There is plenty of talk about how tight the Blackhawks’ roster is this season both on offense and defense, but one Ice Hog knows it’s only a matter of time until he suits up in the NHL.
Antti Raanta was acquired by the Hawks one a one-year contract and will be up for restricted free agency after this season. He has the opportunity to replace goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who is up for unrestricted free agency after this year as well. The difference? Khabibulin will be 41 years old by then and (speculatively, of course) is likely to retire from the National Hockey League. The veteran goaltender was originally drafted in 1992 and saw his first NHL action with the 1994 Winnipeg Jets and has seen play ever since in Phoenix, Tampa Bay, Edmonton, and Chicago from 2006 – 2009.
Raanta led Assat Pori of SM-liiga in Finland to the 2013 championship while earning himself more than half a dozen superlatives including best player in the playoffs and regular season, best average goals allowed (1.85) and best save percentage (.943). At 24 years of age, Raanta has proven himself worthy enough to earn a nod from the most recent Stanley Cup Champions. He’ll be the leader in goal for Rockford this season alongside Kent Simpson in what could be a formidable goaltending duo.
But Raanta’s most appealing feature to both the Blackhawks and the Ice Hogs has to be his leg strength. The Finnish native has made a name for himself sliding across the goal crease to rob a sure-fire goal and making his leg a full stonewall to shun a stuff attempt. He has the skill that would remind one of a young Marty Brodeur or a less-flashy Henrik Lundqvist. Raanta has a huge opportunity this season to become Crawford’s backup for next season.
With Crawford locked up through the 2019 – 2020 season, Chicago hopes that its goaltending woes are finally cured. The front office made a smart move locking Crawford up after a phenomenal season in net, unlike after the previous Cup when Antti Niemi was trade to the San Jose Sharks. Cap space was an issue, but it showed great faith in the young goaltender who spent five seasons in the AHL and got the bid from Rockford to join the Hawks. Rannta could have that same opportunity and he’ll be one prospect to watch in the AHL this season.