The Flames' goaltending situation is an odd, jammed up mess as of late. With three potentials in Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo, and Joni Ortio, someone's gotta go - or risk waivers. After that trio of Euros, you've got an American in Jon Gillies, and finally, after him, the only other goalie in the system: the 6'4, 200 lb. Mason McDonald.
McDonald, freshly 19, is still at least a season or so away from professional hockey. In the meantime, as a Halifax native, he gets to play in the league that's least friendly to all goalies: the QMJHL.
A high-scoring junior league? For a goalie? What could possibly go wrong? Absolutely nothing - as McDonald will have to continue to prove, in the midst of being considered for national Canadian teams.
His raw numbers aren't fantastic thanks to where he plays, but people throughout the hockey world see something they like in McDonald: enough to draft him high, enough to consider him for the World Junior team, and hopefully, enough for him to be an impact player one day.
|Rank||Player||DOB||Draft||2014-15 team||Vote total|
|T-14||Mason McDonald||04/23/96||34th overall, 2014||Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)||76|
McDonald made his way up through his hometown of Halifax before he was selected 20th overall by Acadie-Bathurst Titan in the QMJHL. As a 16-year-old, he was undrafted goalie Jacob Brennan's backup, and didn't post what one would exactly consider good numbers: the handicap of being a rookie backup goaltender on a not-fantastic team in a high-scoring league. Acadie-Bathurst finished 14th in the overall standings, and was eliminated after a five-game first round series, with McDonald appearing in one game. He then played four games for the Canadian Atlantic U17 team.
As a 17-year-old, McDonald played another 13 games for the Titans before he was traded to the Charlottetown Islanders about halfway through his second season in the QMJHL. There, he started a little more often, and brought his save percentage up above the .900 mark. The Islanders and Titans both finished with 50 points in the 2013-14 season; both were swept out of the first round. McDonald played all four games for his team.
Despite the lacklustre end to his season, McDonald really gained attention for his performance for Team Canada in the U18s. As the team's starter, he posted a much more impressive .930 save percentage - territory that comes in part with being on a much better team - and won gold, extending Canada's streak in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.
The Flames were watching, and liked what they saw. With the 34th overall pick in the 2014 draft, they selected McDonald: the first goalie taken that year.
Firmly established as the Islanders' starter, McDonald played 56 games for them this past season, eclipsing the .900 save percentage mark over his first go at a significant number of games. Charlottetown greatly improved, finishing ninth overall in the QMJHL standings. McDonald had the second best save percentage of any goaltender in the league. His Islanders even won a playoff series, but ended up swept out of the second round by the Quebec Remparts. That wasn't on McDonald, though, as he suffered a season-ending knee injury just three games into the Islanders' first round series.
Currently, McDonald is fighting for a spot on the Canadian World Junior team, having taken part in Team Canada's summer showcase against the Czech Republic and Russia. He was one of the top goalies of the mini tournament, playing two games and finishing with a .941 save percentage (only Mackenzie Blackwood, a second round pick of the New Jersey Devils, posted a better performance: three games, .975 SV%).
Strengths and weaknesses
McDonald is big and able to cover his net thanks to his size, and has a natural talent when it comes to goaltending. He's mentally strong when in net, and not easily rattled: something necessary for a goalie. He's quick, he's good with his glove, and he's the kind of player who doesn't give up on the play. He performs rather well no matter who's playing in front of him, and has been a major asset for Charlottetown.
That said, he's still young and raw, and needs to trust in his big body a little more, because it's a great tool for stopping pucks. You know he's seeing a lot of shots in the QMJHL, but a lot of pucks are still making their ways past him. The good news is he clearly has talent in him, and should continue to develop as he gets older. What he lacks now can be fixed and refined with time.
Future with the Flames
The Flames' future in net is a mystery right now. What we do know is there aren't that many contenders to one day take over as starter, and of what the Flames do have, McDonald is the youngest. He has the raw talent and athleticism that could one day make him an NHL goalie, but he's also behind Ortio and Gillies, by sheer virtue of their being older. For now, the young goalie remains a good insurance option, but if one of those two establishes himself before McDonald gets his chance, he could find himself elsewhere.
On the other hand, they may yet fall in love with McDonald. After all, the Flames were once high on Laurent Brossoit, but Gillies' performance made him expendable. We're yet to see just where McDonald falls into the grand scheme of things, but as a junior player, there's no rush with him.
Expectations for 2015-16
McDonald will be going back to Charlottetown for what will likely be his final season in junior, and may find himself on a new, Memorial Cup-contending team before the season ends, if Charlottetown doesn't decide to keep him for themselves. In the Q, you hope he can build off what he did in his draft +1 year, and hope he stays healthy, so we can see what he's really capable of in the playoffs.
As a 19-year-old, this is McDonald's last chance to be a part of the World Juniors. The good news is Team Canada really seems to like him thus far, so he'll need to be on top of his game for the first half of the season to stay on their radar. It'd be nice to see him win the starter's position, and then hopefully a medal with Team Canada on one of junior hockey's biggest stages, and McDonald has the potential to do just that.
Earlier on the list
#25 - Ryan Culkin // #24 - Hunter Smith // #23 - Pavel Karnaukhov // #22 - Garnet Hathaway // #21 - Kenny Agostino // #20 - Mark Jankowski // #19 - Bill Arnold // #18 - Kenney Morrison // #17 - Andrew Mangiapane