Who is this guy?
Eric Hartzell is a 6'4" 205lbs Goaltender from White Bear Lake, Minnesota who went undrafted and was signed by the Pittsburgh Penguins as a free agent.
What are they saying about him?
Oddly there doesn't appear to be an awful lot written about Hartzell. He struggled for a number of years, which is why he never garnered any interest in the Draft, and finally had a breakout season as a senior which made him one of the most hotly contested college free agents. The first thing most of the comments mention is his size. WBS Head Coach John Hynes said "One of the things that jumps of the page is his size and his athleticism, that's something that in today's day and age you want to have in your goaltenders." The current trend is for goalies to be larger and larger, since pad height is proportional to body size and the size allows a goalie to take up more of the net while down in the butterfly. So just his overall size makes him an intriguing prospect.
Beyond his size, he is said to be a goaltender that focuses on being positionally sound, since his biggest weakness is his lateral movement. So when he does find himself out of position he has a very hard to compensating. He does have pretty fast reflexes and a decent glovehand, which allows him to make some highlight reel quality saves, but it is focused on being able to line himself up to be in the right place to make the save, rather than being able to quickly react to an unforeseen situation. He has had some issue with rebound control as well, but has been said to be improving, although it is still something that needs work. He also appears to have a bit of trouble with his consistency, which is something he will need to continue to work on.
He finished the year as a Hobey Baker Finalist, All-American, conference All-Star, conference Goalie of the Year, conference Player of the Year, and USA Hockey Player of the Year. That sounds quite similar to two other undrafted college free agent goaltenders that were considered amongst the best in the NCAA when they got signed by the Pens, John Curry and Brad Thiessen.
Where has he been?
Hartzell was a late bloomer that played in HS/midget until he aged out at 18, and then moved up to play in the USHL until he aged out at 20. He spent 2 years as the starting goaltender for the Sioux Falls Stampede. His stats were not overly impressive, particularly in the playoffs, so he didn't garner any interest in the Draft. He then signed on to play for Quinnipiac University. As a Freshman he was a 3rd string goaltender with pretty poor stats, but he steadily improved, taking over the starter role as a Sophomore and served in that role for the next 3 years. His career culminated in an excellent Senior season helping lead his team to an appearance in the Frozen Four, losing the final game to their biggest rival Yale. He spent the remainder of the 2013 season signed by Pittsburgh and practicing with the NHL club.
When can we expect to see him?
Hartzell is a 24 year old goaltender who has never played professionally, having spent the past 4 seasons in the NCAA, so if he does ever make it to the NHL it will likely be quite a few years away. This year it is still uncertain whether he starts the year in the AHL with the WBS Baby Pens or if he will wind up in the ECHL with the Wheeling Nailers. Either way he looks to be working as a backup this year. Then next year he could be pushing to be the AHL starter. From there it really depends on how the NHL goaltender situation works out, if they need a backup he could be considered for the job within 3 years. However, he could just as easily wind up as a career AHL goalie as the 3 higher potential prospects get older and start to turn pro. So he could be in Pittsburgh anywhere from 3 years to never.
Why is he #11?
Hartzell received 1 vote for 4th, 1 vote for 10th, 2 votes for 11th, 1 vote for 12th, 1 vote for 13th, 1 vote for 15th, 1 vote for 22nd, and 1 vote for 23rd.
How can he climb the list?
With how high he is, climbing the list seems very unlikely. However, if he wishes to maintain the status quo he needs to prove that he can adjust to the speed of the professional game, particularly at the NHL level. His lateral movement is his biggest weakness, so he needs to work on that so that he can react to the higher quality of players he will be facing as a professional. He also needs to continue to work on his rebound control, as it is another area that he has shown issues with. At the moment he has the advantage of being the lone prospect that is old enough to be a pro goaltender, so that is one reason he is up as high as he is, so if he wants to remain he needs to outlast the young competition.