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Proof is in the pudding for Avalanche puck-stopping prospect Annunen

Upset by reports about his conditioning, Justus Annunen had to wait for Colorado to give him a chance.

Justus Annunen had a bit of a chip on his shoulder this summer. Actually, it wasn’t his shoulder, so much as his whole body. The big Finnish goaltender, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 217 pounds, was upset that he didn’t get an invite to the NHL scouting combine in Buffalo. He thought there was an impression that he was out of shape, and he wanted to disprove it. Annunen only got the chance after Colorado took him with the 64th overall selection at the 2018 draft in Dallas. At the Avs’ rookie camp, the netminder got his vindication. “He tested well at rookie camp,” said Alan Hepple, Colorado’s director of amateur scouting. “He moves well for a big guy, and he’s athletic.”

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Hepple and the Avs had already liked Annunen’s calmness in net and the fact nothing seemed to bother the kid when he was between the pipes. And there’s definitely some big-game ability in Annunen, who is playing against men back home this season. Last spring, he was Finland’s goalie when the national squad shocked Team USA in the gold-medal game at the world under-18s, a tournament the Americans nearly always win. “It was a great tournament,” Annunen said. “Our whole team played the best game of their lives in the final.”

Before that, Annunen was a playoff star for Karpat Oulu’s junior team, leading the club to the final, where they lost to KalPa. Annunen ended his run with a .935 save percentage in 12 post-season games. “I had a bad start to the season, then I got some good confidence,” he said. “That was the biggest thing.”

This year, he started off playing for Hermes in Finland’s second tier, on loan from Karpat’s Liiga team. Hepple believes Annunen will be on the radar for the Finland’s world junior squad, which obviously would be a feather in the cap for the youngster. Naturally, Annunen is a fan of Finnish goalie legend Pekka Rinne, though the kid notes that he’s not as aggressive in net as the Nashville Predators star. Annunen thrives on being cool – unless you’re making assumptions about his conditioning, of course.

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This story appears in the Prospects Unlimited 2018 issue of The Hockey News magazine.

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