Breakdown: Predators sign Niclas Westerholm to three-year, entry-level contract
This organization has kept me busy lately.
The Nashville Predators continue to restock their prospect pipeline. Yesterday, the team announced the signing of Finnish netminder Niclas Westerholm to an entry-level contract.
The 20-year-old has spent the past two seasons in the SaiPa organization of the Finnish Liiga. He only started 4 games for the parent club this season but posted a 2.42 GAA and a .926 SV% in 28 games for SaiPa’s U20 team. Below I take a look at Westerholm’s numbers, his game tape, and what his signing means for the pipeline.
By The Numbers
Westerholm has had a very interesting career - and one that’s rather hard to follow. He started playing Junior-B hockey in Finland full-time in 2013-14 at the age of 16. Then he played one season of high school hockey in Minnesota at 18 before heading back to Finland for the past two seasons.
In terms of a timeline, Westerholm is about where Pekka Rinne was in his career at age 20: generally successful numbers in Junior-A and pushing for more time in the Liiga (by no means a comparison). Westerholm certainly has time to prove he can dominate overseas. This isn’t a player like Juuse Saros who will be a full-time NHL backup at 22. However, his Junior-A numbers this season are impressive and his chances at solid playing time in the Liiga next year are good.
Admittedly, finding game tape of Westerholm was a lot harder than normal, so these clips will all be from just two games (trust me...I spent an absurd amount of time looking). His size stands out to me. He isn't a giant at 6’4” but he has an imposing frame and fills the net and crease well.
Unfortunately for you guys, the defense in front of Westerholm in a lot of these clips isn't fantastic. Regardless, he gives up a goal above after his defense gets pulled to one side but notice the quickness he moves with. He uses the heels of his skates and lower ankles well to keep up when moving side to side. I think this is a sign of a good crease presence.
Here is a solid initial stop and good recovery from Westerholm.
Something I noticed when watching as much of Westerholm as I could is the angle he holds his glove at. He’s almost too fickle with it at times, and his stance opens up a good amount of net above it. Look at the two goals-against above for reference.
Overall, Westerholm is a nice talent. He isn’t afraid to use any part of his body and manages the bottom of the net well. It seems he can find himself out of reach at times after over-committing or after never squaring himself to the puck. But, after all, he’s 20 years old and has plenty of time to adjust things.
Westerholm joins Troy Grosenick as the only goalie in the pipeline signed for next season. It’s too early to tell where he sits on the leaderboard of the pipeline’s goalies (Vomacka, Volkov, Vejmelka), but a three-year, entry-level deal adds good insurance to the back-end.
SaiPa’s press release quotes Westerholm saying he will come to Milwaukee at the end of the week but anticipates playing back in Finland again next season. If that’s the case, he’ll likely backup Frans Tuohimaa on the parent club as I believe Jussi Markkanen has retired. If he does play in Finland next year, who comes to Milwaukee besides Grosenick: Lindback? Vejmelka? Another unknown?