Rookie Watch: Lankinen, Vanecek among goalies making impact

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The impact several rookies are making on the NHL is one of the major storylines of the 2020-21 season. Every two weeks, NHL.com will examine topics related to this season’s class in the Rookie Watch.

This week, a look at the top rookie goalies (listed alphabetically):

Ville Husso, St. Louis Blues: Husso turned 26 on Feb. 6 but is eligible for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year because he was 25 before the season started (Calder eligibility is limited to players 25 and younger at the start of a season). Husso, in his first season as the full-time backup to Jordan Binnington, appears more confident in his game lately, going 2-1-0 with a 2.33 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage in his past three starts. The fourth-round pick (No. 94) of the 2014 NHL Draft has made a strong turnaround after starting the season 0-1-0 with a 7.03 GAA and an .813 save percentage in two games.

“Ville’s a battler and you have to be if you want to play in the NHL,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “Goals are going to go in on you and you’ve got to rebound and you’ve got to forget about the one that went in and you’ve got to focus on the next play, and that’s what he’s doing.”

Video: STL@ANA: Husso denies Agozzino with his left pad

Kaapo Kahkonen, Minnesota Wild: Kahkonen is 3-3-0 with a 2.86 GAA and a .903 save percentage in six games (five starts) this season. The 24-year-old has performed admirably as the backup to Cam Talbot while Alex Stalock has been out with an upper-body injury. A fourth-round pick (No. 109) in the 2014 draft, Kahkonen was voted the best goalie in the American Hockey League last season after going 25-6-3 with a 2.07 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage in 34 games with Iowa.

“He’s a great goalie, very calm, very patient in net,” Wild defenseman Ian Cole said. “He gets out and plays the puck, which helps us [defensemen] quite a bit. He’s only played [six] games … but from everything I’ve seen and everything I’ve heard from the guys, there’s a lot of positivity around him, which is fantastic.”

Kevin Lankinen, Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks signed Lankinen as an undrafted free agent on May 21, 2018. The 25-year-old is 6-2-3 with a 2.49 GAA in 11 games and leads NHL rookie goalies with a .925 save percentage. Lankinen entered training camp as the third goalie on the depth chart behind Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia but his consistent play has earned him the No. 1 role.

“The way he makes the saves, he looks under control, he covers up the rebound,” Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. “Sometimes you’re on the run a little bit and you give up a chance, just the goaltender having the ability to freeze it and get you a face-off can help you settle down, and he does that. It’s day by day, he’s got to keep working at it, he’s building his body of work, but he’s been a big help for us.”

Video: CAR@CHI: Lankinen stops Aho on the door step

Jake Oettinger, Dallas Stars: Oettinger is 2-0-3 with a 2.31 GAA and a .910 save percentage in six games (five starts) as the backup to Anton Khudobin. The No. 26 selection in the 2017 NHL Draft, Oettinger is a big goalie (6-foot-5, 225 pounds) who covers a lot of the net. He made his NHL debut in relief of Khudobin against the Vegas Golden Knights during Game 2 of the Western Conference Final last season. He became the first goalie in 55 years, and the only one in the expansion era (since 1967-68), to make his NHL debut in the round leading into the Stanley Cup Final (conference final or NHL Semifinal).

“I think I have a good routine with what I do each day, whether it’s a practice or a game, and I think all the preparation comes in practice and the work that I’ve done with (goaltending coach) Jeff Reese,” Oettinger said. “I’m just doing my best to stay ready and feel more comfortable every game.”

Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers: Shesterkin is 1-2-0 with a 1.69 GAA and a .946 save percentage in his past three starts, including a .934 save percentage at even strength. The 25-year old, who was a fourth-round pick (No. 118) in the 2014 draft, is 3-4-1 with a 2.16 GAA and a .922 save percentage in nine games (eight starts). He is 13-6-1 with a 2.36 GAA and a .928 save percentage in 21 NHL games (20 starts).

“Personally I have not changed anything, I’ve been working diligently with my coaches, each and every practice on small details,” Shesterkin said. “And we’re going to continue working and hopefully having success and moving in the right direction.”

Vitek Vanecek, Washington Capitals: The 25-year-old went 5-0-2 with a 2.78 GAA and a .918 save percentage in seven games in January to win NHL Rookie of the Month. Chosen in the second round (No. 39) of the 2014 draft, Vanecek has made 10 straight starts since Ilya Samsonov was placed on the NHL COVID-19 protocol list Jan. 20. Vanecek is 5-3-2 with a 3.26 GAA and a .901 save percentage in 11 games this season.

“He’s been great,” Capitals forward Jakub Vrana said. “He’s a really talented goaltender, works hard, works hard for every inch out there. He’s made some big saves in important moments out there. He’s doing really good so far.”

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