Pogge not living up to the hype

Justin Pogge had his most celebrated success in his goaltending career wearing the red and white maple leaf.

But his tenure in the colours of the blue and white uniform of the Maple Leafs – the team that drafted him in the fourth-round in 1990 – has been anything but triumphant.

When Pogge backstopped the Team Canada World Juniors to a gold medal on home ice in 2006, he earned the praise of an entire nation. Upon claiming the title as the country’s top major junior goaltender later that spring, the expectation was for the Fort McMurray, Alberta native to become the Leafs’ goalie of the future.

Three years later, the experiment has been nothing short of a flop.

Pogge has just a single victory in seven NHL appearances this season. While his teammates have often left him out to dry, Saturday’s defeat at the hands of the Boston Bruins provided ample evidence that he is far from the caliber of a big league goaltender.

His movement is inefficient; expending too much energy with his lateral motion.

He is positionally unsound, often too deep in the net. He has a tendency to go down early.

The biggest foreshadowing of Pogge’s misadventures came in last year’s Calder Cup playoffs when AHL Marlies coach Greg Gilbert named veteran Scott Clemmensen as his starting netminder. While Pogge’s and Clemmensen’s statistics were almost identical, Gilbert rightly chose experience over youth, but was vilified by many fans for not giving the youngster the chance to gain some playoff action.

The Marlies’ bench boss proved his critics wrong by advancing his team to the Western Conference Final, ignoring the naysayers who had prematurely anointed Pogge as the Leafs’ future saviour.

This year, not even the most optimistic of Pogge’s supporters can dispute that his NHL numbers are abominable; a 1-4-1 record with an alarming 4.35 goals against average and porous save percentage of .844.

With the Leafs having played this entire season virtually out of the playoff race, general manager Brian Burke and head coach Ron Wilson have used Pogge on as many occasions to date, not because he has earned a promotion from the AHL, but because the opportunity was present for the one-time junior star to showcase his talent.

The results have been unspectacular.

With Pogge set to turn 23 next month, and with three seasons of above average – but not stellar – years of AHL experience under his belt, the expiry date at which the “highly touted prospect” becomes a “minor league journeyman” is rapidly approaching.

It would be to no one’s surprise if Burke finds another destination for Pogge, once he becomes a restricted free-agent this summer.

Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, a regular column at TMLfans.ca