When Nikolai Khabibulin left the game on Saturday night as the Chicago Blackhawks took on the Nashville Predators, my guess is that coach Joel Quenneville and the rest of the Blackhawks staff took that as a sign — a sign that things needed to change on the netminding side of things.
It was a much-needed sign, as it seemed everyone has accepted Khabibulin’s fate except the Blackhawks themselves. However, let us not dwell on the past. Let us look to the future.
The future of the Blackhawks’ netminding lineup lies with 24-year-old Antti Raanta. The net minder hails from Finland, where he had a considerably successful career. Last spring, he was welcomed to the Blackhawks organization and has done well so far this season with the Rockford Icehogs.
At the time he was called on to back up Corey Crawford against the San Jose Sharks, Raanta was 7-5-0 with a 2.83 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. Those are fairly impressive numbers, but what will his NHL career hold? Will he be the defensive answer that the Blackhawks have been struggling to find since the season opened back in October?
We are likely to find out over the course of the Blackhawks’ upcoming seven-game trip, which they depart for Monday. Quenneville commented to the media that “[the Blackhawks] expect [Raanta] to play on the trip. I don’t know how many games he’s going to play, but he’s going to play in some games.”
The long streak of away games will be a test for Raanta. He has shown great numbers in Rockford, but will that translate on the NHL ice?
It is of great importance that Raanta follows suit of the rookies that have been called up before him like Brandon Pirri. Seeing great things from Raanta out on the ice will demonstrate that the Blackhawks have great depth in their farm team, as well as the fact that the organization has the ability to scout and preserve talent for when they need it most.
It will be interesting to see what Raanta can do. Let’s hope he can push through the pressure and the excitement and focus on his game.