Season in Review: Niclas Westerholm
Westerholm is the only signed goalie outside North America in the organization.
Over the coming few months—as the NHL prepares for a return to play that may or may not be derailed before it starts—I will be taking some time to review the 2019-20 season for each prospect in the Nashville organization.
This will not include any ranking of prospects in the pipeline but rather individual profiles of the club’s talent in Milwaukee and beyond.
As has been the case with my 2020 NHL Entry Draft profiles, I’ll be using video clips to highlight strengths and weaknesses uncovered this season in each player’s game. Additionally, I’ll be posting much of the data I’ve manually tracked for each prospect this season.
I’ll be starting in net—and overseas—with Finnish goalie Niclas Westerholm.
Goalie - SaiPa [Liiga] - 22
In his first season as a full-time starter in Finland’s top league, Westerholm struggled behind a SaiPa team that finished 12th out of 15 teams with an 11-33-15 record. Westerholm’s 0.896 save percentage ranked 16th out of 23 goalies that started 20 or more games in the Liiga this season. Conversely, he did finish with the third most shutouts (5) and made the sixth most saves (916) league-wide.
In 39 appearances, Westerholm faced 1,022 shots in all situations and allowed 8.91 goals above league average—one of the worst marks relative to his peers in the Nashville organization.
This season, I also tracked save percentage by shot quality. On 273 high-danger shots faced in all situations, Westerholm recorded an 0.835 save percentage—a good mark relative to his peers. With medium-danger and low-danger shots, however, Westerholm struggled recording a 0.893 (363 shots) save percentage and a 0.943 (386 shots), respectively.
You can explore the charts of my hand-tracked data - in their entirety - here.
Westerholm’s numbers as a full-time starter in the Finnish Liiga would seem to indicate he’s got plenty of ground to make up next year to stay in the Nashville organization beyond then. So what in his game was exposed this season behind a porous defense, and what can he be successful at given his 6’4” athletic frame?
Westerholm fills the net well and, for the most part, maintains good positioning to stay square to the puck. In the clip above, envision yourself at ice level—right behind the shooter. Sure, the chance comes from the perimeter, but notice how well Westerholm adjusts with small pushes to get on angle to the shooter and conceal any perceived openings.
Again, in this clip, his frame fills the net well. Westerholm glides into an aggressive stance to challenge the impeded shooter, and then, as a high-danger chance emerges, utilizes just one quick push to rotate across the crease and get his leg pad in position for a save.
Westerholm tracks the puck well in traffic, too. In the above play, he maintains good coverage of the shooting lane generated out from the puck and then pushes quickly to the top the crease to come up with a nice glove save.
One are where Westerholm has struggled is rebound control. In the above clip, he again demonstrates a good angle and squareness to the puck but then kicks a rebound straight into a high-danger area. There’s not much else he can do on this play, and it seems he read his teammates’ positioning well to be confident in his decision, but there were many instances where Westerholm could have used a more active paddle to redirect shots.
On this play, again notice Westerholm’s solid positioning. One concern here is how low he holds his glove; if the shooter weren’t pushed outside as much, that could be exposed. More so, his stance allows the puck to sneak through and force his teammate to step in.
This play may demonstrate just as good a shot for rebound as poor rebound control, but regardless, Westerholm struggles to swallow the initial puck, forcing himself into an acrobatic high-danger save.
For as well as he can track and position, I noticed Westerholm not getting the necessary jump on plays across slot too often. On this goal, as the passer is crossing the face-off dot with the puck leaving his stick, Westerholm is stuck in a poor angle. Consequently, although his push gets him across the crease in time, he can’t set his stance before the puck is in the back of the net.
Here’s another example: forward one does an excellent job freezing Westerholm into his initial angle and creates plenty of time for the shooter to expose his cross-crease reaction.
But sometimes he’s on top of his reaction time. To execute this glove save, he moves from a good angle on the left side of the net to the top the crease and gets his stance set to challenge the shooter.
Westerholm’s glove side is probably his weakest asset in my evaluations; there just doesn’t seem to be much discipline in how he uses it.
Goalies are difficult to evaluate and it can be even harder to do so behind poor teams. I’m not sure Westerholm elevates his game beyond that of an AHL starter, but his athleticism makes it worth the developmental effort—at least for one more season.
Westerholm has one more season left on his entry-level contract that comes with a $825.3K cap hit and an annual value—including bonuses—of $925K.
At the end of the 2020-21 season, he will be a restricted free agent.
It remains to be seen where Westerholm will be playing next year, and the COVID-19 pandemic complicates the future of the AHL. With Troy Grosenick unsigned, Westerholm could slot in behind Connor Ingram in Milwaukee. Or he could be loaned back to SaiPa, who recently acquired Flyers’ prospect Matej Tomek from HK Dukla Trencin of the Slovakian league.
All statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com, liiga.fi, or manually tracked by myself. Contract information is courtesy of capfriendly.com.