Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had the opportunity to attend a Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL) game in St. Catherine’s, Ontario. Their opponent that night was none other than the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, who happen to roster one of the Rangers’ better goaltending prospects. Brandon Halverson, the Rangers 2nd round pick in 2014 has been a darling of scouts the past few years, and many have tapped him as the heir apparent to Henrik Lundqvist. Expect to see him in net for Team USA at the World Junior Championships this year.
After getting an up close look at the Traverse City, Michigan native, I wanted to share my impressions and dig a little deeper into Halverson’s game. I’m not going to use my normal scouting format, as this is really a one game snapshot and not intended to be a comprehensive scouting report. I would need to see much more of him to feel confident painting broad assumptions on his skill set.
Before we start, just some quick background on the game itself. The Ice Dogs were victorious by a score of 4-1 with an empty netter. The Greyhounds pretty heavily out-chanced the Ice Dogs, but Brent Moran (4th Round pick of the Dallas Stars) put on an absolute clinic in the Niagara net. Halverson faced 25 shots, stopping 22.
With that out of the way, let’s dig into Halverson’s style a little bit. At 6’4”, 205lbs, he is instantly an imposing figure in the net. Combine that with a certainly soon-to-be-illegal chest and arm unit, and he look enormous. His shoulder floaters literally top out around ear height, and it made me wonder how he can turn his head.
Without seeing him outside of his equipment, it is hard to confirm, but my observation is that Halverson has very long legs, and uses very tall Vaughn V6 2200 leg pads. Despite all of that heft, Halverson is incredibly agile on his skates. I would stop short of calling him an elite skater, but he is certainly very mobile.
He sets up in a wide stance and has good hip rotation in the butterfly. His five-hole appears very large from the set up of his skates and his long legs, but he seals to the ice very quickly and effectively. Despite these strengths, he has a somewhat narrow fly for someone of his physical build, but his overall size and net coverage mask this (relatively minor) deficiency.
His butterfly slides and control were exceptional and his transitional footwork was smooth and quick. He is a little over-reliant on the reverse-VH technique (pictured below) for me, but it wasn’t a huge hindrance to his game. Overall, a basically NHL-ready mobility skillset, he just needs to quiet down some of the noise and extraneous movement/sliding in order to maintain mechanical consistency at the speeds of the pro-level.
Halverson is also active behind the net and seemingly likes playing the puck. His instincts and vision are excellent when involving himself in this part of the game, but the execution was lacking a bit during my time watching him. He employs the same overhand grip that right-handed shooting goalies will generally use to attain greater velocity on their passes (pictured below), but his particular grip takes away some of his fluidity in movement and lends itself to short, hard passes. One of my biggest surprises watching this game was how little on-ice communication took place between the players. Without this critical communication, many of these passes caught his teammates off-guard and lead to tricky zone exits. It’s nothing that is going to be a huge issue, most likely, just an observation. I think he will develop into at least an average puck-handler, especially if he can curb the wandering a little bit.
Now, onto some of the deficiencies I observed while watching Halverson. Once again, I want to take this time to reiterate that this was just one game, but these are things to monitor as his career progresses. The first issue was his stance. His lower body set-up was perfectly fine; the issue that I took away was one of surface area. Conventional wisdom instructs us to balance our weight in the hip flexors and counter our upper body weight by moving our chest forward. This not only creates vertical balance throughout the stance, but also maximizes your blocking surface when square to the puck.
Carey Price has bucked this trend a little over the past few seasons, and his stance has become a more traditional, reflex-loaded stance. His weight is a little farther forward to allow for maximum muscle tension when set, but he will roll his shoulders back into a more balanced posture during save execution. It is a fine line to walk, and it lead to some upper body/lower body disconnect for Halverson.
Especially considering his chest and arm unit, the shoulder floaters were essentially pointing straight down in his stance, as opposed to facing the play. The problem manifests itself in a couple of ways. First, his weight was consistently too far forward, and shrunk his frame in the net as he tried to close holes when facing shots. The other was the overreliance on the butterfly slide and his body was already tightly contracted and it is easier to move via butterfly, as opposed to following the play standing.
All of those things are fairly easily compensated for if that was his most comfortable style to play. However, the biggest problem was that his upper and lower bodies were not communicating during save execution. Some of the most difficult shots for a goalie to stop are right between the top of the pad and the bottom of the gloves. These shots can handcuff you, as they are somewhat in no man’s land. This requires your whole body to move in sync and close those holes. Because Halverson’s balance was thrown due to his stance being a little too far forward, he was beaten clean to these locations twice. He was set for both plays, so it wasn’t a movement issue. These goals were basically the difference in the game with Moran playing so well at the other end.
Going under the assumption that this game was a representative snap shot of Halverson’s skills, the great news is the issues are mechanical in nature. Some tape review and technique adjustments can compensate for the deficiencies and maximize his strengths.
The physical tools are professional level and his mobility is basically there at this point. There is still plenty of room for growth in both body mechanics and execution, but overall I am very high on Halverson.
Some time with Benoit Allaire would likely do worlds of good, especially as his frame is similar enough to Allaire success stories that transitioning Halverson a little lower in the crease and cleaning of some of his blocking techniques could help ease the pro-transition. Halverson’s size and speed are his biggest assets, and if he can bring his upper-body mechanics in line with his mobility game, he could be something very special.