Stu Cowan: Jacob Fowler on track to be Canadiens' goalie of the future

“Everything he showed in his freshman year is that he’s trending to be an outstanding goalie,” his head coach at Boston College says.

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It’s looking like the Canadiens got a steal when they selected goalie Jacob Fowler in the third round (69th overall) of last year’s NHL Draft.

As a freshman this season at Boston College, the 19-year-old posted a 32-6-1 record, along with a 2.14 goals-against average, a .926 save percentage and three shutouts. In the playoffs, Fowler helped Boston College win the Hockey East Tournament Championship and advance to the NCAA championship game at the Frozen Four before losing 2-0 to Denver.

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Fowler was named the Hockey East Goaltender of the Year and was one of three finalists for the Mike Richter Award as the top goalie in the NCAA, along with Wisconsin senior Kyle McClellan and Colorado College sophomore Kaidan Mbereko. The 25-year-old McClellan, who was never selected at the NHL Draft, won the award after posting a 24-12-1 record with a 1.94 GAA and .931 save percentage.

“The draft is a hard thing for teams, depending on your needs and everything,” Boston College head coach Greg Brown said during a recent phone interview when asked if he thinks the Canadiens did get a steal when they selected Fowler. “I do think they’re probably very happy that they picked him and they should be. Everything he showed in his freshman year is that he’s trending to be an outstanding goalie and a great prospect for the Canadiens.”

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One of the things that most impressed the Canadiens about Fowler is his reputation as a winner. That was made clear in a behind-the-scenes video released by the Canadiens from their final scouting meeting ahead of last year’s draft in Nashville.

If you want to win, I’d take the winning goalie,” Billy Ryan, the Canadiens’ director of player evaluation and amateur scout, says in the video.

We’re all working on the same goal,” Ryan adds. “We’re trying to win a Stanley Cup and I’d want the kid who wins the most. Never been not the top goalie ever. Ever. Look at the numbers. He’s never not been the top goalie in the entire league. He’s never not been the highest save percentage in every league he’s ever been in. I just think we’re going to regret not taking this kid.

The season before the Canadiens drafted Fowler he posted a 27-9-4 record, along with a 2.28 GAA and a .921 save percentage with the Youngstown Phantoms, who won the Clark Cup as league champions. Fowler was named the USHL’s goalie of the year.

Brown said the thing that impressed him most during Fowler’s freshman season at Boston College was his consistency.

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“He has a great demeanour of staying level-headed whether things are going well or not well,” the head coach said. “He’s got a real maturity to his game that way and then he’s very efficient, which is something that allows him to stay consistent. He plays positionally so well. He doesn’t get out of control lunging back and forth to make spectacular saves. Those two things translate pretty well to continuing to groom his game toward being a pro.”

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Boston College is expected to have a strong team again next season with Fowler returning. Brown agrees with Ryan that Fowler knows how to win and the goal next season will be an NCAA championship.

“It’s hard to put your success or failure on one game,” Brown said. “There’s lots of things Jacob and the whole team can improve on aside from just winning the last game of the year.”

When asked what makes Fowler a winner, Brown said: “He seems to really enjoy the moment in the big game. He looks at it as a fun challenge, not something to be nervous about. I think his attitude in those games really helps him find success. And each time you have success in those big situations you get more and more confident.”

Confidence is another thing the Canadiens liked about Fowler, along with a bit of cockiness — but in a good way.

“We don’t see Jacob as being really cocky,” Brown said. “He’s not like that in an annoying way at all. He just has a confidence to him that you do want. If you’re a goalie, you have to have that. I equate it to being a starting pitcher in baseball. You might get hit hard once or twice, but you have to have that full confidence in yourself no matter how the game’s going and he does a great job of that.”

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Playing goalie for the Canadiens is one of the most pressure-packed positions in the NHL, but Fowler seems to have the mental makeup to handle it if he becomes the team’s goalie of the future.

“So far, he definitely has shown a mental and physical characteristics that would lead him to have a good shot to be the goalie in Montreal,” Brown said. “Again, there’s only 32 teams and 32 nets. But everything he’s done so far is leading toward that and that he would be a guy who could do that.”

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