With just four of the 24 goalies selected in the 2015 NHL Draft coming from Canada, some people seem to think that there is an issue with Canadian born goaltenders. Why are so many from USA and Russia getting picked, but with 60 teams to choose from in the CHL, only a few were chosen?
Georgetown Raiders goaltender Jack LaFontaine is Canadian, and he’s ready to prove that Canada still has some of the best hockey goaltenders in the world.
LaFontaine, 17, spent his Minor Midget AAA season in 2013-2014 with the Don Mills Flyers, helping his team finish fifth in the GTHL that season. It was actually his second year with the Minor Midget team, acting as the starter as an underaged prospect the season before while putting up a 2.57 GAA in 39 games. During his draft year, LaFontaine had to work with a team that really struggled in every category, but still managed to put up a 9-11-3 record with four shutouts and a 2.11 GAA in 23 games.
His solid play with a poor team really caught the attention of scouts. Ranked as one of the top goaltenders heading into the 2014 OHL Draft, LaFontaine found himself selected as the first goalie of the third round, going 42nd overall to the Kitchener Rangers. A month later, he was selected by the Fargo Force of United States Hockey League,
A native of Mississauga, Ontario (a city right outside of Toronto), LaFontaine participated in Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence Under-17 Goaltending Camp last summer in an attempt to judge his skills prior to the Under-17 World Hockey Championships in the Winter. LaFontaine didn’t end up making any of the three Canadian teams when the tournament eventually took place in November, but his performance was impressive enough to potentially keep him in the running for the Under-18’s in April of 2016.
With the Rangers’ crease already filled with the likes of Jake Paterson, Dawson Carty and Matthew Greenfield, LaFontaine signed with the OJHL’s Georgetown Raiders, a top team in the Ontario-based Junior A hockey league. It was a season to remember for the young star, who was a top five goalie in the league for most of the season. Younger than most of his competition (including 20-year-old co-starter Marc Willians), LaFontaine posted a 20-6-0 record to go along with a 2.13 GAA, .923 SV% and two 2 shutouts for the Raiders in his rookie campaign. Georgetown would suffer an early exit from the OJHL playoffs, eventually losing to the Toronto Jr. Canadiens, but LaFontaine’s campaign, which earned him a spot as an OJHL First Team All-Prospect, was definetly a huge highlight of the season.
LaFontaine is a very exciting goaltender to watch. He doesn’t claim to have any real style and acts more like a reactionary goalie, which is very clear with some of the incredible diving saves he makes. Working with an older, more experienced goalie surely helped LaFontaine in his OJHL rookie season, however, making him more of a calm, square to the shooter type guy that looks similar to that of Jonathan Bernier. A big goaltender, LaFontaine has very effective lateral movement, wasting very little energy to get to each post rather quickly. In traffic, LaFontaine does an excellent job tracking the puck, using his size to look around the opposition and make the save while looking like he had no distraction in front of him. He’s never afraid to use his stick to poke check someone coming in trying to be fancy, and if he misses, he’s got a good reach to help catch the puck before it gets over the line. He’s remarkably fast, and with his good frame, that makes it really tough to find a way past him.
As of June, LaFontaine hadn’t officially signed with the Rangers, but there is still the belief that he’ll end up with the club who drafted him. It’s also believed that LaFontaine could head the NCAA route with a few offers, but as of now, nothing has been decided just yet. LaFontaine will most likely hear his name chosen as one of the first goaltenders in the 2016 NHL Draft thanks to his raw skill alone, with many projecting him to be a potential second round pick early in the running. It’s always a gongshow when it comes to goaltenders in the draft, but from what it looks like, the brother of 2017 prospect Drake Lafontaine seems like a very solid bet to get selected early, and no matter where he plays, he should prove to be a very solid option in the crease.
Photo from OJHL Images.