Second City Hockey’s 2019-20 preseason Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25 series ranks the organization’s top 25 players under the age of 25 by Oct. 1, 2019. The rankings are determined by a composite score from six SCH writers and more than 70 readers. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. The six SCH writers will make their ballots public after the series is completed.
During Kevin Lankinen’s first North American season, it was hard to tell how well he would integrate and improve over the long haul at the AHL level and higher. He had been good but not great, and seemed to be firmly behind fellow prospect Collin Delia in the depth chart with little indication he was bound for an NHL future.
Then Lankinen backstopped Finland to the nation’s second gold medal win of the year on the men’s side, providing a bit of consolation for Finnish hockey fans everywhere after the Women’s World Championship heartbreak just a few weeks earlier.
Lankinen spent years as Finland’s almost-forgotten goaltender in his age group, sitting behind both Juuse Saros (Predators) and Ville Husso (Blues) in the national team depth chart for the majority of his developmental years. He took his first Worlds performance and ran with it, though, standing out as one of the most talented goaltenders in the tournament to cap off his first full year in Chicago’s system.
While he still has to work a bit on adapting his game to the smaller ice surface in North America, that performance — which saw him put up a .942 save percentage in all situations through eight games — should be a nice reminder that he’s one of the most promising international goaltenders in the minors right now.
The Blackhawks managed to snag Lankinen during an almost opportunistic offseason. His numbers in Finland’s Liiga during his last two seasons overseas were some of the best in the league, but a knee injury during his 2017-18 campaign prevented him from displaying a body of work big enough to earn Goaltender of the Year honors.
Chicago still liked what they saw enough to ink him to an entry-level deal, though, bringing him over to fill out their Rockford depth chart just in case Corey Crawford was out for long enough to require Anton Forsberg to stay at the NHL level long-term.
Lankinen started the season splitting the net with Delia, who had held strong in his NHL debut the year prior but still needed a bit more development. And while Lankinen had his good games, his first few weeks in North America displayed a steep learning curve; a tendency to play flat on his goal line when utilizing post coverage caused him to scramble a bit on sharp-angle and cycle plays by the opposition. He was able to put up better numbers when the IceHogs defense collapsed and opponents directed their attention to the middle of the ice, but his depth management and post integration still left a lot to be desired when opponents were forced to make faster decisions near the goal line and on the perimeter of the ice.
A 32-save shutout for @KLankinen in a 1-0 @leijonat semi-final win over @russiahockey— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) May 25, 2019
Here are some great stops from Kevin Lankinen #IIHFWorlds@goicehogs @NHLBlackhawks
More top plays >https://t.co/la1GD9Qazi pic.twitter.com/p3P4vShYQ0
That’s likely just a stylistic quirk he picked up during his development in Finland, and it’s something Peter Aubry may be able to coach out of his game (or, at the very least, work to improve situationally). But while it hurts Lankinen on North American ice, the larger rinks used in international play give him more space to read the play and adjust accordingly — and it doesn’t hurt his game nearly as much, as evidenced by his stellar numbers at Worlds.
His tracking is solid, and he does well when starting at the top of his crease and moving in — something a bit prototypical of Finnish-developed goaltending talents. All in all, he has good recovery speed and doesn’t seem to get rattled by the occasional bad goal, so he should be fantastic at the AHL level if given a chance to split starts a bit more with Delia.
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Cat Silverman is a contributor for The Athletic Arizona, EliteProspects, InGoal Magazine and SB Nation. A goaltender and journalist, she has coached with the Arizona Coyotes Department of Hockey Development and USA Hockey. Her work has also been featured at NHL.com and Yahoo Sports. Follow her on Twitter at @catmsilverman.