Sep 292005
 

On Sunday, former first-round draft pick Dan Blackburn announced his retirement at the tender age of 22. Selected 10th overall by the New York Rangers in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, he was projected as their future starter and the heir apparent to Mike Richter. Then, in October of 2003, Blackburn suffered an injury to his left shoulder which resulted in nerve damage and left him unable to play for the following season. When he did return in 2004-05, it was with the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL, and he sported two blockers, as his injury prevented him from being able to close a catcher. Blackburn then reinjured himself at the Rangers training camp this year, leading to his retirement. Yet, with his injuries, it’s easy to forget exactly how good Blackburn was. To put it in perspective, he’s three years younger now then Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, who has yet to cement an NHL job. While it’s difficult to find any recent statistical comparisons to a goaltender who joined the NHL from the WHL at 18, here are a few other players who have all been considered number one goaltender material at some point in their career (please note, the OHL numbers are skewed compared to WHL numbers):

Player 16 yrs old 17 yrs old 18 yrs old 19 yrs old 20 yrs old
Dan Blackburn WHL
34-8-7
2.52gaa
.912%
WHL
33-14-2
2.77
.907%
AHL
2-1-1
2.70
.905%
NHL
12-16-0
3.28
.898%
NHL
8-16-4
3.17
.890%
Injured
Player 1 HS
14-0-1
0.95gaa
WHL
17-11-2
3.29gaa
WHL
33-19-2
3.41
WHL
10-24-5
3.69
.899%
AHL
16-12-3
3.19
.888%
Player 2 SMHL
2.43gaa
WHL
27-13-1
2.38gaa
.906%
WHL
18-24-13
2.75
.914%
WHL
25-25-5
2.42
.923
AHL
21-16-3
2.01
.930%
Player 3 OJHL
2.87gaa
OHL
3-9-1
4.98
OHL
24-28-1
4.54
OHL
20-28-1
4.31
.891%
AHL
14-15-7
3.19
.899%
Player 3 MTJHL
3.94
OHL
8-16-5
4.16
.890%
OHL
17-22-5
4.11
.897%
OHL
33-20-5
3.43
.918%
AHL
8-14-4
3.37
.891%
NHL
4-6-0
2.96
.890%

As you can see, none of them really compare to Blackburn, with only Player 4 having reached the NHL by age 20. Player 1 is Brian Boucher, famous for guiding the Flyers to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and currently languishing in Phoenix, a victim of his own inconsistency. Player 2 is Minnesota prospect Josh Harding, who actually compares well to Blackburn, if with slower development, and who is projected as a future starting netminder. Player 3 is Brent Johnson, former starter in St. Louis and current third-stringer in Vancouver. Finally, Player 4 is Boston Bruins netminder Andrew Raycroft, whose statistics as a 20 year old are inferior to Blackburn as an 18 year old, despite the fact that Blackburn played for an inferior team. How though, does Blackburn compare against other phenom netminders? Here’s a look at two current stars, who unfortunately played in wildly different leagues at young ages, making it difficult to compare them to Blackburn. Here are their first NHL seasons, both with the New York Islanders:

Roberto Luongo (20 years old)
AHL- 10-12-4 2.93 GAA .908%
NHL- 7-14-1 3.25 GAA .904%

Rick DiPietro (19 years old)
IHL- 4-5-2 3.39 GAA .880%
NHL- 3-15-1 3.49 GAA .878%

Dan Blackburn (18 years old)
AHL- 2-1-1 2.70 GAA .905%
NHL- 12-16-0 3.28 GAA .898%

Blackburn again compares well, boasting superior numbers to DiPietro, and similar numbers to Luongo. With these statistics in mind, it isn’t difficult to see how Blackburn might have developed into one of the top netminders in the league.

 Posted by at 12:14 am

  2 Responses to “Dan Blackburn- How Good Could He Have Been?”

  1.  

    Blackburn’s problem was that he was rushed to the NHL way too quickly and on a bad team which plays poor defence. As a result, I am not sure what kind of career he might have been able to accomplish. His confidence may have gotten shot early on and he might not have been able to mature properly.

    Unfortunately Rick DiPietro might suffer the same problem. Luongo was probably rushed to the NHL as well but was lucky enough to move to Florida where playing defence was a little more a common practice and where media/fan pressure to perform was less. It is very rare that a goalie can be a quality NHL starting goalie at age 20. Personally, I wouldn’t give up on a goalie prospect until at least age 25. See Dan Cloutier who is just now just starting to become a very good NHL starting. I would say Cloutier’s first good year was in 2003-04 at age 27 when his save % improved to .914.

  2.  

    I generally agree with what you say about rushing goaltenders, but I think Blackburn may have been the exception. Just watching how hard he tried to come back from injury, you have to think that a guy with his mental and emotional makeup would have maximized his athletic ability, regardless of how the Rangers mishandled him.

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