There has been a bit of discussion regarding the Cyclones’ goal tending situation and since this guy isn’t available, the Cyclones will be using two unproven youngsters this season. The Cyclones have been in this situation before, it was just last season that Coach Weber was forced into acquiring Martin Houle and then Ryan Nie when both Loic Lacasse and Kyle Gajewski got off to very shaky starts; and while Lacasse did come around, Gajewski was bad to the point where he was shipped out to anyone who would take him. At this point I think it’s safe to say that the tandem of Jeremy Smith and Robert Mayer is not Lacasse and Gadjewski.
The tandem has reminded me of the 06-07 Grumet-Morris/Desjardins tandem technique wise. Smith uses positioning and technique to cut angles and block the net in a similar manner to Grumet-Morris, whereas Mayer plays aggressively and uses his athleticism to react to shots much as Desjardins did in the 06-07 season. That, however, is where that comparison ends.
Both Mayer and Smith are well thought of prospects within their systems but it would seem that Smith would have more upside. Smith, a 2nd round pick of the Nashville Predator’s in 2007, has been the more consistent goalie for the Cyclones thus far. He’s under the watchful eye of goalie guru Mitch Korn, and is here to develop his game for the next level. Nashville has another youngster playing professionally in North Amerca; 1st round selection Chet Pickard is currently in Milwaukee. It will not surprise me if Nashville swaps Pickard and Smith at some point in the season so Pickard can get some regular playing time and they can get an idea of how Smith is progressing in regard to playing at a higher level.
My observations of Smith’s play are pretty positive. He is sound positionally and plays with solid technique, both of which will serve him well in the AHL and perhaps beyond. Weaknesses that I’ve noticed are his mental strength, his occasional break downs in regards to technique, and his reliance on technique versus his athleticism. When teams are able to get to Smith early it seems to rattle him a bit; this is a double edge sword as you want a guy in net that feels he can stop everything but at the same time you want a guy that knows how to shake off a bad goal. When his technique breaks down it leads to some soft goals, just as it would with just about any goalie, as we’ve witnessed on a few wrap around goals this season. Going hand in hand with technique break down is Smith’s reliance on it and his lack of scrambling. There have been times when the technique goes south, he doesn’t control a rebound quite as he should or a guy just makes a good move to get him out of position, it results in a goal that looks incredibly soft since he doesn’t typically flop or scramble. With each game, I see Smith improve as he gains confidence in his team mates and in his ability to play at this level, early goals haven’t seemed to effect him as much. I have also seen him make some diving, scrambling saves recently as well.
Robert Mayer, an undrafted prospect of the Montreal Canadiens, is also here to develop his game; but for different reasons than Smith perhaps. Most of the blogs, websites and other articles I’ve read regarding Mayer suggest that Montreal have not been thrilled with his progression. With 2 other young goalies behind him on the depth chart, it seems that there is some pressure on Mayer to develop the consistency that is needed to progress professionally.
Mayer definitely has the athleticism to keep the puck out of the net. He also seems to have a good head on his shoulders. In order to find the consistency he needs to progress, he needs to play better in regards to position since his aggressiveness can get him into trouble, as he sometimes over plays and finds himself out of the crease. As we saw with Cedrick Desjardins in 07-08, adding the position and technique to an athletic, reactionary game can lead to some growing pains for a goalie. Cedrick did lead the Cyclones to a Kelly Cup but his play early in the season was inconsistent as he emphasized his position and technique. If Robert can adjust and learn to play position first and reaction second, he be just fine. Until that happens, however, his play is likely to be inconsistent.
The 2009-2010 Cyclones are coming together well, but when it’s all said and done, how well they do and how far they go will ultimately be determined by the play of Smith and Mayer.