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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Overage player alert: Nathan Lieuwen

Who knew that the WHL regular season champion Saskatoon Blades would get swept by the Kootenay Ice?

Thanks to 1991-birthdate goalie Nathan Lieuwen, that's precisely what happened, with Blades top prospect Brayden Schenn (who they mortgaged the future for to get from Brandon at the trade deadline) being held to just one goal.

Lieuwen was at one time thought of a top goalie prospect for the 2009 NHL draft, but he suffered a concussion and ended up falling off the radar. He was coming back strong in 2009-10, but then the same happened and he fell off the map once again. Now, he's looking like a world-beater after a 33-win season for the Ice.

At 6-5, Lieuwen is huge with long limbs and very athletic. He's shown it especially in the 2011 WHL playoffs, posting an 8-2 record with a .930 save percentage, knocking out Moose Jaw in the first round in five games before stunning the favored Blades in a sweep. He takes up so much of the net that shooters have to have some tough psychological challenges when they're trying to find openings on him.

The head injury past is certainly something to consider, especially the risk he poses whenever there is a goalmouth collision, but with the way he's played, there's some real benefit to his potential upside. Remember, this is a guy scouts were very high on when the '08-09 season began, and the added bonus is that he can go to the AHL right away as a 20-year-old in 2011-12.

Keep an eye on him, and if he continues to play stellar, the draft flyer for Lieuwen could be even earlier than most expect.

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