Accomplished Missiaen's a big net gain
21-year-old goaltender could be tallest ever between pipes for Blueshirts
By Dan David, newyorkrangers.com
When the team of Rangers prospects took the ice last September for their opening game of the 2010 Traverse City (Mich.) Prospects Tournament, the goaltender standing across from them in a Columbus Blue Jackets uniform was a towering 6-foot-8, 220-pounder named Jason Missiaen.
Blueshirts prospects who had spent the previous season or two in the Ontario Hockey League were well aware of Missiaen from his years as the No. 1 netminder for the OHL's Peterborough Petes. He had played a big part in helping Peterborough clinch playoff berths in both 2008-09 and 2009-10 -- his first two junior seasons after being drafted by the Montreal Canadiens 116th overall in the fourth round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft at Ottawa.
By the time he got to Traverse City, Missiaen was also well known by the Rangers scouts, who had taken immediate note when Montreal did not sign him prior to the June 1, 2010, deadline and then watched as Missiaen slipped through the 2010 draft as a 20-year-old.
"We watched him near the end of the season -- the last 25 games or so," said Gordie Clark, the Rangers' Director, Player Personnel. "And we actually had some interest if he was put back in the draft to take him with a late pick. As the draft went on, we kind of read it that it probably wasn't going to happen. And we called it right that he was going to end up being a free agent. We just said we would track him next year because we had our goaltenders for last season all signed."
With the Rangers well-stocked in goaltending, the Blue Jackets were quick to offer Missiaen a training camp invitation and a chance to play in the prestigious prospects tournament. At Traverse City, the Rangers would get an up-close look at Missiaen against top-tier prospects, and he battled hard in a 5-4 loss to the Blueshirts.
That Saturday afternoon game ended when Evgeny Grachev scored through traffic with just over six seconds left in regulation. Missiaen was hardly at fault for Grachev's seeing-eye goal, and he finished the day with 21 saves.
|After slipping through the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, which he had re-entered as a 20-year-old, Jason Missiaen jumped from the OHL to the QMJHL and regularly kept a young, struggling Baie-Comeau team in close games with the league's elite teams.
Although Baie-Comeau was among the weaker teams in the league (finishing 17th overall), the Drakkar brought in Missiaen as an overage player. The big goaltender responded by making the Drakkar competitive in virtually all 52 of his starts.
Rangers scouts followed Missiaen to Baie-Comeau.
"We had scouts going in and out to watch him," said Clark. "It was a situation where he was going to a young, non-playoff team. But the coaches there really did a lot of great work with him."
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Missiaen is the number of nights in which he was named the game’s No. 1 Star despite being on the losing side of the scoresheet. That run started on Oct. 8, when he made 28 saves and was the No. 1 star of a 3-2 shootout loss at Quebec, one of the league's powerhouse teams. He was a No. 1 star again three weeks later on Oct. 29 when he stopped 32 shots in a 4-3 shootout loss to Montreal, another league juggernaut.
On Jan. 7, Missiaen made 28 saves in a 3-1 loss to Drummondville, again capturing No. 1 star honors, and on Feb. 20, he did it again as No. 1 star with 41 stops in a 2-1 loss to Gatineau. That was one stop shy of his season-high 42 saves on the road against Saint John, the team that went on to win the Memorial Cup as major-junior champions.
In 2010-11, Missiaen put on a remarkable show at least once against each of the top five teams in the QMJHL. Many of his losses came in overtime or shootouts, keeping the Drakkar (12-46-10 on the season) in games that might have otherwise been blowouts. He had one shutout-- stopping 23 shots in a 4-0 win over Rouyn-Noranda on Feb. 5 -- and nearly had another when he made 24 saves in a 1-0 OT loss at Gatineau.
A 30-save night was the norm, not the exception, for Missiaen, who closed out his season in typical fashion with 34 stops and No. 1 star honors in a 3-2 overtime loss to Quebec.
Now 21, Missiaen is a goalie who has truly improved year by year. Ranked 23rd among North American goalies in his draft year, he was drafted by Montreal but did not get a chance to sign with the Habs despite save percentages of .904 and .901 in his two seasons after the draft.
Clark made sure that Rangers Assistant Coach and Goaltending Coach Benoit Allaire had a chance to watch Missiaen on tape last season, and Allaire said he saw real potential in major-junior hockey's tallest goaltender. Allaire was specifically asked to compare video of Missiaen's final year at Peterborough with his performance last season at Baie-Comeau.
"Benoit looked at both of years and, for a 6-8 guy, he saw a big difference in the ability and athleticism to get from post to post and up and down and all that stuff from one year to the next," Clark said. "We decided he was worth a contract to start his NHL career and get some goaltending coaching from Benoit."
On March 24, the Rangers took advantage of Missiaen's unrestricted free agent status and reached agreement on a contract that begins next season.He will have his work cut out for him a training camp, where he joins Chad Johnson, Cam Talbot, and Scott Stajcer as one of four goaltenders chasing their NHL dreams. He'll also get a chance to learn from Allaire and observe the veteran NHL work habits of Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron.
And no matter how the chips fall for Missiaen in training camp, one this is already certain. He will be the tallest goalie on the ice this fall and tallest one ever to play for the Rangers should he one day find his way into the NHL lineup.