Tell me if you've heard this before; A relatively unknown Finnish goaltender comes literally out of nowhere and suddenly a bunch of NHL teams are interested, but the guy eventually ends up on the Chicago Blackhawks. The only difference in this story so far between Antti Niemi and Antti Raanta is, that to the best of my knowledge, Raanta has not been a zamboni driver in the last few years.
But the similarities pretty much end there.
Sure, they're both fierce competitors, but that's about it. Raanta was, unlike Niemi, always touted as this gifted goalie who just needed a shot. That shot was never coming in his hometown club Rauman Lukko, so he decided to move to their arch rivals, Porin Assat. I know this must sound extremely interesting to you all, but hang with me.
Even before this season, Raanta had been developing slowly but surely. For example, his GAA and SV% numbers have been improving steadily ever since he made the jump from the juniors to the Finnish SM-Liiga. Since the 10-11 season, Raanta's numbers; GAA: 2,37 -> 2,23 -> 1,85. Save%; .911 -> .933 -> .943. The development of this guy has been incredible.
This season Raanta won the "Hart", the "Conn Smythe" and the "Vezina" of the Finnish SM-Liiga. And of course they went on to win the whole damn thing with Assat. Then he was the number 1 goalie for Finland in the World Championships and performed as well as anyone could have asked him to.
So yeah, Raanta's level of play rocketed from last season to this one, but the signs were always there. So, who will Raanta remind you of?
He's not like Niemi. Not one bit. Raanta's game is more composed and positionally sound. He will challenge shooters from time to time and sometimes gets really aggressive when doing it, but he's much more balanced in terms of his movement when he drops to the ice and chases the puck. Think of Raanta as this sort of mix between Craig Anderson and Tuukka Rask. Not as aggressive as Rask, but has almost equally quick feet and moves smoothly around his crease. Keeps his head cool and plays the angles pretty much as well as Anderson.
So he's pretty much the perfect goalie then, right? Not quite. He doesn't play the puck well and sometimes loses control of his rebounds. Also, I'd think it will take him 15-or-so games to adjust to the smaller rink, different shooting angles and much more physical forwards.
Raanta has all the potential to be the next great thing to come out of Finland, along the lines of Niemi, Backstrom or Rask. Or then he'll end up being the next Hannu Toivonen. You can now google Hannu Toivonen. You never know, but the vibe around this dude is that he'll make one hell of a goalie in the NHL one day.
Juuso Sainio is a sports writer living in Salo, Finland. When he's not writing for his local paper or covering some weird sport that is played by abnormally tall people not on ice, you can find him writing about his favorite NHL hockey team over at at Hockey Wilderness, and gushing about Jonas Brodin (who totally got shafted on a Calder nomination :GLARE: ). Yes, he is awesome, and no, you can not steal him. But you can follow him on Twitter at @Saikka07, where he will wow you with his hockey knowledge (especially on European players), weird basketball conversations, random song lyrics and lots of Finnish. But he'll translate if you ask nicely. And yes, this tid-bit was written by Emilie.