It feels like we are a bit behind schedule, but it is that time of year for our “Midterms” series that checks in on Carolina Hurricanes prospects below the AHL level.
Our series kicks off with Carolina Hurricanes goalie prospect Jack LaFontaine who is playing in his sophomore season at the University of Michigan.
LaFontaine is one of two netminders who were part of the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2016 NHL Draft class. LaFontaine is a Canadian-born goalie who played for the Janesville Jets in 2015-16 before joining the Michigan Woverines for his freshman season in 2016-17. LaFontaine boasts good size at 6 feet 3 inches tall and is also noted for his athleticism in most scouting reports. He split ice time in a crowded crease in 2016-17 and finished with a 3.34 goals against average and .911 save percentage in his freshman season in 2016-17.
Interview with David Nasternak and Anthony Ciatti from MGoBlog
About the interviewees
David Nasternak (Twitter=@NastyIsland) hails from MGoBlog where he does a myriad of behind-the-scenes tasks. He also covers the majority of Michigan Hockey games, pushing Corsi and shot/possession statistics. Some writing, mostly numbers.
Anthony Ciatti (Twitter=@ACiatti) is a 10+ year Michigan season ticket holder and lifelong goaltender. He has appeared on the MGoBlog podcast to talk UM Hockey and has also written prospect reports as a guest at Arctic Ice Hockey covering Jets prospects that played for Michigan. Anthony is also tip-toeing toward adopting the Hurricanes. Since the Wings are in the gutter, he will be watching more Canes hockey this year as he likesthe approach they’re taking, thinks Bill Peters is a good coach and once bought a set of goalie pads from Scott Darling on eBay.
Interview on Jack LaFontaine
Canes and Coffee: Now in his sophomore season, what has been Jack LaFontaine’s role for the Wolverines thus far during the 2017-18 season?
David Nasternak: To begin the season, Michigan had an open competition between JLF and fellow sophomore Hayden Lavigne. JLF would start one night and Lavigne would start the next. That went on for a month or so, and then JLF started back-to-back games against Minnesota in November. He gave up a number of goals in that series -not necessarily all his fault. Since then, it has mostly been Hayden Lavigne in net.
Anthony Ciatti: I would like to add that it seemed as if the coaching staff has preferred LaFontaine. He started the first game and also the first game after the Christmas break, but as Dave mentioned he has not been able to nail down the starting job. Most of it would seem to be bad luck, but he has not had many A+ performances that would compel a coaching staff to stick with him. It is disappointing as he is clearly the more talented goalie and has a higher ceiling, but the team has seemed to play better overall with Lavigne in net.
Canes and Coffee: Can you please provide a short summary of LaFontaine’s 2017-18 season so far?
David Nasternak: JLF has had an…inconsistent season. He clearly has a lot of athletic upside, but pucks are going into his net at a high rate. His save % is .881. He hass started 8 of Michigan’s 20 games, and has been pulled in 3 of those games. It is definitely worth mentioning that Michigan’s overall defense was rather poor for a number of his games. He had a game against Penn State early on in which he made 49 saves, gave up 5 goals, and I thought he did very well. It looks like Michigan has sorted out some of their defensive issues over the last couple weekends, but JLF has not had a chance to play behind said defense, as Hayden Lavigne has seemingly taken the job and run with it.
Anthony Ciatti: He started 4-1 with the only loss being the 49 save performance at PSU, so it looked like he was on track for a good season. As Dave mentioned, the Minnesota season is where things went off the rails. They did win the first game but he was pulled in the 2nd (nobody played any defense that weekend for either team), and he was pulled in the next game at Wisconsin as well. Since then he’s started two of the team’s last 10 games so there isn’t much to pull from the last 2 months.
Being down .030 for the season is not good but we are also dealing with a very small sample size. I should also note Michigan’s save % as a team is .891, good for 51st out of 60. Their PK is 57th in the country as well so there is more going on than just mediocre goaltending.
Canes and Coffee: Moving from his freshman to sophomore season, in what areas do you notice the most progress in Jack LaFontaine’s development from last season to this one?
David Nasternak: This is such a tough question to answer because he has probably played less than half of the season, losing out to fellow netminder, Hayden Lavigne. This may be a bit Hottaek-y but from what I remember seeing of JLF this season, but I think he has been slightly more inconsistent than I remember from last season. Thus far in 2017-18, he has been alternating games, and while he was behind some leaky defense, he rarely showed the high upside that I remember seeing more often in 2016-17. He had a couple games where he was showing his potential ceiling, but it seemed more hit-or-miss than I remember from last season. This is obviously such a small sample size and these things could be attributed to Puck Luck, defense, specific opponent, etc. as well. I’m certainly not down on JLF at all. He just has not seized the job when he has had the opportunity…yet.
Anthony Ciatti: It is tough to recall since its been 2 months since I have seen him play, but I do remember thinking his post integration was improved and that he was playing a little deeper in the net. It does not seem as if he had taken a step back on just the eye test. He is still the clearly more talented goalie, and frankly he is more talented than most college goalies I’ve seen this year.
Canes and Coffee: As LaFontaine works to develop into an NHL caliber goalie, what areas of his game still have room for improvement? What are his strengths at this stage of his development?
David Nasternak: I feel like I am not saying anything positive about JLF, and that does not reflect my overall true feelings towards him. I still think he has tremendous athletic upside, has solid puck control, and moves well in the crease. Those are all attributes that are desirable in a goaltender. I just think that the results have not gone his way, and for one reason or another, not as many pucks have gotten by his counterpart. It is probably very unfortunate for him because I do not think one goalie has been infinitely better than the other, but I also think it is super hard to rotate goalies in a full college hockey season…and still contend for a tournament bid.
Anthony Ciatti: Early on this season I had the impression LaFontaine was on pace with the other highly drafted 19 year old goalies I watch in both the NCAA and OHL from an athletic/technical standpoint, even though the results did not match. Since he has fallen out of favor, unfortunately at this point he is behind in his development if you consider games played to be a good metric and the fact that he cannot beat out an undrafted 21-year old. He has barely played in 2 years, I think 16 starts overall, and does not seem to be trending toward receiving more ice time. I do not entirely think that this is on LaFontaine. He was present through a coaching change, and he has never had the chance to work through any rough patches due to the way the goalies’ ice time is doled out (with only 35-ish games in NCAA this is a hard thing for coaches to do anyway). Ultimately, if I was a Canes fan I would be rooting for him to get a fresh start be it in the ECHL/AHL or taking an overage year in the OHL. As a Michigan fan I would not want to see this, as I believe he has untapped potential here and a very high ceiling. With another goalie coming in next year who is currently second in the USHL in save percentage one of Michigan’s goalies is going to get pushed out it would seem, but that is yet to be determined.
Canes and Coffee: Is there anything else about Jack LaFontaine and/or his 2017-18 season that would be of interest to Carolina Hurricanes fans tracking him from afar?
David Nasternak: It must be re-stated the JLF’s numbers come with a ridiculously low sample size of 10 games (9 starts). They also come behind Michigan’s rather porous defensive first half of the season.
Canes and Coffee would like to extend a huge thank you to David Nasternak and Anthony Ciatti from MGoBlog for generously sharing their ‘from the rink’ insight on Hurricanes prospect Jack LaFontaine.