High Hopes for Hofer

(Photo Credit: David Zammit / SC Broncos)

Standing two feet taller than the crossbar, goalie Joel Hofer was chosen at #107 overall at the 2018 NHL Draft by the St. Louis Blues. He is only 17 years old, and possibly has room to grow a little taller, but that’s good. He’ll have plenty of time to grow in the years to come. Every scouting report I’ve seen, and one of my own, indicates that he’s got the potential to become a promising choice in the St. Louis net. In fact, he has the potential to be one of the best.

Let’s meet him first:

Hofer, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, was skipped over the WHL Bantam Draft two years ago. At the CSSVHL level during the 2015-2016 season, he was recognized by the league for having the best GAA (1.74), the best save percentage (.937), and was ranked as the top goaltender. In his rookie season for the Swift Current Broncos, he played in 19 games, recorded 8 wins, 4 losses, and 1 overtime or shootout loss. He had 39 goals against. He had 1 shutout. He posted a 2.61 GAA and a .914 save percentage. Per the WHL rankings, he was 7th overall best in North America, and the top rated goalie in the NHL Central Scoutings final rankings in April 2018. The Swift Current Broncos were WHL Champions this past year, and though he did not play in the Memorial Cup, the atmosphere was enough to soak in and learn from. He backed up both Logan Flodell, who played 35 games and posted a 3.07 GAA and a .913 save percentage; and Stuart Skinner, who played 25 games, and posted a 2.68 GAA and a .914 save percentage. Flodell was traded to the Lethbridge Hurricanes last season, and Skinner moved on as a prospect for the Edmonton Oilers. That means Hofer will have the opportunity to step into the starter’s role in the upcoming 2018-2019 season.

I created my own scouting report on him:

In June 2018, I had the pleasure of watching him play during the St. Louis Blues Prospect Camp at Ice Zone in Hazelwood, MO. I did not know what to expect, and I was very pleasantly surprised. In my analysis of Hofer, I described him as a “reactionary” goalie, meaning he does not think: he just does things. Hofer is very in the moment, very focused, but does not overthink or calculate 3 or 4 steps ahead. I don’t think it is any accident that he was given #1 during training camp: former Blues goaltender Brian Elliot is the same way, as well as Carter Hutton. His glove and hands are very quick, and he is a solid wall in the net. When he readies into his positioning, he is dead even with the crossbar and posts. Physics state that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and when he lowers himself down, ready for the puck, the potential energy generated from his positioning is stored in his legs until he lets go of it. What does that result in? Very, very powerful strength to move anywhere he wishes. I described him as being “coiled”, ready to spring, wherever he needs to go. He tracks the puck well, especially in traffic, and though he has a lot to learn, he has time to learn it. One area of improvement is his upstairs work: many times, players who elevate the puck can bury it in the net if they shoot it over his shoulders. He needs to learn how to use the energy in his legs and the balls of his feet to spring upward a bit more. He can use his frame to block those shots, or put himself in a position where his glove can snag them or his blocker can swat them away. He will also need to gain more muscle mass, to put up with the rigors of a fulltime goaltender.

Where can he go? Let’s see:

When I watched Hofer, I did not see a Blues goalie as a contemporary down the road. Instead, surprisingly, I went straight to the heart of the Nashville Predator goal, Pekka Rinne, who is comparable in height, and comparable in gameplay.

Now, I digress here: I do not believe Hofer will be Rinne. I want Hofer to be Hofer, and right now, he is very raw, very rough around the edges. But, he has potential in spades, and if coached and mentored in the right way, I believe he can be every bit as dynamic as Rinne.

I took my idea a step further: I went back and looked at Rinne’s stats at around the same age. For the Finnish Jr A SM-Liiga (U20) League, Rinne, then 18, played a comparable 20 games, posted a win/loss of 9-4, and had 5 shootout losses. He had no shutouts to his name. He had 63 goals against, sported a 3.29 GAA, and recorded a save percentage of .891.

Here is where I believe Hofer has great potential. If both leagues are compared together and considered to have the same difficulty level when transitioning players into the NHL, Hofer posted 1 shutout, when Rinne had none. Hofer only had 1 shootout loss, and Rinne had 5 (which is one of the few pluses to Rinne’s record: he survived long enough in exhibition to take his team to overtime, even if he lost in it). Their standard win/loss totals are a wash: they would both break even if compared to each other on that stat alone. What is more interesting is Rinne had a total of 1148 minutes played out in 20 games. That is 251 minutes more than Hofer recorded, but guess what? Rinne played 1 official game more than Hofer, but posted 4 additional shootout losses. This means that Rinne played more than Hofer, but did less with that time to improve his stats. Assuming Hofer played those additional 251 minutes, converted to “games’ worth” (4.18 “games’ worth” total; this originated from dividing Rinne’s additional 251 minutes played into 60 minutes per game), and Hofer still sported his same recorded GAA previously (2.61), mathematically, Hofer would have recorded an additional 11 goals against. That would bring his total up to an even 50 goals against, still 13 goals below Rinne’s total goals against. If instead, we used Rinne’s recorded GAA (3.29) in the same amount of additional minutes, in that additional 4.18 days’ worth, Hofer would have an additional 13.75 (rounded to 14) goals against, which is still lower than Rinne’s total by 10.

I want to point out that statistically speaking, the WHL has a .30 difficulty rating (out of 1.0) for transitioning players into the NHL, while the Elite League has a difficulty rating of .56 (out of 1.0). This means Hofer put up his numbers in a more difficult league than Rinne did, as he was required to face more elite prospects from countries such as Canada and Russia. Head to head and adjusting for minutes, taking the difficulty ratings into account, Hofer actually bests Rinne at roughly the same age: he recorded a lower GAA and goals against in a shorter amount of time, and even if an adjustment was made to bring him even with Rinne’s minutes, Hofer would still statistically be the better goaltender in goals against.

What does this prove? Absolutely nothing, other than to show Hofer’s massive potential when compared to a very good goaltender in the NHL at roughly the same age. It shows where Hofer can go with what he has. Part of what makes Rinne so effective is his style, how he was trained, and his own mindset; finding the right mix for Hofer is imperative for him to succeed from here on out, because he has explosive possibilities and potential when trained right. The sky’s the limit for this NHL goalie-to-be: he just has to grow and get there.

(Sources: Elite-Prospects.com, Eurohockey.com, SCBroncos.com, swiftcurrentonline.com, behindthenet.ca)

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