The Struggles of St. Louis Blues Prospect Joel Hofer

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KELOWNA, BC - OCTOBER 23: Joel Hofer #30 of the Swift Current Broncos defends the net against the Kelowna Rockets at Prospera Place on October 23, 2018 in Kelowna, Canada. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

The St. Louis Blues have had a good year with their prospects. Players like Scott Perunovich and Mathias Laferriere have come out of the woodwork and become serious prospects, despite being overlooked prior to the season. There’s also been a lot of struggling players, like goalie prospects Ville Husso and Joel Hofer.

The Blues organization has a lot of strong prospects at every position, and the impressive starts have only made that even truer, but their young goaltending is arguably their best position. Jordan Binnington, Evan Fitzpatrick, and Husso are all strong goalies that could easily fight for an NHL role one day. With so much strength at the position, there wasn’t much reason to draft another goalie prospect during the 2018 NHL Draft.

Then again, it didn’t hurt much when the Blues picked Hofer in the fourth round. There wasn’t much excitement around him but Hofer did have a strong 2017-18 season and was deserving of getting drafted when he did. That’s arguable now, though, as Hofer has struggled to assimilate into the starting role for his WHL team.

Looking at the Joel Hofers 2018-19 Struggles

Career with the Swift Current Broncos

Hofer was 17 when he was drafted by St. Louis, the youngest player taken by the organization that year. He was coming off of his first year with the Swift Current Broncos. That year, he only appeared in 19 games but still had a strong record of 8-3-1. He also had a 2.61 goals-against-average and a decent .914 save-percentage. For such a young player, these numbers were pretty impressive. Impressive enough for the Blues to take him, obviously.

Hofer has not been able to follow that up though. He’s clearly become Swift Current’s starter, tied for ninth in the league with 25 games played. Of those, though, he’s only won four games. Overall, his record is 4-19-2, the worst of any goalie in the league. Aside from ranking the highest in losses, Hofer also has the second highest goals-against-average among any goalie with 20 games played at 4.13 and a save-percentage of 0.899.

The worst part of Hofer’s play is that the Broncos don’t have many other options. Their backup goalie is Isaac Poulter, a 17-year-old rookie goalie. That puts the reigning champions in a tough spot, stuck between a struggling sophomore and a goalie that they drafted in the sixth round of the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft.

Neither player has shown much promise this year, a far cry from Stuart Skinner and Logan Flodell, the team’s goalies last season. Flodell was the primary go-to, setting an impressive record of 24-8-0 in 35 games. Skinner, who is now playing in the ECHL as apart of the Edmonton Oilers, played 25 games and went 16-6-1.

Stock in St. Louis

The poor play not only disappoints his team but it also hurts his stock in the Blues organization. Hofer is on the bottom totem of a very strong goaltending depth chart. While he fights to win another WHL Title, he also has to worry about beating out players like Fitzpatrick, Husso and Jake Allen if he wants to make it to the NHL level.

If he was having a strong year, he’d be in luck. Husso has played very out-of-character this year, setting a record of 5-12-0 through his 19 appearances so far. Fitzpatrick hasn’t done much either. He, surprisingly, started the year in the ECHL with the Tulsa Oilers. In 14 games, he went 7-4-2 and got promoted to the AHL as a result. He has yet to play an AHL game, though, so there’s not much else to show his prowess this year.

Silver Lining

There is one silver lining, though. Hofer isn’t even in the top-10 when it comes to games played but he ranks highest in the league in shots-against by over 150 shots. For a sophomore goalie, being the most challenged goalie in the WHL is a very daunting task. This is only compounded by the fact that he was the third-string goalie on the WHL’s championship winners last year. Clearly, the Broncos are not as strong as they were one year ago, with most of their top players moving on from junior hockey over the off-season.

With that said, all hope isn’t lost for Hofer. He has been put in a very difficult spot this year, with not much relief in the form of a backup. If he is able to find his groove and start playing better, there’s still a chance that he becomes a strong goaltending prospect for the St. Louis Blues organization. Even with all of these excuses, there still needs to be a strong improvement in Hofer’s play.

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