In a somewhat stunning turn of events, highly-touted goalie prospect Keith Petruzelli will not be playing in the NCAA nor on an NHL contract this season. The 2017 third-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings had parted ways with his rights holder, allegedly by his own choice, and was believed to be looking for a new NHL home or else returning for a fifth year at Quinnipiac University. Instead, the AHL’s Toronto Marlies have announced that they have signed Petruzzelli and to a two-year deal at that. It is quite the unexpected outcome for the decorated NCAA goaltender.
Petruzzelli, 22, is coming off of an excellent collegiate season in which he was named an ECAC first-team all-star, ECAC goalie of the year, a finalist for the Mike Richter Award as the NCAA’s best goaltender,and a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s most outstanding player. He posted a .926 save percentage and 1.89 GAA while leading the Bobcats to a conference title and NCAA Tournament appearance. This was reasonably expected to boost his value as an NHL prospect. After all, recent Richter winners include top young pro keepers like Jeremy Swayman, Cayden Primeau, and Thatcher Demko. Petruzzelli was in a unique situation as well. Having played four seasons in the NCAA, Petruzzelli could watch the Red Wings’ draft rights expire in August and sign elsewhere. However, he was also granted an additional fifth year of NCAA eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic that would have allowed him to return to Quinnipiac if the NHL market did not develop as he had hoped and test free agency next summer instead. When August 15 came and went, as well as a development camp appearance with his hometown Boston Bruins, and there was no contract announcement, it seemed likely that a collegiate return was likely.
Instead, the curveball result is Petruzzelli signing an AHL contract and for two years instead of one. This cannot be the result that Petruzzelli’s camp imagined if and when they did spurn Detroit. It’s difficult to imagine that Petruzzelli did not receive an NHL contract, but his representation misread the market as most others did. The talented goaltender is now locked into a low-money, minor league pact when he ideally would have been on an entry-level contract with a shot at NHL starts. Toronto is also not a great landing spot in particular. The Maple Leafs will have NHL veteran Michael Hutchinson and signed prospects Joseph Woll and Ian Scott all battling for play time with the Marlies and Petruzzelli, who the team is not as invested in, could easily fall through the cracks. This may not provide enough exposure to garner NHL offers that could relieve him of his AHL contract. It’s a strange and surprising situation for a such well-regarded prospect and will be an interesting storyline to follow in the minors this season.