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Kevin Lankinen: Reliable Backup

Another Finn in Nashville’s crease.

Chicago Blackhawks v Los Angeles Kings Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images

2021-22 Recap:

Regular Season: 32 GP, 8-15-6, .891 Sv%, 3.50 GAA

Nashville added another young Finnish netminder, Kevin Lankinen, this offseason to back up Juuse Saros. While this was a curious move for some of us who assumed this role would fall to Connor Ingram, Lankinen’s presence on the team will be a boost for Nashville. I gave Preds fans a glimpse of what they could expect a few months ago. Here’s what I said in June:

Lankinen is a left-catch butterfly style goalie, and while he’s not ridiculously tall, his size is nice for professional hockey at both the AHL and NHL level. In 2019-2020 (the shortened Covid season), Lankinen went 8-10-2 in the AHL and served as a third netminder for the Hawks in the “bubble” in Edmonton during summer 2020.

Lankinen was promoted to the Blackhawks in 2020-2021, going 17-14-5 in 37 starts. He posted a very promising .909 Sv% in the Covid-shortened season. Nashville faced Lankinen a few times, and it was clear two seasons ago that Lankinen could be more successful behind a better defensive corps. We’d see flashes of potential from Lankinen, but it was hard for him to put together a complete game.

So...what does this mean?

It means I’m not entirely sure what to expect out of Lankinen. Will he be able to adjust to Nashville’s system and provide reliable backups for Juuse Saros? Saros played too many games last season—even though we know Nashville will ride their starting goalie hard, we’d expect to see roughly 60 games from Saros. Can Lankinen start 20-25 (even 30?) games and backstop the team to a win? I’m not entirely sure.

I really like Lankinen’s toolset. It seems to be very “foundational” in nature, meaning that he sticks to the basics in terms of his foot positioning, glove hand, and blocker. He’s not active with the puck, but knowing how Saros is very active with the puck, I’d expect Nashville’s goaltending coaches to allow Lankinen to play the puck a little more in the same way Saros does. While his size is not “Vasilevskiy huge,” he takes up a good portion of the net without having to rely on the butterfly. He covers the lower half of the net with ease.

Check out his rookie highlights from 2020-2021 here:

One Bold Prediction

My prediction: Lankinen starts 27 or more games for Nashville and actually puts together a winning record. His 2020-2021 form was more like what we should expect from the young Finn. I’m not expecting Lankinen to handle a starter’s load, but I’d hope he can give Saros rest and be the least of Nashville’s concerns on the back half of a back-to-back. Behind Nashville’s elite defensive units, Lankinen should have much better luck than he did behind the patchwork quilt that is Chicago’s blue line. We don’t need him to save the world. We just need to be able to count on him when called upon.