Insider: Bowman on Raanta acquisition, goalie prospect depth
Insider: On Monday, as the team was leaving for Los Angeles, the team announced the signing of a Finnish goaltender, Antti Raanta. Before we talk about him specifically, and what makes him such an interesting prospect, can you take us back to how you became aware of him, and the process of finding a free-agent European goaltender like that and bringing him into the Blackhawks fold?
His name was first brought up by our scout over in Sweden, Mats Hallin. Mats’ job is to keep an eye on all positional players over in Europe that are having good seasons and might be good Blackhawks. As the year went on, his play improved. It was clear that he was the top goaltender in Europe. That was a position that we wanted to get depth at. The nice thing about Antti is that he’s a little bit older. Guys like Kent Simpson and Mac Carruth, Brandon Whitney and Matt Tomkins—they’re good young guys. But Antti’s in that next category: He’s 24 years old, and he’s a guy that we think has a bright NHL future.
We’ve been on him for a while now, following him for the last number of months. His play just kept improving. His team went all the way to the finals, and he started getting a lot of recognition at that point. He went on to play for the Finnish team in the World Championship. We’ve been establishing contact with him for a long time, trying to follow his play and his progress. I think he’s ready to take that next step in his career, which is to come to North America. The game is a little bit different over here. The rinks are smaller; for a goaltender, there are different angles and you have to get used to the different style of play. That’s the plan for us going forward. We want to get him to North America and get him ready to be an NHL goaltender.
It's hard for a goalie in Europe to achieve more than Antti did this year. He's 24 years old and was voted the MVP of both his regular season and postseason after posting a 1.85 goals-against average and .943 save percentage. Impressive numbers, you can't get more dominant than that.
He had a great season. Hats off to him. I think we were very fortunate to get him. Our staff worked hard and had discussions with him and his agent. We tried to explain where we see him. We think he has a bright future, and now it’s just a matter of getting him acclimated to the North American style. We think he’ll do very well.
Do you feel goalies like Mac Carruth and Kent Simpson are developing well and could be NHL goaltenders in the future?—Raymond Kerr, Naperville, Ill.
Carruth had a fantastic year from start to finish. He set the record as the all-time winningest goalie in the Portland Winterhawks franchise and took them to the final game in the Memorial Cup. I think he’s got a bright future. Simpson really did mature as the year went on. In his first year pro, he faced a lot of work in the ECHL and had the opportunity to come up to Rockford at the end of the year. We think they both have the chance to develop into NHL goaltenders.
You have to be patient with goaltenders. They’re both young guys, so it takes longer. It’s nice now that we have Raanta because he’s a few years older than them, and we don’t have to expect our younger guys to jump in immediately. He can fill in that gap for us. It’s a nice setup the way we have with their ages.