Many Devils fans may think the goaltenders at the NHL-level are struggling, but this is certainly not the case in the AHL. Former second-round selection Mackenzie Blackwood has had a terrific start to the season.
The 2015 draftee played his junior hockey with the Barrie Colts, where he held a .921 save percentage in his final season. After signing his entry-level contract, Blackwood made his professional debut with the Albany Devils in 2016-17, where he finished with a .907 SV% as a rookie.
Blackwood took a step back the following season. This was evident by his .882 save percentage in the 32 appearances he made in the AHL in 2017-18. His struggles got so bad that the organization went as far as sending him down to the Adirondack Thunder in the ECHL. Luckily, he was able to post a strong .920 save percentage in 5 games down there.
Blackwood’s second season of professional play certainly warranted concern. Luckily, for him and Devils fans, it looks as if he may have figured it out. So far, he has compiled a .924 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.40 goals against average in 10 appearances. It’s still very early into the season, but if these numbers were to stay around the same, it would show more than a goal improvement in his goals against average and almost a 4.2% change in his SV%. Both of these are huge improvements. Blackwood has also taken the starting goaltending position from veteran Eddie Lack. That shows the coaching staff has noticed his improvement, too.
Some may argue that a .924 SV% is nothing to be proud of in the AHL and that players that are thought of as solid goaltending prospects should be much higher. But Blackwood ranks 4th among qualified AHL goaltenders in save percentage and 7th in goals against average.
Another aspect of how impressive Blackwood has been this season is the struggles Binghamton has had on the penalty kill. They have the 7th most penalty minutes in the league and only kill penalties 75% of the time (last in the AHL). Unfortunately, there is no statistic that shows Blackwood’s penalty kill save percentage. But in most cases, goalies have much lower save percentages on the penalty kill than at even strength. This large volume of being a man down makes it remarkable that Blackwood owns a save parentage so high.
Unfortunately, for us Devils fans, it’s unrealistic to think Blackwood is going to save the New Jersey Devils season. But it is a very encouraging sign to see the Devils 2015 second-round draft pick playing so well. Blackwood’s performance is certainly worth monitoring the rest of the season; since as many can point out the Devils current goaltending situation is grim. A 32-year-old Cory Schneider and a 29-year-old Keith Kinkaid is not a long-term solution for the Devils in net. If Blackwood continues playing at the level he is, the Devils may have an answer to a very important question.