Antti Raanta had a rough introduction to the NHL. The Finnish goalkeeper was forced to make his NHL debut with the Chicago Blackhawks in a 5-1 drubbing as relief for Corey Crawford against the Colorado Avalanche on November 19. Now, he’ll his first NHL start for the Blackhawks tonight against the Calgary Flames.
Raanta started his season with the Hawks’ AHL affiliate Rockford IceHogs after spending time with the Finnish club Assat. However, Nikolai Khabibulin‘s injury during a loss to the Nashville Predators forced the Blackhawks to recall Raanta from the IceHogs.
“Of course, I’m excited,” he said to the media. He’s going to need that enthusiasm. The Flames are 2-0-1 in their last three games, which includes two shootout victories, but have not played in four days. There’s no doubt that the Flames will try to take advantage of Raanta’s relative inexperience in the NHL.
The Flames have been trouble for the Hawks in recent years, as evidenced by Ray Emery‘s 45-save masterpiece last season which saw the Hawks coming back for a 3-2 win. The last time these two teams played each other, the Flames beat the Blackhawks 3-2 in overtime on November 3.
Still, Raanta should be more than ready. He’s the reigning Jari Kurri Trophy winner (Finland’s equivalent of the Conn Smythe Trophy), winning it during the 2013 SM-liiga championship with a regular season 1.33 GAA and .955 save percentage. In Raanta’s last game against the Avalanche, he made 14 saves, giving up two goals — not bad for a first outing.
So, Raanta’s got the skills to be an NHL goaltender. He wasn’t expected to really do much for the Blackhawks this year. Now, all that remains to be seen is if he can rise to the occasion. It won’t be easy, but expect Raanta to be more than capable of doing the job for the Hawks tonight.