This was supposed to be the season in which Zachary Fucale finally proved he wasn't the beneficiary of the Halifax Mooseheads' staggering goal support. Instead, this season often appeared to be a nightmare for the 20-year-old netminder.
The season got off to a poor start for Fucale. With the Halifax Mooseheads having a large turnover, Fucale's shots faced per game increased by nearly five, to 29. His save percentage tumbled to 0.890 and his goals against average increased by nearly a goal per game to 3.20.
When Fucale was off representing Canada at the 2015 World Junior Championship, Halifax shipped him to the Quebec Remparts, the Memorial Cup hosts. Fucale returned a WJC champion, and had the opportunity to play behind a much stronger team. However, he struggled even more with Quebec. Eventually, the goaltender that was once thought to be on the cusp of becoming the best in the Canadian Hockey League was supplanted by 17-year-old Callum Booth.
In the post-season, the 36th overall pick in 2013 reclaimed the crease and subsequently improved his play. He took the Remparts to double-overtime in game seven of the QMJHL final, playing arguably his best game of the season. While it ended in an unfortunate loss, it was a much-needed reminder of what type of player Fucale can become.
Fucale is on track to turn professional next season. With Mike Condon the undisputed number one in St, John's, it will come down to Fucale and Eddie Pasquale, a solid AHL netminder who missed all of last year, to battle it out for the position of back up.
The votes for Fucale were fairly consistent. Most ranked him in the mid-twenties, with a few exceptions. Matthew ranked him the highest at eighth, while Justin and Cara had him the lowest at 27th.
Top 25 Under 25 History
|2013 #22||2014 #19|
Fucale made his T25U25 debut in 2013 ranked at #22. He saw his ranking marginally improve to #19 in 2014, but returned once again to #22 after this year's struggles.
It's hard to believe that a goaltender outfitted with a tremendous athletic base and excellent composure not only remained mostly stagnant in his QMJHL career, but also regressed.
Fucale is one of the most athletic goaltenders in junior hockey. While he prefers to utilize his technical game, he has shown the ability to make incredible, highlight-reel saves. His movements, especially laterally, are very economical and controlled, and his angles are exceptional. This style means that Fucale rarely is out of position and it allows him to make saves look effortless. Fucale's pads are quick, allowing him to cover any holes down low that shooters see.
Fucale's glove hand has often come into question, but I believe that it is well above average. While he has a tendency to hold his glove hand too low, exposing the top of the net, his glove hand is difficult to beat.
Perhaps what Fucale is most well-known for is his demeanour. The goaltender, from the day he entered the QMJHL, has demonstrated a uniquely high level of composure and poise. On breakaways and in shootouts, Fucale is absolutely fabulous. He's incredibly relaxed and rarely seems phased, no matter the situation. This demeanour has allowed Fucale to amass an impressive trophy case, ranging from gold medals at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament (2013) and the U20 WJC (2015), to a President Cup (2013) and Memorial Cup (2013), to individual awards such as QMJHL Defensive Rookie of the Year (2012) and QMJHL Personality of the Year (2014).
Despite having an excellent toolkit, Fucale has plenty of flaws. For the most part, they all stem from a lack of consistency, which is extremely common among young goaltenders. Fucale's blocker side is notably frustrating because even though he has excellent hand-eye coordination, he cheats with his blocker (and his glove), which has been exploited by shooters for years now.
Additionally, Fucale's ability to deal with rebounds isn't nearly as good as it should be at this stage. This year he seemed to struggle with puck tracking and fighting through traffic more than in previous seasons, which could explain in part why he struggled to consistently direct rebounds to safe areas. The inconsistency in Fucale's game up high continues to hamper his rebound control, as he sometimes struggles to catch and freeze pucks.
Fucale has a nasty tendency of falling into the butterfly too early. Despite being listed a 6'2", Fucale makes himself look small in the net, which hinders his game up high.
Perhaps the most glaring flaw is Fucale's habit of allowing weak goals. Eyes on the Prize's own Jack Han found that Fucale's save percentage on non-scoring chances was among the worst in the QMJHL this past season. The tendency to allow these soft goals has been a constant criticism of Fucale's game. He rarely seems fazed after allowing them, which further highlights his calm demeanour, but at some point he does have to improve. Consistently allowing weak goals, regardless of his tools, will get him ripped apart at the professional level.
Fucale undeniably has starting upside in the NHL. His combination of athleticism and composure is extremely hard to find, especially in such a young goaltender.
Unfortunately the numbers and overall play just haven't been at the level that they should in the QMJHL. Furthermore, due to the volatility of goaltending, projecting young netminders is extremely hard.
Despite Fucale's bevy of flaws, such as his inconsistency, frustrating game up high, and habit of allowing weak goals, there remains plenty of upside. Even though Fucale did not demonstrate much this year, he arose to the occasion in the post-season. While impressive, it was far from dominant, but in little glimpses Fucale demonstrated what he could one day become with patience and development.
In an organization that possesses the reigning Vezina, Ted Lindsay, Jennings, and Hart winner, a young, solid back up in Dustin Tokarski, and the talented Mike Condon, Fucale will have what nearly all young goaltenders require: time.