With the Canadian Hockey League hosting 60 clubs between the three member leagues, it comes as no surprise that there are a lot of solid goaltenders coming from all over the country. Yes, it’s true, Canada has struggled with getting great goaltending performances at the World Juniors in recent years, but there is a good reason why a Canadian netminder is usually chosen early during an NHL Draft. That will likely be the case in 2015, as Mackenzie Blackwood is hoping his play this season could lead to high draft position next June.
Blackwood was drafted by the Barrie Colts in the fifth round of the 2012 Ontario Hockey League draft after a strong season with the Thunder Bay Kings Minor Midget AAA club. With Mathias Niederberger and Alex Fortinos manning the Barrie crease during the 2012-2013 season, Blackwood joined the Elmira Sugar Kings of the Ontario Junior B league, the GOJHL, backing up to veteran goaltender Hayden Neuman.
After losing in the conference finals with the Sugar Kings, and with Neiderberger out of the picture, Blackwood made the jump full time with the Colts for the 2013-2014 season. The Colts thought highly of Blackwood during his rookie year, and they fully committed to the youngster by trading Fortinos to the Windsor Spitfires in October of 2013. In 45 games during his OHL rookie season, Blackwood finished with a 23-15-6 record, good enough for him to land himself on the OHL First All-Rookie Team at the end of the year.
With Blackwood taking over between the pipes last season, there were a lot of questions as to whether or not Blackwood could do it all again in 2014-2015, especially without Aaron Ekblad standing in front of him. Ekblad or no Ekblad, Blackwood has proven this year that he’s the real deal, helping the Colts jet up to the second spot in the Central Division with a 6-2-1 record in nine OHL games.
One of his biggest attributes is his mental toughness. In a rare instance that he allows a weak shot from afar, Blackwood never seems to lose his confidence or show anymore signs of weakness. That’s a very tough thing to ask of a goalie who became an OHL starter at the age of 16, but that’s something he possessed. A typical butterfly goalie, Blackwood squares up to the shooter very well and continues to develop his rebound control with every passing week. Sitting at 6’4″ and 205 lbs, Blackwood is always ready to challenge attackers, and in many cases, the Colts starter comes out on top. His play is similar to that of Colorado Avalanche puckstopper Semyon Varlamov, who has fantastic reflexes and uses his big frame to over most of the net. Blackwood did miss a few weeks early in the season with a lower body injury, but after his strong outing at the Subway Super Series against Russia, it looks like he hasn’t missed a beat.
So what’s next for Blackwood? The Thunder Bay, ON resident is listed as an ‘A’ prospect by NHL Central Scouting and could be the first goaltender to hear his name called next June. Blackwood has the skill to become a high first round draft pick, but with most teams not willing to use a first rounder on a goaltender, you may have to wait a little longer to see his name called during the draft weekend. Regardless, Blackwood has looked good as a sophomore in the OHL, and after a few seasons of prior development in the OHL and AHL, Blackwood should be ready to become an NHL starting goaltender soon enough.
Steven is a junior hockey reporter for the Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, and also focuses on international hockey for his website, TheHockeyHouse.net. You can follow Steven on twitter,@StevenEllisNHL.