Press Release via Nashville Predators:
Milwaukee, WI—Nashville Predators President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile announced Tuesday that the club has signed goaltender Juuse Saros to a three-year, entry-level contract. Nashville’s fourth choice, 99th overall (fourth round), in the 2013 Draft is expected to play his first North American professional season in 2015-16.
Saros appeared in 47 of HPK’s 60 Finnish Elite League (SM-Liiga) contests in 2014-15, ranking among the league’s Top Five in shutouts (6), minutes played (2773:53), save percentage (.929) and goals-against average (2.14) in his second full season in the league. He was named 2013-14 Finnish Elite League Rookie of the Year after ranking second among the Top Three in goals-against average (1.76), and save percentage (.928) becoming just the fourth goalie to win the award in its 40-year history. During his final Finnish junior league season in 2012-13, the Forssa, Finland, native was named best player and recipient of the Jorma Valtonen Award as the league’s top goaltender after leading all netminders in goals-against average (1.86) and save percentage (.933).
The 5-11, 176-pounder represented Finland at both the World Championship and the World Junior Championship for the second consecutive year in 2015, backing up Predators netminder Pekka Rinne at the 2015 World Championship and stopping all 22 shots he faced in his lone appearance of the tournament against Slovakia to record Finland’s third of four consecutive shutouts. At the 2014 World Junior Championship, he led Finland to its first Gold Medal at the tournament since 1987, receiving Media All-Star Team honors after leading all goaltenders in save percentage (.943) and goals-against average (1.57) in six games. He was also named Best Goalkeeper of the 2013 Under-18 World Championship and one of Finland’s three best players of the tournament in helping them claim the bronze medal.
With Pekka Rinne, Carter Hutton, Marek Mazanec, and Brandon Whitney all officially locked under contract for next season this effectively ends the three year tenure of Hellberg’s time with the Predators organization. There is no spot for him. For those thinking about him being traded at the upcoming NHL Draft because Nashville would still hold Hellberg’s rights as a pending RFA – why would anyone give up anything when they could go after him as a free agent a few days later? Unless the Predators feel up for housing two goaltenders with the Cincinnati Cyclones in the ECHL (reminder: Whitney is under contract to the Admirals for just such a purpose) then Hellberg is gone. That would make this Facebook post by Sergey Liuichuk make that much more sense anyways.
Could the option still be there to trade Hutton away, move Mazanec up, and sign Hellberg still happen? It could. But I doubt it.
Enough of the Hellberg woes for now. That will happen when it becomes official. For now? How about getting excited about Saros officially making the leap to North American ice. Those that may be bummed out in regards to the loss of Hellberg could well be singing a whole new tune by the end of the Milwaukee Admirals 2015-16 season. In fact, how surreal would it be if a rookie netminder from Finland marched an Admirals team on down to a Calder Cup Finals appearance? It happened in 2006. It could just as well happen ten year’s later if Saros is as good as advertised.
What impresses me so much about Saros is for all his incredible statistics and two full professional playing seasons with HPK in Finland is that he turned 20-years old in April. He plays beyond his years and has been the man for HPK’s senior squad these last two years all while being a teenager. He can only get better.
There may be some head scratching from today all the way until early in the Admirals playing season as to why the Predators went about business the way that they did picking Mazanec over Hellberg. There should be no questioning this. The Predators would pick Saros over all but Rinne within their organization at this point. And, with time, he might be that man to succeed him.
Thoughts on the Saros signing? Does this news mean the end of Hellberg’s time as a member of the Nashville Predators organization or can other moves still take place? With the machine firmly behind him is Saros the first choice goaltender over Mazanec in Milwaukee this season?