This mini-series is about Mitch Korn, the sometimes forgotten goalie coach who has also been there since day one. I hope to write out this five piece series on Mitch Korn and his contributions to the Predators organization.
Our surprising late draft pick goaltenders who step up to become NHL stars isn’t without its consequences. When Lindback swoops in from Europe to take the backup spot, or Ellis out performs Rinne making Rinne the all star AHLer, it takes a toll on other developing goalies. Goalies with talent all of a sudden see little chance to make the NHL team, which can be a tough pill to swallow for a young player. Chet Pickard, Jeremy Smith and Brian Finley, to name a few, are all examples of this by-product: youth goaltenders that were picked in the top rounds only to see very few NHL games. While some of this is due to their own performance, you have to think that they just weren’t given the chance.
The Plight of Chet Pickard
It is all part of the risk in drafting goaltenders though. Chet Pickard, for example, was drafted 18th overall in 2008, at the age of 19. This summer, four years later, after trying his luck in the AHL, ECHL and finally Europe, he was not re-signed.
Pickard was a back up to Carey Price in the WHL before taking over the role of starter in 2007. That season he would win the CHL goaltender of the year award which, along with his stats, convinced the Predators to take a chance on him. At the time they were in the process of not re-signing Mason and promoting Rinne to the NHL to provide relief for Ellis.
The AHL roster was in need of a solid netminder, and the future of Preds goaltending wasn’t looking particularly great. Ellis had a good season but was still inconsistent. Rinne had proved himself in the AHL but who knew how well he would do in the NHL or when he could become a starter.
So the Preds threw one of their three first 2008 first round picks at Pickard (the other two being Colin Wilson and Ryan Ellis). Pickard was returned to the WHL for his last season of eligibility where he had fewer games but better numbers across the board.
In the move to the AHL for 2009, Pickard would be interchangeable with Mark Dekanich a 5th round Preds goalie who had played in Milwaukee the prior season. Pickard finished the season with 14 wins in 36 games and a .892 save percentage.
The following season began the decline for Pickard. Starting with the AHL, he was sent to the Preds ECHL affiliate in Cincinnati, where he stayed for the following season before being sent to a Europe to play with Djurgardens. He wasn’t re-signed this year.
It’s interesting that a highly touted first round pick would falter in the Preds system of producing excellent goalies. But Pickard is one of few instances of underperforming goalie picks: primarily due to the Predators underestimating the potential of Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback. The success of both goalies would box out who boxed Pickard and move him to the ECHL.
Magnus Hellberg in the NHL?
Hellberg is a 22 year old Swede who was drafted in the second round of 2011. He didn’t see much action in his first post-draft season with Frolunda in the Swedish Elite League, where he primarily had back up duties.
But when brought overseas to Milwaukee in 2012-2013, he had 22 wins in 39 games. Playing in a near even split with Jeremy Smith (another 2nd rounder, 2007), he did more than enough to prove capable in North America. Smith wasn’t resigned after the season and there questions are being asked about Hellberg’s role next season.
The Predators haven’t made any significant moves to find a backup for Pekka Rinne. The signing of Carter Hutton, an undrafted 27 year old with no NHL games is uninspiring as an NHL back up, and it is more likely that he was signed as an AHL goalie. Hellberg would be the logical promotion if there are no signings this offseason.
But the Predators need someone who can confidently play more than 10 games in a season. With Lindback as a back up in 2011-2012, Rinne took on a major bulk of the workload – an impressive feat, but one that we can’t have every year.
Is Hellberg ready for the responsibility? And at 22, will being an NHL backup be more or less beneficial to his development than an AHL starter.
When Rinne’s contract expires, at the age of 36, Hellberg will be 28 – a prime age to take over a starting job. And being selected in the second round of the draft, the Preds will be less interested in flipping him for picks, like they did with Lindback. Under the mentorship of Korn and Rinne, Hellberg could be setting himself up for a long time career as the next Predators go to goalie.
…which leaves but one spot to fill on the AHL team for next season. After not signing either Jeremy Smith or Chet Pickard, the Predators organization will be short a goalie in Milwaukee. Assuming Hellberg is in the NHL and Hutton as an AHL goalie, options buckle down to a couple of signed goalies from the 2013 entry draft or Marek Mazanec, another tall, late round predators pick. Spending his last season in the Czech Republic, Marek will likely be looked at to make his North American debut next year at the age of 22. Possibly interchanging with Hutton, the transition could bring the next goaltending prospect to the eyes of Predators Fans.
Nashville and Korn
Mitch Korn is a key, necessary element with the Predators. Although not responsible for the drafting, Korn has turned many overlooked goalies into the best in the NHL, and through this he has made the Nashville Predators an annual playoff contender. At 55 he may be close to retirement from the NHL, but we definitely hope not.