Toronto Maple Leafs Countdown to Camp: Zachary Bouthillier

Countdown to Camp is a series previewing each player under contract to the Toronto Maple Leafs, as well as the team’s prominent unsigned prospects.

On today’s Toronto Maple Leafs Countdown to Camp, we return back to the minutiae of the organization after two big names in the last two editions of the series.

Zachary Bouthillier is a name that most Toronto Maple Leafs fans probably don’t even recognize. A seventh-round pick in 2018, Bouthillier was a late flyer taken by management on an athletic netminder who split the crease in junior, not too dissimilar from the late flyer taken on Garret Sparks back in 2011.

Bouthillier’s career in the QMJHL has been tumultuous, having been traded twice and finding himself behind some pretty terrible teams. As a 2018 selection out of the CHL, Bouthillier will need a big 2019-20 season with the Saint John Sea Dogs to earn an entry-level contract.

Season in Review

Zachary Bouthillier was set to battle with the undrafted Alexis Shank for starting minutes for Chicoutimi in 2018-19. The year prior, the duo had almost evenly split starts. Shank played in 39 games, posting a .896 save percentage, while Bouthillier recorded a .894 SV% in his 38 games of action.

Just a short time into the 2018-19 campaign, the battle couldn’t have been won more clearly by Shank. In 22 games for Chicoutimi, Bouthillier’s .889 SV% was acres behind Shank, who finished the year with a .913 SV%. The lack of performance saw Bouthillier become expendable for the Sagueneens, who traded him to Saint John on January 6.

The Sea Dogs had traded their starter, Alex D’Orio, to the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in return for a 2020 first-round pick. With the opening in goal, and no clear option to step in, Saint John then went out and acquired Bouthillier for a 2020 second-round pick and a 2021 fourth-round pick.

Bouthillier was struggling for consistency on a Chicoutimi that was average in the QMJHL. He was now heading to the second-worst team in the league in Saint John, who finished the year with just 13 wins.

Needless to say, Bouthillier’s numbers only got worse. His save percentage dropped to .882 and his goals-against average ballooned all the way up to 5.13 in the 18 games he played for the Sea Dogs in 2019.

Now, GAA is not indicative of a goaltender’s talent, rather it provides context to the team’s overall defensive play. With a GAA nearly two full goals higher than when he was in Chicoutimi, Bouthillier’s .882 SV% with Saint John is really more impressive than the .889 SV% mark he posted in Chicoutimi based on the quality of his team.

While the Sagueneens went on to lose in the first round, the Sea Dogs were one of the two clubs in the QMJHL that failed to make the postseason. (Stats hockeydb.com).

Upon the completion of the QMJHL season, Bouthillier signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs ECHL affiliate, the Newfoundland Growlers, who were in need of a backup at the time. Though he didn’t play any minutes, he did dress for the Growlers before transitioning to an amateur try-out with the Marlies, where he became a part of the practice squad.

Though Bouthillier signed a professional contract with the Growlers and a try-out with the Marlies, he did not make his pro debut.

Statistically Speaking

Zachary Bouthillier’s numbers are…not pretty, to say the least.

It’s tough to gauge goaltending numbers for prospect netminders. We simply don’t have the same public statistics available that we do at the NHL level, such as expected save percentage and goals saved above average.

With that being said, we only have the traditional boxcar stats to evaluate goaltenders out of the CHL. In order to attempt to break Bouthillier down from a more analytical perspective, we will simply compare his results to those around him.

In Chicoutimi, Bouthillier was downright awful. Shank, undrafted and a few months younger than Bouthillier, had a much better save percentage (2.4% difference) in significantly more games played.

Where Bouthillier seemed to make strides was in Saint John, where he stopped a comparable amount of shots to Alex D’Orio and Mikhail Denisov while allowing more goals on average. This shows that the Sea Dogs were allowing more shots on goal once Bouthillier arrived, meaning Bouthillier was tasked with stopping more shots every night.

Unfortunately, we don’t have any shot location or quality data to inform us more clearly as to what kind of chances Bouthillier was facing.

What we can see is that on an average Chicoutimi team, Bouthillier struggled with consistency and lost the starting job to a younger, undrafted goaltender. Upon his arrival in Saint John, he rebounded to perform at the same rate as the other netminders the Sea Dogs had previously.

All in all, Bouthillier had a very poor season. While we can’t write him off quite yet, as goaltending is extremely volatile, the signs are not optimistic for his NHL future.

Profile (via EliteProspects)

Age: 19 (Nov 8, 1999)

Height: 6-foot-2 / 188 cm

Weight: 190 lbs / 86 kg

NHL Draft: Seventh Round, 209th Overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs

2019-20 Season Outlook

Zachary Bouthillier will have to have a massive 2019-20 season to work his way back into the Toronto Maple Leafs plans.

As bluntly as you can get, Bouthillier was terrible for an NHL draft pick in 2018-19. He failed to show any promise in Chicoutimi, while Saint John was such a barren wasteland every statistic coming from that team has an asterisk beside it.

I doubt we see an Ian Scott-esque resurgence from Bouthillier either. After three consecutive sub-.900 SV% years in the WHL, Scott emerged as the top goaltender in the CHL with a .932 SV% for the WHL leading Prince Albert Raiders. Scott was a third-round pick in the NHL and had pedigree heading into Prince Albert as an early first-round WHL draft pick. He had also been chosen to represent Canada at the U17 and U18 levels. Bouthillier has never donned the Canadian jersey and was a second-round QMJHL selection.

For as bad as the Sea Dogs were, they should see some progression. Filip Prikryl is the only notable forward they are losing, while the blueline sees the loss of Michael Campoli and Benjamin Gagne.

Saint John has a handful of prospects ranked in the upper rounds for the 2020 Entry Draft that should see a step up in production for the 2019-20 as well. Projected first-round defenceman Jeremie Poirier is joined by Charlie Desroches and William Villeneuve on defence, while Josh Lawrence and Brady Burns should provide support for the returning Tampa Bay third-rounder Maxim Cajkovic.

The Sea Dogs also acquired overage forward Nicolas Guay from Drummondville for a pair of third-round picks, a player that scored nearly twice as many points as Saint John’s leading scorer in 2018-19.

Saint John should be an improved club in 2019-20, both with internal progression and external additions. With no competition for the starting job, Zachary Bouthillier has a clearcut opportunity to prove himself to Toronto Maple Leafs management as a player worth investing time and money into past the expiration of his rights in June 2020.

An ELC remains a low probability, though crazier things have occurred. If Toronto still likes aspects of his game, they could also choose to sign him to an AHL contract and develop him in the ECHL, not dissimilar to what they did with 2014 draft pick J.J. Piccinich for the past two seasons.

For Bouthillier, 2019-20 is a make or break year. It will determine whether he makes the jump to the professional ranks of the organization or sees his rights expire en route to an overage season in the QMJHL and an eventual gig in USports.