"Do what Dave says."
Joking not joking, that's what Dylan Ferguson said was going through his mind during Vinnie Hinostroza's penalty shot in last Sunday's exhibition opener.
Ferguson is the Golden Knights' top netminding prospect. Dave Prior is the team's veteran goaltending coach.
"Vegas wants their goalies to play like how Dave wants," noted Jiri Patera, the Knights' 2017 sixth-round pick.
This top-to-bottom commitment to the Prior way is demonstrated at every level of the Vegas goaltending depth chart.
In the NHL, Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban have had their games re-shaped by Prior
. In the AHL, Oscar Dansk and Maxime Lagace work mostly with Prior disciple, goaltending development coach Mike Rosati. In juniors, Rosati doubles as Barrie's goaltending coach, where 2017 fourth-rounder Maksim Zhukov will go under his tutelage.
"They put us in the organizations that they want," said Patera, who will backstop Brandon this year. The Wheat Kings, naturally, are owned by Vegas assistant general manager Kelly McCrimmon.
Brandon's goaltending coach Tyler Plante will visit Vegas in October, according to Patera.
"He already asked what Dave wants from me. He told me, for sure, we'll do the stuff that Vegas wants you to do."
Even in Kamloops, where there's no obvious Golden Knights' connection, Ferguson will adhere to the Prior path.
"Dave met with my goalie coach Dan De Palma in Kamloops. They got along really well; they were on the same page," explained Ferguson. "Mike Rosati came out for a week. He really just emphasized what Dave wants us to do. Dan wants me to do what my NHL team wants me to do."
Prior's hands-on approach is one end of the goaltending development spectrum. The San Jose Sharks are on the other end.
"I don't really deal with [the junior coaches]," declared Evgeni Nabokov, Sharks goaltending development coach. "We don't interfere at all with the clubs. We believe, first of all, he's not signed yet. He's not ours, really, just because we have rights."
In contrast, both Zhukov and Patera haven't been signed by the Knights yet, but that hasn't stopped their involvement.
Even with their signed goaltending prospects, San Jose keeps a respectful distance. Using Josef Korenar, who played in the Czech league last year, as an example, Nabokov noted, "We have to have respect for the Czech national team. We can't go there and tell them they're doing everything wrong."
He added, "If their coach called us and said we really want your guys' input, absolutely. Then we will go."
In San Jose, the young goaltender seems to choose his own path.
"I always listen to the player. We try to do more drills the way they like it. It's not my way or the highway," said Nabokov. "At the end of the day, he's playing the game, not me."
The 339-game winner offered this example, "One guy didn't want to do the reverse VH. I said that's fine. And one guy said I want to reverse VH. I said, that's perfectly fine too.
"We're going to work on, if you're going to go on your favorite position, to make sure you don't have any holes."
Nabokov agreed, however, that there's no right or wrong answer for goaltending development. Regardless, San Jose's hands-off approach is striking.
"When we draft somebody, you can see the style right away," said Nabokov. "We're trying not to change them, but to help them get better."
Between Vegas and San Jose, there are different shades of involvement with an organization's goaltending prospects.
Arizona Coyotes goaltending development coach Zac Bierk offered, "Monthly check-ins. Try to hear what their hopes and expectations are for the prospect. Try to be as accommodating as possible, while still staying true to the things you want to do."
Prospect Merrick Madsen gave this snapshot of how Bierk teamed up with Harvard goaltending coach Brian Robinson last year.
"Both Zac and Brian have worked with me in controlling my depth and not overplaying pucks. I'm a big guy, so I need to trust my size more," said the 6'5" netminder. "It's takes a little more technique and poise to play more like that. But I should be able to play a little more back and conservative. In turn, I should be able to move around places faster."
"Sometimes, too much is too much," cautioned Los Angeles Kings goaltending development coach Dusty Imoo. "But some of my basic philosophies, moving forward into the pro ranks, that he might start to tweak now. Instead of saying you got to do this when you get here. Hands and depth, mainly."
Colorado Avalanche goaltending development coach Jean-Ian Filiatrault stated, "We don't try to force things, but if they could do it now, perfect. If not, we'll work on it later."
Former Prince Albert Raiders goaltending coach Kelly Guard
coached Toronto's 2017 fourth-rounder Ian Scott last year. Steve Briere is the Maple Leafs' goaltending coach.
Guard indicated, "I think Toronto is light years ahead of other teams.
"They absolutely don't want to change the way their goaltenders play. They just want to make small corrections.
"They trust that you know what you're doing, they work with you.
"Even when Ian went to Toronto's development camp in the summer, it wasn't a lot of teaching or instructing or correcting. They really focused on just letting these kids enjoy the experience."
Guard, who tended goal in the Ottawa Senators system from 2004-07, added, "I've been in that position [as a goalie] when you get to camp, and you're being pulled in four or five different directions, instead of just enjoying the moment."
But whatever their involvement, between all NHL organizations and their netminding prospects, there's a prospect's lower-level goaltending coach. Be it junior, NCAA, or overseas, this goaltending coach probably spends more time with the prospect than any other coach.
At its best, the relationship between the team and this coach is harmonious.
"Hopefully, everybody aligns," said Bierk, who was the Oshawa Generals goaltending coach before landing in the desert. "On the same page with strengths and weaknesses, goals for the goaltender."
But that doesn't always happen.
Filiatrault mentioned, "People being people, some guys have egos. You have to deal with it."
Imoo puffed out his chest, "You could tell some people start like this, they want to show their territory.
"When they meet me, I try to help ease their minds. Let them know I'm not here to take over. I try to build a relationship, just the same as I do with the goalies, so they'll enjoy working with me."
Filiatrault relayed this story about 2016 fifth-rounder Adam Werner, "In Sweden, where Adam was playing, it's such a different style of play. Some plays, he was standing up. I asked the goalie coach, why don't you make him go down? The coach goes, He's got too much time, he's got too much this.
"But down the road, when [Werner is] over here, he's going to have to go down. Because the speed of the play is too fast. Small rink. He'll be better going down.
"Adam, when he came over [to San Antonio], he realized it's faster, I should go down. Everybody's driving the net, there's so many people around the net. Guys are so good at tipping pucks.
"In Europe, guys would turn and go back and try to make a play instead of just getting a shot at net. Shots were now coming from everywhere."
Filiatrault concluded, "Some coaches are really open. Let's do this, let's do that, I'm on board. Whatever you guys want, we'll do it. Some guys...are a little tougher."
Guard offered a junior coach's perspective on the need to be adaptable, "You have to put your ego aside. Be a sponge. Any guy in my position should want to learn new ways of doing things, especially from an NHL club."
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