Goaltending hasn’t been a highly talked about position at the NHL Draft this year. With all the focus on McDavid vs Eichel, Lawson Crouse’s actual worth and the annual size debate, very few people have seemed to pay attention to the goalies that could have their names called at the draft this June.
For this year, that makes sense. There isn’t a consensus number one goaltending choice this year, but many people think it will be either Ilya Samsonov, Daniel Vladar or Mackenzie Blackwood getting selected as the first goaltender this year.
We tend to hear many Canadian goaltenders selected early on in the draft, but what about their European counterparts? Luckily for Veini Vehviläinen, it’s a strong crop this year for goalies playing outside of North America, and the Finnish stud is one of the best in that department.
Vehviläinen, 18, is a little known prospect from Jyväskylä, FIN. Finland, of course, is known for it’s incredible ability to produce quality goaltenders all the time, from current NHL stars Pekka Rinne and Tuukka Rask to future top netminders Juuse Saros and Eetu Laurikainen. So seeing Vehviläinen shine at a young age is definitely not surprising by any means.
Vehviläinen has been in the JYP system for many years now, bouncing through the various junior and pro levels since 2012-2013. His first real break came with the JYP U18 squad that year, playing in 25 games to go along with five other contests with the U16 and U20 teams. That year, the puckstopper finished with a 3.01 GAA, but did put up a .918 SP to prove that, despite playing for a weak defensive team, Vehviläinen could get the job done.
A year after, Vehviläinen spent most of the season with the JYP U20 team in the Jr. A SM-liiga, projecting as a top young prospect for the men’s team in the future. His play that year, which saw him put up a .919 SP after 29 games, surely earned him a role with the men’s team, grabbing the starting role for JYP-Akatemia this past season. Sometimes considered to be an inconsistent puckstopper, Vehviläinen outplayed Dennis Saikkonen as the much stronger goaltender on the squad during a season that also saw our Finnish hero spend time with the JYP U20 team.
Vehviläinen was still relatively unknown to many people all year long, but that all changed this Spring. Vehviläinen was named to the Finnish U18 World Junior team, and with USA, Russia, Czech Republic and Canada all bringing fairly strong rosters, it was going to be tough for the Finns to find themselves in the finals. As the cards were dealt, Finland indeed found themselves playing for a gold medal, large in part due to the play of Vehviläinen.
One of the better goaltenders in the entire tournament, Vehviläinen made sure to save the best performance for last. Easily the best performer in the game, Vehviläinen made 60 saves in the final game against the Americans (including this magnificent grab near the end of the contest), a game which was as one-sided in the puck control department as it can get. Unfortunately, Finland would end up dropping a 2-1 decision in overtime, but regardless, it was easily one of the best goaltending performances by any draft prospect this season.
When watching Vehviläinen play, the first thing that really stands out is his athleticism. His ability to make fantastic, stretch pad saves at the last second definitely doesn’t go unnoticed. His size (6’1, 185 lbs) is solid for a goaltender, and it helps that his pad work is definitely up to par. His glove hand looks very loose, allowing him to make big, flashy saves when needed. Vehviläinen never likes to give up on a play when on the ice, sending a body part up in the air to make a last ditch effort to keep the puck out. Despite his ability to throw himself everywhere, he does have a very sound butterfly and doesn’t allow too many dangerous rebounds. He’s calm, quick, and full of raw skill.
So where does a guy like Vehviläinen end up? His talent will surely not get ignored, but with goalies, who really knows where they’ll land? He’s got the skill to go in the third or fourth round, but a late pick is more likely. He has been known to be inconsistent in the past, so that could always play an issue. Will he get a tryout deal? No matter what, Vehviläinen won’t go completely unnoticed in the draft this year, and if he does indeed play pro full-time next year, expect a team to take a waiver on him. Vehviläinen will probably find his way on to the Finnish World Junior team this year, and with the tournament happening to take place in Finland, there’s extra pressure to win it all. Will the tournament be his real coming out party? Stay tuned.
Steven is a junior hockey reporter for the Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, and also focuses on international hockey for his website, TheHockeyHouse.net. You can follow Steven on twitter @StevenEllisNHL.
Photo from Mika Kylmäniemi – [email protected].