Goaltender Michael Houser at this year's Florida Panther developmental camp. Image property of Frank Rekas and The Rat Trick.
Last week it was announced that the Florida Panthers had signed free agent invitee, goaltender Michael Houser to an entry level contract with the club after an impressive showing at the Panthers developmental camp. Houser as you may recall and read here, is a very special young man who has had to overcome a birth defect to get where he is today. I had the chance this past weekend to chat briefly with independent goaltening scout Justin Goldman of The Goalie Guild about Michael. Justin also wrote a piece on Michael Houser this past Saturday for NHL.com.
Justin’s answers are his own, and I think that between these few questions, and the article that he did for NHL.com, you’ll see that Michael does have a chance to succeed. However he will most likely have to work harder than his competition, but that appears to be something that he’s already used to.
1) As we have learned the Florida Panthers have signed 19 year old goaltending prospect Michael Houser who was born with a birth defect (club foot). As someone who studies goaltenders, how hard must it be for someone with this condition is it to perform, and do you see anything that would hinder his ability?
Well, first let me say that it’s important for fans to realize that while Michael had 13 surgeries on each foot to correct the issue, he actually hasn’t had a surgery since he was 12 years old. So although the structure of his ankles and feet are not perfect, I don’t think his ability to stop the puck is hindered all that much. He achieved great success at the major-junior level, so he clearly has the ability to also succeed at the pro level. That being said, it will be a much tougher hill for him to climb in order to have similar success at the ECHL, AHL and of course the NHL levels. I know that he doesn’t run the sand win games, he’s just as capable as any other goalie out there. There will always be some physiological limitations to what his smoothest or skate with a perfectly fluid stride — there is some choppiness there — but when it comes time to do his job, what his ankles and feet can do in terms of agility and flexibility, but at the end of the day, he stops the puck, and that’s all that really matters.
2) How would you describe Michael’s goaltending style, and is there a particular area that surprises you about him?
Houser is well-rounded in terms of his skills and butterfly mechanics. He does a good job of challenging shooters and displaying aggressiveness at the right times, while also letting pucks and the play come to him. He reads the game well and maintains an excellent disposition in the crease. He never gets too high or too low, so he has a great even-keeled attitude that reflects a ton of maturity for his age. His best trait, and one of his trademarks, is his ability to battle, which clearly stems from the tough path he has traveled since he was very young. One area that really impresses me is his penalty killing. This is such a tough part of the position for goalies, as you have to deal with increased traffic, plus more tips and deflections. But his ability to stay square to the shot, seal holes, and find pucks through traffic is one of his best assets. He finds ways to get his body behind pucks despite the heavy traffic, and even though he may not see the puck come off the shooter’s stick completely. This is a good reflection of his natural puck-stopping instincts, and his ability to work hard even when he might be mentally tired. Most importantly, he never gives up on a puck, and he has the ability to make the desperation-type save. That second-effort element of his game is another thing that really impresses me about Houser.
3) Michael has a stellar record in the OHL. How is it that he’s been passed over 3 times?
To be honest, I have no idea, and now that he signed with Florida, it doesn’t matter anymore. It does makes sense why he wasn’t drafted in the first year of eligibility because he wasn’t as promising back then. But to be passed over in this most recent draft — especially after he earned the OHL Most Valuable Player award and the OHL and CHL Goaltender of the Year awards — made no sense to me at all. I think most scouts would agree with me when I say he was always touted as a late-round pick, but being passed over completely was a surprise. I know he has proven to other NHL scouts and teams that his previous condition didn’t really affect his performance in games, but his reputation within the scouting world is something he can’t really control. He showed a lot of poise and patience sticking with his game through it all, and finally, it paid off after a stellar showing in Florida’s development camp. I really liked the fact they invited him to camp and signed him to an entry-level contract without using a draft pick on him. It turns him into a low-risk, high-reward asset for the Panthers organization.
4) Dealing with his medical issue and with having to hear constantly that he may not make it, I’m sure his mental strength is severely tested. Do you think he uses that as his prime motivation, and can he be good enough to succeed?
Absolutely, to both questions. The mental component of a goalie’s game is the fuel that drives the engine. He is extremely motivated at all times, and he knows he must work harder than everyone else on the ice in order to be successful. This makes him a terrific prospect to have, because at the end of the day, I think he makes everyone else around him work harder and play better. You’ll see more players be more willing to block more shots and sacrifice their body in more situations because of his story, and the way he works game in and game out. Michael’s work ethic also spills over into practices, so he simply makes a team better, he brings guys together, and that’s the best kind of goalie you can hope to have. He has terrific character, he takes nothing for granted, and that’s one of the main reasons why he caught Dale Tallon’s eye, and earned an entry-level contract. Straight up and down, it’s just an awesome story.
5) Are there any areas of his game so far that need improving? Things like lateral movement, ability to recover quickly, or positioning?
I think with any 19-year-old prospect about to turn pro, almost every element of their game must improve. Everything from rebound control to footwork to lateral movement will have to be improved if he wants to succeed over the next 2-3 years. I don’t consider one area of his game to be an area of concern, but at the same time, he’s simply a well-rounded goalie, so he’ll want to keep working on everything. It’s more a matter of getting comfortable playing against much better talent at much faster speeds, and then just making little tweaks and adjustments to the technique in order to thrive at the next level. He has always had to work extremely hard to be successful, and that will only have to continue over this summer and heading into next season.
6) Your honest opinion here, and of course we won’t hold you to it. What do you see for Michael’s future? Does he have a legitimate chance to be an NHL goaltender, despite what some may call a severe handicap?
I see Houser as slowly evolving into a very solid AHL goaltender. I could see him playing a few NHL games for call-up purposes, but I don’t expect to see anything more than that over the next 3-4 years. I don’t limit his NHL upside due to his foot condition, I limit his NHL upside because I don’t consider him to have elite potential, or elite skills in any one area of his game that lends a hand to being NHL-caliber in just a few years. But that being said, as long as he works harder than everyone else, and continues to improve as time goes on, he can easily prove me wrong and one day become a full-time NHL goaltender. But to be honest, I’d say his upside as of right now is an AHL starter.
I’d like to personally thank Justin for the time that he took to answer my questions, and give us a more in depth look at Michael. Obvisoulsy Houser has his work cout out for him, and he knows it. The position of goaltender, much like defenceman is a position that can take some players many years to perfect. As Justin says, in three to four seasons we may see Michael at the NHL level. Much of what happens from this point forward is up to Michael. We see, as does both Dale Tallon and Rob Tallas that Michael is a person of strong character and determination. If he is able to combine those attributes, and continue to improve his game and hone his skills, Michael Houser could eventually make a name for himself.
Honestly, you have to root for this kid to make it. We’ll follow him as close as we can, and wish him the best of luck as he persue’s his dream of playing in the NHl.
Thanks for reading. We welcome your comments and opinions.
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