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Two world junior netminders turning pro in Maple Leafs' organization this fall
It didn't take long for the start of what should be a fairly extensive roster makeover for the Newfoundland Growlers.
Goaltender Michael Garteig revealed this week he is signing with a team in Finland, parlaying his impressive performance in the Growlers' run to an ECHL championship into a move up to a higher level of competition and what certainly will be an accompanying pay raise.
It's the second significant departure in the couple of weeks since Newfoundland's Kelly Cup victory; veteran defenceman Adam Pardy announced immediately after the final game he was retiring.
Growlers' fans will have to get use to announcements such as Gartieg's this summer. Every other player on the Growlers' roster is, or is about to become, a free agent.
Minor-league contracts are short-term. Most are for single seasons and even in the case of forward J.J. Piccinich, the one Newfoundland player who had been operating on a two-year-AHL deal, that contract is expiring.
Eamon McAdam, the other half of the Growlers' netminding tandem, is signed to an entry-level NHL deal with the parent Toronto Maple Leafs, but that is ending, too. McAdam is set to become a restricted free agent on July 1.
The Growlers and Maple Leafs have said they will endeavour to achieve a level of continuity for the Growlers by retaining some sort of core group from last season. And there may already be some understandings between players/agents and the teams that are still to be acted upon. But roster turnover is an annual happening in the ECHL and in case of Newfoundland, that turnover could be expedited and made more extensive by the team's Kelly Cup victory. Winners, especially recent ones, are desired commodities in professional hockey.
Garteig alluded to that in talking to PrinceGeorgeNow in his British Columbia hometown, revealing he had been contacted by interested North Americans and European teams even during the Growlers' march through the playoffs.
But Garteig, a product of Quinnipiac University, is also a bright young man. He'll be 28 before the end of the year and can no longer be seen as a prospect as he was when originally signed by the Vancouver Canucks as undrafted player out of college three years ago. And with two world junior goaltenders — American Joseph Woll and Canadian Ian Scott — set to turn pro in Toronto's organization this fall, he knows progression will be difficult within the Maple Leafs organization, despite what he achieved this past season.
“As a goalie, there’s only so many spots on a team ... and for me, every year of pro hockey it seems like I’ve been thinking ‘I don’t know if I can do this again,’” he told PrinceGeorgeNow. “It’s a grind of trying to get to the NHL and I’m getting older.”
So Garteig, who has never played in the NHL, but did get to spend a couple of days as a Canucks emergency back-up in 2016, changed his focus and took advantage of his recent success by signing with Tampere-based Tappara in the SM-Liga, the top Finnish professional circuit.
“I think a lot of teams were watching that (ECHL) playoff run,” he said. “That’s something that I’ve worked very hard for in the last few years, to find that opportunity to play forward.”
Garteig is a tough player to lose. He was almost certainly the runner-up to teammate and Kelly Cup leading scorer Zach O'Brien as MVP of the ECHL post-season. Garteig posted a 2.19 goals-against average, .928 save percentage, three shutouts and a 16-7 record as he started and finished every playoff game for the Growlers.
This was after he had played in almost two-thirds of Newfoundland's regular-season games, going 23-14-6 with a 2.72 GAA, .909 save percentage and three shutouts.
The good news for Growlers is that there's a very good chance a top-prospect netminder is headed this way. Goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo, who was solid for the Toronto Marlies in the AHL's Calder Cup playoffs, still has a year remaining on his entry-level contract with the Maple Leafs, and Toronto could keep McAdam in the system with a qualifying offer.
And coming onto the scene will be Woll, a 2016 third-round draft pick, Boston College product and 2018 world junior bronze-medallist, and Scott, a 2017 fourth-rounder who was the CHL goaltender of the year this past season, one that saw him play for Canada at the world junior championship, then help the WHL's Prince Albert Raiders get to the Memorial Cup.
The Maple Leafs are going to want both to get significant playing time, so expect one of Woll or Scott to arrive in Newfoundland this fall as the presumptive No. 1 netminder.