While the Canucks didn’t pick any defencemen at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, it wasn’t all forwards for the host city. With their first pick of the sixth round, they grabbed a goaltender that made a name for himself in international play: Arturs Silovs.
Well, half a name. His first name is still associated with Latvian legend Arturs Irbe.
Silovs caught the Canucks’ eye at the World Under-18 Championship, where he stood on his head for an overmatched Latvian squad. He was clearly their best player and the primary reason they made it to the quarterfinals, shutting out Slovakia in the deciding game of the preliminary round. Consider this: Latvia didn'thave a single player with more than two points in the tournament. They desperately needed Silovs to keep them in every game.
“He was a player that really showed well for us at the World Championships,” said Judd Brackett, the Canucks’ director of amateur scouting.
“I was talking with Vancouver,” said Silovs, wearing a smart bowtie. “After world juniors, they were very interested in me, so I was likely to know, I’m going to be picked by Vancouver.”
Silovs posted a .918 save percentage in that tournament, good for fifth among goaltenders, but Silovs had a tougher task than those ahead of him. The only goaltenders that faced more shots per game were Switzerland’s Andri Henauer and Slovakia’s Patrik Kozel.
He also had a heavy workload in that he started every single one of Latvia’s games, including twice playing on back-to-back nights. His worst performance came on the second of those back-to-backs, where he got lit up by the powerhouse Team USA, giving up four goals on 27 shots in just over 34 minutes before getting pulled.
After a day off, Silovs had his best performance of the tournament, making 40 saves on 42 shots against Team Canada in the quarterfinals. He nearly led Latvia to a stunning upset, as it was a 2-1 game right up until the final minute, when Peyton Krebs scored an empty-net goal to put the game out of reach.
It should be noted, too, that he only gave up one goal off a Canadian stick; the second Canadian goal was an own goal, as a Latvian defenceman accidentally poked a puck through Silovs’ legs off a faceoff.
You can see a little of Silovs in action against Canada in the highlights from the game, though it only includes one of his 40 saves.
The highlights from Latvia’s game against Russia show a couple more saves from Silovs, as well as the quality of chances that he was regularly facing during that tournament.
For a better view of Silovs’ athleticism, this video put together by his agent, Ryan Minkoff, is worth a watch.
What stands out in this video, however, is actually one of his main weaknesses. He has a tendency to make himself look very small in the net thanks to a very wide stance. Silovs is a big goaltender at 6’4” and 203 lbs, but he minimizes that size advantage with that wide stance, opening up tantalizing holes up high for shooters and limiting his ability to move quickly around the crease.
In the NHL, we’re seeing much narrower stances from goaltenders, even ones that depend on their size and butterfly technique to make stops. Kevin Woodley wrote about this development for NHL.com earlier this year, specifically noting the change for Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom.
“Markstrom is one of many goaltenders in recent years who has narrowed his stance, setting up with his feet closer together, especially when the puck is higher in the zone or along the boards,” wrote Woodley. “He is making that adjustment this season with new Canucks goaltending coach Ian Clark, who initiated similar changes in Sergei Bobrovksy while with the Columbus Blue Jackets.”
The narrower stance allows for better mobility, both the small adjustments as a player carries the puck, and the bigger movements across the crease. With a narrow stance, a goaltender can make stronger pushes off their edges to more quickly get across. A wider stance limits that mobility, as the legs are already extended outwards, with less ability to extend further to push off your edges.
“It's just easier to move,” said Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard in Woodley’s article. “You are just freer to move. With better hip mobility, you can hinge better, and that way you can get better pushes. I still get wide when the puck is below the hash marks, just to give yourself a little more blocking surface but also to get down into that butterfly a little quicker, but I used to be wide all over the ice.”
For Markstrom, that change to his stance helped contribute to his excellent season with the Canucks, where he was named the team’s MVP.
“When I narrow my stance, I feel like I am more in control and it's so much easier to move,” said Markstrom.
That concern over Silovs’ stance is echoed in his scouting report from Hockey Prospect. They noted his wide stance limited his lateral mobility early in the season in the MHL. While it didn’t limit his ability to make saves — he posted a .920 save percentage in 7 MHL games last season — it was a red flag for his ability to make saves at higher levels.
When he moved to HS Riga in the Latvian league, however, Hockey Prospect liked the development they saw from him.
“He’s began the process of narrowing his stance,” they noted, “which has helped his skating, and he stands taller in net as opposed to more crouched down, which took away his size advantage.”
They also praise his glove hand and excellent stick work that he uses to break up passing plays or poke the puck off a forward’s stick as they cut to the net. According to his scouting report, he has above-average rebound control as well, but also battles hard when he does give up a rebound and does well to stop secondary chances.
Their biggest concern is his reflexes, as they suggest his reaction time is not what it needs to be to get to the NHL, but could be developed: “In order to improve his fast-twitch, he’s going to need extensive strength-and-conditioning coaching that could help him further take advantage of his frame and athletic gifts.”
It does concern me that Silovs still had such a wide stance at the Under-18s, which would have come after his adjustments with HS Riga, but that’s a technical issue that can be worked on over time. The other elements of his game are still impressive: he’s very athletic for his size and makes stellar kick saves that take full advantage of his long legs. When he’s locked-in, the bottom half of the net is off-limits for opposition forwards.
When Brackett was asked about what drew them to Silovs, he talked about what gives the Canucks hope that he can become an NHL goaltender: “Great length, power, elasticity, things that Dan Cloutier and Ian Clark both like and feel like they're...very, very good qualities to develop with.”
Silovs gave his own review of his strengths and style: “Moving quick, playing aggressive. In some moments, taking the puck in the corner, trying to help my defencemen or forwards to give a long pass if it’s possible.” In an interview with TSN 1040, he said that he tries to model his game after Andrei Vasilevskiy, another 6'4" goaltender with tremendous athleticism that has certainly experienced some success in the NHL.
Overall, Silovs has a tremendous base to work with. His size is a big plus, and he has the athleticism and compete level to go with it. The question is whether he can develop his reflexes and technique to build on that solid foundation to become an NHL goaltender. The Canucks certainly believe that he can.
That development could come in the QMJHL next season. According to Silovs, he's expecting to be selected by a QMJHL team in the CHL Import Draft on June 27th.