This may seem familiar: a Finnish netminder with untapped skill suddenly shocks NHL teams to the point that every team wants a piece of him. Does this remind you of, oh, Antti Niemi, the other Finnish goaltender sourced out by the Chicago Blackhawks? Antti Raanta is looking to do just that once again, and the Blackhawks feel high enough of him to give him a shot with the reigning Stanley Cup champions next year. Last season was a coming out party for Raanta, as he won the Finnish championship with Ässät and he was awarded both the Lasse Oksanen trophy for the SM-liiga best player of regular season and the Jari Kurri trophy for the best player of the playoffs. Once league action was completed, Raanta took his craft to the Finnish national team at the 2013 World Championships, stealing games for a team with a lack of big name experience on the squad. Chicago signed veteran Nikolai Khabibulin to shore up their goaltending depth behind Corey Crawford, however due to Khabibulin’s injury issues, as well as being closer to the end of his career than the beginning, it wouldn’t be a stretch to expect Raanta to get some decent time in the NHL next year.
Raanta was a dominant force this season in the SM-liiga, and while it’s no NHL, Hawks fans should already be excited for his fore-coming. During the most recent world championships, Raanta posted a 2.09 goals-against average and .928 save percentage against some of the best hockey players in the world. After watching him play night in and night out at the WC’s, it was clear that his small frame (6’0, 182 pounds) allowed him to move around the crease with ease, and it seemed as though he was always going to beat the shooter from every angle. During the tournament, his catching hand was clearly his best asset, as he was able to snatch pucks that shouldn’t have even been kept out in the first place with ease. More postionally sound then Niemi, a decent comparable to Raanta would have to be Tuukka Rask, which doesn’t seem to be an all too terrible comparison, does it?
Raanta has proved in recent years that he can be a durable, reliable netminder in Finland, but how will that translate into the top professional league on the planet? While his small size does allow for Raanta to move around freely, he does have to look around forwards using tough angles, and he may not be able to get away with playing that low. It could also serve him well if he added a bit more weight to his frame to make up for the lack of net he consumes. During his junior years, it appeared that he was not very aggressive towards attacking the puck in front of the net, but after consulting with goaltending coach Jaakko Rosendahl, it appeared as though he took steps to improve that flaw, while still not perfect.
2013-2014 NHL Projection:
Unless Khabibulin manages to injure himself prior to the start of the season, Raanta wil start out in Rockford of the AHL, seemingly as the undisputed starting goaltender. If I was a betting man, I would put money on Raanta getting a shot in the NHL this season, but with no experience on the smaller ice here in North America, it wouldn’t hurt, like usual, to have him spend time in the AHL until he is truly ready.
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