The Coleumn: The Nashville Predators are a goalie pipeline. How does that help Tomas Vomacka?

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As many of you may recall, former UConn goaltender Tomas Vomacka signed an entry-level contract with the Nashville Predators, the team that drafted him in the fifth round after three years on the Ice Bus. Vomacka, who went 10-11-2 with a 2.84 GAA and .909 save percentage last season, is set up for success by developing his talents in the Predators’ system. 

The Nashville Predators have had the best pipeline for goaltenders in their 24-year history, though this argument could also be made for several teams such as the New York Rangers (how many teams would trade everything to go from Henrik Lundqvist to Igor Shesterkin so flawlessly?) or the Tampa Bay Lightning (Ben Bishop was a star before Vasilevskiy came along). 

This started back in 1998 when the Predators selected Tomas Vokoun in the expansion draft. They may have let Mike Richter walk after selecting him in the expansion draft as well, but the Predators saw a unique potential in Vokoun. 

Vokoun had a subpar start to his Predator career, averaging 34 games played in his first four seasons. He consistently averaged around a 2.75 GAA and a .905 save percentage, but the numbers did not scream elite. Behind him on the depth chart was Mike Dunham, who spent a few seasons backing up Martin Brodeur with the Devils before getting a chance to shine. 

Then, from 2002-2006, Vokoun had a stretch in which he received serious consideration for the league’s best goaltender. In a league featuring the twilight of Patrick Roy’s Hall-of-Fame career and the continued prime of Brodeur, Vokoun was a staple in the goaltending ranks, consistently garnering Top 10 finishes in Vezina voting.  

With the 258th pick in the 2004 NHL draft, the Predators selected a young goaltender by the name of Pekka Rinne. They may have already had Vokoun, but the Predators built for the future by taking a chance on the young stud. Rinne would work his way up the ladder, making his NHL debut on December 15, 2005 against the Chicago Blackhawks, a 35-save victory. 

Rinne did not play the following season due to the Predators having a loaded goalie corps at the time. In addition to Vokoun, the Predators had a breakout season from another franchise cornerstone in Chris Mason, who finished 10th in Vezina voting by going 24-11-4 with a 2.38 GAA and .925 save percentage. Vokoun was just as impressive, and those two, alongside Hall of Famers Paul Kariya and Peter Forsberg as well as head coach Barry Trotz, led Nashville to a second-place finish in the Central Division before bowing out to the Sharks in five games. 

At this point, Nashville had three solid goaltenders in Vokoun, Mason and Rinne. Prior to the 2007 NHL draft, the Predators shipped Vokoun, set to begin the first year of a four-year extension, to the Florida Panthers for several draft picks. Vokoun was coming off an injury-ridden season, and this was the best move. 

Rinne played one game in 2007-08 because he was third on the depth chart behind Mason and Dan Ellis; as soon as Mason left, Rinne got his chance to shine. The following season he showcased his potential by going 29-15-4 with a .917 save percentage and a 2.38 GAA, finishing fourth in Rookie of the Year voting. 

By the 2010-11 season, Rinne was the starter, as was made clear when the Predators made the playoffs and Rinne started every game. Rinne finished second in Vezina voting behind Tim Thomas with a whopping .930 save percentage and a 2.12 GAA. The following season, he played in 73 games and won 43 of them but finished third in Vezina voting. 

Rinne came close to winning the Vezina again in the 2014-15 season when he went 41-17-6 with a 2.18 GAA and .923 save percentage but finished second to MVP winner Carey Price. Two seasons later, Rinne was one of the cogs that led Nashville to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance. Although the Predators lost to the Penguins, Rinne was dominant, going 14-8 with a .930 save percentage and 1.96 GAA.  

Rinne won the Vezina trophy in 2018 behind a 42-13-4 season with a .927 save percentage, a 2.31 GAA and league-leading eight shutouts. To no one’s surprise, his Predators were the league’s best team. After 16 seasons with the franchise, Rinne hung up the skates in 2021, paving the way for his successor. 

In 2013, the Predators used a fourth-round pick to select Juuse Saros, another Finnish goaltender with massive potential. Saros has slowly made his way into the league, debuting in 2015-16 and getting more playing time as the years pass. That has ultimately led him to becoming the No. 1 goalie in Nashville with a lot of experience under his belt. As of Tuesday, Saros leads the NHL in games played (33) and currently has a .923 save percentage and 2.43 GAA. 

Right now, the Predators have Saros and former All-Star David Rittich protecting the crease, but there is potential at every level within the organization. The big prospect right now is Yaroslav Askarov, the Predators’ 2020 first round pick. He may not have signed with the team yet, but he is showing his talents in the KHL and the VHL (1.81 and 2.26 GAA respectively). Right now, the Milwaukee Admirals, the Predators AHL affiliate, have Devin Cooley and Connor Ingram as their netminders.  

Vomacka currently plays with the Florida Everblades, the team’s ECHL affiliate, and has four wins while posting a 2.99 GAA and .903 save percentage. He has been the main man for the Everblades, currently sharing the crease with Parker Gahagen from the Military Academy. Especially with his potential and his positioning in the Predators’ system, it will be interesting to see how Vomacka develops throughout his professional hockey career and when he will get the call to the NHL. 

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