing his rookie year, he is a top ten goalie in the metric the last two seasons combined.
How did he rank among his peers? Blackwood actually ranked in the top ten in most advanced metrics this past season.
He did all of this while facing the fifth most shots per 60 minutes, and with the Devils being the second worse team in the league when it comes to puck possession (46.08 Corsi-For%).
Where’s The Love For Blackwood?
When talking about the next wave of young goalies coming up, Blackwood isn’t always one of the first names to get mentioned. That title general belongs to Carter Hart, at least for now.
Ilya Samsonov of the Washington Capitals and Thatcher Demko with the Canucks all are highly touted net-minders that have graduated to the NHL level in each of the past two seasons.
It’s easy to lose Blackwood in the midst of the conversation among the game’s top goaltenders mainly because the Devils finished towards the bottom of the standings.
Both Hart and Demko were playing meaningful games within the last week, and when Samsonov finally takes the reigns in D.C. he will do so backstopping a team coming off a Stanley Cup victory just two years ago.
Demko is been especially highlighted lately, finishing out the Conference Semi-Finals series against the Dallas Stars. After taking over in game five, Demko posted a 2-1 record, only allowed two goals in three contests, stopped 123-of-125 shots (.984 SV%) and posted a shutout streak of 138:40.
Not bad at all.
So how does Blackwood compare to them? After seeing how he compared to the rest of the league, the results shouldn’t be surprising.
Playing on the worst of the four teams, Blackwood was better because he had to be. Imagine the Devils’ record without Blackwood in net. It could be somehow worse, and that’s still factoring in they had the first overall pick in 2019.
What’s Next For Blackwood and The Devils
New Jersey is in an interesting spot this offseason. Blackwood is unquestionably their biggest name that is in need of a new contract. While they may not commit a long-term contract just yet, the numbers say they wouldn’t be wrong in doing so.
The Devils not only enter the offseason with three first-round picks to continue to add talent to their farm system, but currently - according to CapFriendly - have the fourth most available cap space for when free agency starts.
With so much available space, and three first-round draft picks in the upcoming draft, the sky is the limit in how New Jersey want to approach the offseason.
It starts with signing Blackwood. Being on a team that has struggled has kept him from maybe getting the recognition he deserves, but in two quick years Blackwood has established himself as an emerging top-ten goalie in the league.
How do you feel about Blackwood? Is he the answer in net for the Devils long-term? What kind of contract should they work to finalizing this offseason? A shorter bridge contract to have him prove it again, or should they go ahead and lock him up long-term? Let me know what you think in the comment section below and continue the conversation with me on Twitter @AJ_Murfy.