At the ripe age of 20, Mackenzie Skapski has gone from unknown by most Rangers fans to an unofficial rally mascot of sorts. One year removed from being drafted by the Rangers, the plan to start the season was for Skapski to spend time adjusting to the pro game with the Greenville Road Warriors of the ECHL. A spot-start in the AHL turned into a full-time promotion to the AHL. A Lundqvist injury got him promoted to the Rangers. And here we are now. Skapski, who told me himself that he expected to spend the year in the ECHL, has two wins, including a shutout, in his first two NHL starts.
Plenty of people have pointed out that beating the Sabres, who are having an historically awful season, puts an asterisk of sorts on those performances. And look, that's a fair observation. Facing even a mediocre team will be a whole new test for Skapski; whenever that opportunity comes.
Still, that's missing the forest for the trees when it comes to contextualizing what it means for Skapski to have done what he's done this season. At face value, one could point out that NHL goaltenders have lost to the Sabres 19 times this season, so there are no guarantees. Even if the Rangers dominated Buffalo in both games, there were still enough scoring chances that poor goaltending could have altered the outcome. In that respect, Skapski got the job done both times.
On a much bigger scale, though, it's a massive accomplishment for Skapski to have even made it this far so soon, injuries or not. Here is a look at all 20-year-old goalies currently based in North America and how they stack up.
These numbers are as of Sunday, March 15th. You'll observe that only three goaltenders have played in the NHL this season. Andrei Vasilevskiy is absolutely killing it for the Tampa Bay Lightning and they should have a fun "problem" to figure out going forward with him and Bishop in the fold. One other is Malcolm Subban, the first-round pick of the Bruins who got shelled in one NHL start against the Blues. And then there's Skapski. Passed over in the 2012 drafted, then taken in the sixth round by the Rangers in 2013.
Nobody else has played an NHL game. In fact, only Anthony Stolarz, second-rounder, and Matt Murray, third-rounder, are really on Skapski's level. And the gap becomes ridiculous when you look at players drafted in Skapski's territory. Only one goaltender drafted later than the third round is playing professional hockey right now; Henri Kiviaho, who is doing alright in the ECHL.
That's exactly why Buffalo being terrible is besides the point. Almost all of Skapski's peers are, at worst, still stuck in junior/college hockey and, at best, going through massive growing pains in the minors. The Sabres might be bad, but they're 50x better than the AHL and ECHL teams that even high draft picks like Oscar Dansk and Daniel Altshuller are posting sub-900 save percentages against.
In fact, Skapski is only the 23rd goaltender since the modern era of the NHL began (1967) to post a shutout at 20 years old or younger. Let's delve into that statistic a bit more, though. Here's how those 23 goaltenders stack up by where they were drafted*.
*Because the size of the NHL varies by season, so does the number of picks in each round. I'm adjusting this chart for the 30-selection rounds that the NHL currently operates under. A player who was drafted 45th overall in 1983 was technically a third-round pick, but will be counted as a second-round selection for the purposes of this chart.
More second-round goaltenders getting a shutout than first-round goaltenders at 20-or-younger is an interesting quirk, but I digress. Of the 23 goaltenders to accomplish this feat since the 1967-1968 season, 20 of them - or 87% - were drafted within the top-60 picks of their respective draft. Only two were selected in the third round; Steve Mason in 2006 at 69th overall, and Darren Puppa at 74th overall in 1983.
Thus, that leaves one goaltender; Mackenzie Skapski. Every other goaltender to have earned a shutout at 20-years-old or younger was selected within the top-75 picks. Skapski, taken in the sixth round in 2013, was 170th overall.
It could be phrased in a few ways. Mackenzie Skapski is the only goaltender since the dawn of the modern era to be taken later than 75th and to post a shutout at 20-or-younger. Skapski is (by far) the lowest-drafted goaltender to do so. Even without adjusting the draft for the number of teams, no goaltender other than Skapski was drafted later than the fourth round and did it.
We'll let Guinness deal with how to title the record, but the message should be pretty apparent. The Sabres being a bad team is completely undermined by the fact that Skapski's shutout was absolutely improbable based on historic trends.
A peek at the list of other goaltenders in that chart reveals that Skapski's in some very good company; most of them went on to have solid NHL careers. Obviously, this guarantees nothing for Skapski, and he knows it. He has massive amounts of work to do before he'll even get a chance to test himself against legitimate NHL teams. Still, when comparing how far he has come in the last two years and comparing his body of work to his peers as well as those in a historically similar position, it's blatantly evident that Mackenzie Skapski is well ahead of the curve in his development.