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What does the addition of Jonas Gunnarsson mean to the Preds’ goalie situation?

Firstly, here’s the official word from 501 Broadway:

Nashville, Tenn. (June 1, 2016) – Nashville Predators President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile announced Wednesday that the club has signed free-agent goaltender Jonas Gunnarsson to a one-year entry-level contract.

Gunnarsson, 24 (3/31/92), has spent the past two seasons with the Malmo Redhawks of the Swedish Hockey League. In 2015-16 the Eksjö, Sweden, native played a league-high 44 games, ranking ninth among netminders in save percentage (.913) despite his team finishing 12th out of 14 teams, and in 2014-15, he ranked ninth in Swedish second division goals-against average (2.28), helping Malmo earn promotion to the SHL.

From 2009-14, the 6-foot-2, 198-pound netminder played with HV-71’s under-18, junior and SHL teams, winning the junior league title in 2013 and a silver medal in 2012. In 2010-11, Gunnarsson was named the junior league’s top goaltender after posting a league-high .932 save percentage, and in 2013-14, he was a teammate of Predators 2014 first-round selection Kevin Fiala. Gunnarsson also played with Predators defenseman Petter Granberg at the 2010 Under-18 World Championship, helping the Tre Kronor earn a silver medal.

It’s always interesting when a good chunk of the career accolades mentioned in the press release are 3-5 seasons ago. But hey, he knows Kevin Fiala. Here are his stats from “over there”.

Based off of the stats quoted in the release, David Poile and company may believe that he was a good goalie on a bad team. The “bad team” part of the equation was definitely the case for Malmo last year. Gunnarsson put up par numbers on a team well below par. That’s all we know for sure about him.

I tried finding some cool highlight videos, but the first game film of him that I found was a game where Malmo lost 7-2. It was that kind of year.

But what does it mean for the other three guys behind Pekka Rinne on the depth chart?

It’s always fun to talk about Juuse Saros. He’s a gem of a prospect thusfar, and he’s slowly erasing doubt about his size. So let’s start with Juuse.

Juuse Saros

Last Year he split time with Mazanec, and posted better numbers than the larger Czech netminder. You have to believe that the organization is high on this kid, and they should want to see him with a larger workload next year. Saros posted a save percentage of 92.0%, and a GAA of 2.24; both better than Mazanec.

Marek Mazanec

Maz may have been outshined by Saros, but he’s the elder of the two and he’s seen the NHL ice before. His 91.2% save percentage wasn’t exactly handsome, but the Admirals didn’t have a terribly consistent year either. What we do know is that he does have the ideal frame/size the Preds like to have in net. His ceiling may be “career backup goaltender”, and that’s okay.

Carter Hutton

Let’s all thank Carter for his service, and his awesome interviews. Great. Of all the goaltenders who have played 30 games over the last three years, Hutton is among the worst in the league with a save percentage of 91.6%. However, Hutton had a good year and he’s a free agent. It’s best for both parties to move on. Go get paid, Carter.

Moving on from Hutton means the backup role with the big club is open. And that’s a job for Mazanec. Yes, Saros is better. Yes, Saros is the future. Yes, Saros had the better season with Milwaukee. That’s all true. But Saros will not get the reps needed while the Preds run Rinne into the ground for another 60+ game season. If this organization is committed to winning the long game, grooming Saros is the smart play. He’s a project, and he deserves the patience needed to refine his game. As a smaller goalie, he’ll need to rely on positioning and technique to succeed in the NHL. Those skills do take some maturation.

The signing of Gunnarsson gives the Preds some organizational depth. If he performs well and puts up some gaudy numbers, its found money.

The failed development of Magnus Hellberg still stings, especially when you consider who else was on the board when he was picked. But the team has done a decent job of developing players picked in the later rounds. That takes patience, and for many years Pekka Rinne has afforded Nashville that patience. But as we saw this year, time may be catching up to Rinne and the team needs to be prepared for the next step.

If they believe Saros is the next step, then his development is priority number one in this situation. Let’s see him play the role of starter in Milwaukee, and see if he handles it well.