Cossa’s Patient Development Has Him Right on Schedule

The Hockey Writers

When all is said and done, we may look back on the 2023-24 season as the season Sebastian Cossa made a believer out of everyone.

Cossa’s story to this point in his career is well-documented. The Detroit Red Wings made him the first goalie off the board at the 2021 Draft (15th overall) despite the narrative that he was the second-best goalie in his draft class. Fair or not, he was handed a ton of pressure from the moment he put on a Red Wings draft hat because, at the time, Detroit’s prospect pool was bereft of noteworthy goaltending talent. Since that day almost three years ago, Cossa’s development has continued at a slow and steady pace, sometimes to the frustration of fans that were convinced general manager Steve Yzerman and his scouts took the wrong goalie in that draft. 

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That brings us to today. In the aftermath of the Grand Rapids Griffins clinching their first American Hockey League (AHL) playoff berth in five years, it is Cossa that has ascended to the starting role for the Red Wings’ top minor-league team. At just 21 years of age, he has played a big role in the most successful AHL season since the start of the Yzerman era. 

Perhaps the best part is that if Cossa’s development has taught us anything, it’s that he’s still just scratching the surface of what he can be.

Cossa Continues to Get Better

It’s to forget where things stood just a year ago. Back then, Cossa was platooning with John Lethemon with the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL. Early on in the season, Lethemon outperformed Cossa, which only fanned the flames of people’s doubts in Cossa.

Articles were written about how elite goaltenders don’t usually spend time in the ECHL, and they definitely don’t reach that level when they’re not even the best goalie on their ECHL team. While Jesper Wallstedt, the other goalie taken in the first round of the 2021 draft, was turning heads on the AHL, Cossa was still learning what it takes to be a pro. Naturally, the perception was that the Alberta-native had fallen behind. 

Related: When Will the Red Wings’ Top Prospects Arrive in the NHL?

Not to take anything away from Lethemon (he was voted the ECHL’s top goaltender for the 2022-23 season) but things started to shift once the calendar flipped to the new year. By the beginning of March, Cossa was honored by being named the ECHL’s Player of the Week. When the playoffs came around, it was Cossa that started the Walleye’s first game. In all, he finished with a 2.32 goals-against average (GAA) and a .917 save-percentage (SV%) through seven appearances. 

But that’s just the ECHL. What would Cossa do when he had the pressure of being an everyday player in the AHL?

As it turns out, his first AHL season would practically mirror his season in the ECHL. 

Like last season, Cossa’s 2023-24 season didn’t have a smooth start. As the Griffins struggled to find their identity under new head coach Dan Watson (who was Cossa’s coach with the Walleye last season), Cossa struggled to establish consistency, and his numbers were somewhat mediocre two months into the season.

Can you guess what happened next?

Once the calendar flipped to 2024, things started to click for Cossa. As the Griffins hit their stride, so too did their young goaltender. His numbers started to improve, he won more games than he lost, and this culminated in him being named the AHL Player of the Week back for the week of Feb. 18 to Feb. 25. Though he and veteran Michael Hutchinson have been a solid “1A/1B” tandem this season, it is Cossa that has established himself as the Griffins’ go-to guy. To that point, he set a Griffins goaltending record for most consecutive games securing a point in the standings (16).

Now that the Griffins have clinched a spot in the AHL playoffs, all signs point to Cossa being the man in net for the team’s first playoff game in five seasons.

Cossa’s Path Leads to the Red Wings

This is, of course, a welcome development because it hopefully serves as a glimpse into Cossa’s future in the Red Wings organization. When you draft a goalie 15th overall, you aren’t drafting him to be a “1A”, you’re drafting him to be a “1” or an “A”, depending on how you want to phrase it. Given their patience with Cossa’s development to this point, the Red Wings were likely willing to let Hutchinson be the guy in Grand Rapids this season if Cossa needed to be more of a backup in his first AHL season. Instead, the 21-year-old has proven to be better than his 34-year-old counterpart, and that paves the way for his next challenge.

Sebastian Cossa Grand Rapids Griffins
Sebastian Cossa, Grand Rapids Griffins (Jonathan Kozub / Manitoba Moose)

With Ville Husso and Alex Lyon signed for another season in Detroit (and the looming possibility that Yzerman does something in the offseason to strengthen his team’s goaltending situation), it almost seems like a foregone conclusion that Cossa can expect to spend the 2024-25 season with the Griffins. However, expectations will be much different in his second AHL season.

Given Cossa’s current trajectory, the next step for him is to be the Griffins’ top option all season long – a true number one goaltender that gets the majority of starts, just like he was drafted to be. His backup could be a handful of different guys, from Red Wings prospects to veterans in the same vein as Hutchinson. Assuming he fares well in this role, Cossa should be knocking on the NHL’s door by the end of next season – and maybe he even gets a cup of coffee with the Red Wings in the event of a goalie injury.

While fans are likely licking their chops at the thought of the team’s “goaltender of the future” arriving to save the day next season, patience has paid off well to this point in Cossa’s development. When he does join the Red Wings as a full-time NHLer, it will likely be as a backup or a “1B” at best. He has a long career ahead of him, and the Red Wings can ensure it’s a successful one by not forcing him into situations before he is ready for them.

But that’s why this season has been a success for Cossa. Heading into the season, there were lingering questions about whether he would be able to handle AHL-level competition. After all, he wasn’t exactly a standout at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament back in September, and people were left to speculate on his capabilities when he didn’t play during the preseason. Since then, he has answered a lot of those questions; nobody questions his potential anymore, but the debate on whether or not he’ll reach it rages on. If you’re looking for proof of his success this season, pay attention this summer when different media outlets release their top NHL goalie prospects – his name will be somewhere near the top.

For a team like the Red Wings that has struggled to find consistency in the crease, that’s going to be an exciting sight to see.

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