The name Al Montoya is one that, when mentioned, is usually uttered in a sentence along with the label of a ‘bust’. In light of the former first round pick being traded to the lowly New York Islanders, we have to ask: is it fair to label Al Montoya a bust?
With a little bit of posturing, the book on Al Montoya can look like that of a legitimate goaltending prospect. Drafted in the first round (sixth overall) in 2004, a career save percentage of .925 and goals against average of 2.08 in the NHL, and not to mention – a World Junior championship. Alas, it’s all a facade, save for the abnormally high position in which Montoya was drafted. Montoya has played just five games in the NHL since he was drafted, and that opportunity came after he was traded to Phoenix by the Rangers.
Perhaps Al Montoya was the single greatest beneficiary of Marc-Andre Fleury’s clearing gaffe in the 2004 World Junior tournament. His play (6-0-0, 1.33 GAA, .944 SV%, 2 SHO) helped carry the United States to its first ever World Junior gold medal, and raised the goaltender’s stock to a level that would see the New York Rangers select him 6th overall in an otherwise underwhelming 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
Flash forward to 2011, and Al Montoya is on the brink of becoming relevant again. Having traded away Dwayne Roloson and dealing with yet another injury to Rick DiPietro, Islanders general manager Garth Snow’s hand was forced to acquire another goaltender in an effort to finish out the season on Long Island. Enter Al Montoya.
Snow acquired Montoya from the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for a 2011 sixth-round pick on Wednesday. While it’s not a lock that Montoya will be given a chance to play, it’s probable considering the injuries to fill-ins Kevin Poulin and Nathan Lawson. The Islanders crease is currently being manned by rookie Mikko Koskinen and emergency backup Joel Martin.
Montoya turns 26 next week, and when compared to other goaltenders selected in the 2004 draft he’s not all that far behind many in terms of NHL experience. Here’s a quick look at notable goaltenders from the 2004 draft and their games played in the NHL:
Devan Dubnyk (14th overall) – 39 GP
Cory Schneider (26th overall) – 26 GP
Justin Peters (38th overall) – 20 GP
Karri Ramo (191st overall) – 48 GP
Anton Khudobin (206th overall) – 6 GP
So the 2004 draft didn’t exactly produce the NHL’s next great goaltender, but both Dubnyk and Schneider figure to be afforded a shot at number one status – the latter will probably get his shot somewhere other than Vancouver, though. Similar to Montoya’s brief 2008-09 experience in the NHL, Minnesota’s Anton Khudobin was impressive in four games earlier this season and effectively played himself into long-term plans there.
So what gives with Montoya? An impressive statistical line over a small sample size in the NHL has been overshadowed by mediocre (176 GP, 2.62 GAA, .906 SV%) results in the AHL, perhaps. Montoya wasn’t even the number one guy with the San Antonio Rampage this season, having given way to Matt Climie. While Montoya didn’t exactly dominate the AHL like L.A.’s Jonathan Bernier, his career numbers there are very similar to another relatively late bloomer in the NHL, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne (145 GP, 2.56 GAA, .909 SV% with Milwaukee).
Montoya will more than likely be given a shot to prove he belongs in the NHL. Sure, the Islanders don’t exactly provide a young goaltender with all of the tools necessary to succeed, but it’s a shot nonetheless. The ship on Montoya may have sailed long ago, and calling him a bust isn’t exactly unwarranted – but now he’ll get a chance to prove otherwise. Hell, Montoya may not even be the biggest goaltending bust on his new team.
Al Montoya and Rick DiPietro are together at last, and they’re not exactly unfamiliar with each other: