The Nashville Predators announced Tuesday morning they have signed Finnish goaltender Juuse Saros to a 3-year, entry-level deal.
Saros led Team Finland to the gold medal in the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championships, and has been considered one of the better goaltending prospects in the Nashville pipeline. After announcing he wanted to come over to North America a few months ago, it looks like that plan is in full effect.
This puts Nashville's depth in the crease in great position, though it does leave a few questions to be answered. Carter Hutton still has a year left on his contract and is, for now, primed to back up Pekka Rinne again next season. Will newly re-signed Marek Mazanec get a shot at usurping him? What about still-to-be-signed Magnus Hellberg? If Maznec takes starting duties in Milwaukee, and Saros proves too talented for the ECHL, he seems to be the odd man out.
More on this later...
From the Predators official announcement:
Nashville, Tenn. (June 16, 2015) – Nashville Predators President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile announced Tuesday that the club has signed goaltender Juuse Saros to a three-year, entry-level contract. Nashville’s fourth choice, 99th overall (fourth round), in the 2013 Draft is expected to play his first North American professional season in 2015-16.
Saros, 20 (4/19/95), appeared in 47 of HPK’s 60 Finnish Elite League (SM-Liiga) contests in 2014-15, ranking among the league’s Top Five in shutouts (6), minutes played (2773:53), save percentage (.929) and goals-against average (2.14) in his second full season in the league. He was named 2013-14 Finnish Elite League Rookie of the Year after ranking second among the Top Three in goals-against average (1.76), and save percentage (.928) becoming just the fourth goalie to win the award in its 40-year history. During his final Finnish junior league season in 2012-13, the Forssa, Finland, native was named best player and recipient of the Jorma Valtonen Award as the league's top goaltender after leading all netminders in goals-against average (1.86) and save percentage (.933).
The 5-11, 176-pounder represented Finland at both the World Championship and the World Junior Championship for the second consecutive year in 2015, backing up Predators netminder Pekka Rinne at the 2015 World Championship and stopping all 22 shots he faced in his lone appearance of the tournament against Slovakia to record Finland's third of four consecutive shutouts. At the 2014 World Junior Championship, he led Finland to its first Gold Medal at the tournament since 1987, receiving Media All-Star Team honors after leading all goaltenders in save percentage (.943) and goals-against average (1.57) in six games. He was also named Best Goalkeeper of the 2013 Under-18 World Championship and one of Finland's three best players of the tournament in helping them claim the bronze medal.