BY ALAN BASS
Drafting a high-ranked goalie early on draft day can be a high risk, high reward situation. On the one hand, you could end up with the next Roberto Luongo or Marc-Andre Fleury. But you could also end up with the next Brian Finley – the sixth overall pick in the 1999 draft who has appeared in only four NHL games since being drafted.
Mikko Koskinen, the top drafted goalie (31st overall) in the 2009 draft, is just as much a mystery as any other netminder vying for a spot in the NHL. Numerous questions surround Koskinen regarding his talent, potential and chances to succeed in North America.
Playing for the Espoo Blues’ under-18 team in 2004-05 as a 16-year-old, the Finn put up meager stats, including an .867 save percentage. That number improved slightly to .883 in his second year with the team, yet his GAA inflated to a whopping 5.07 - certainly not the kind of numbers that put pro scouts in the stands.
In 2006, though, Koskinen joined Espoo’s U-20 team, posting a respectable .907 save percentage and a 2.30 goals-against average.
But it was Koskinen’s 2008-09 campaign that caught scouts’ attention.
Koskinen had finally finished growing that year – and at 6-foot-7, 195 pounds, he is a monstrosity even by today’s goaltending standards. â€¨â€¨“Being tall and young often means that you’re not that coordinated in certain areas,” said Detroit scout Hakan Andersson, “But he finally got to the point where it started helping him.”
The goaltender was promoted to the Finnish Elite League and was solid in his new role, posting a 17-9-7 record to go with his .912 save percentage and 1.91 GAA. He even participated in a shootout against Karpat that lasted 23 shooters and almost ten minutes before a winner was finally crowned.
“Teams were interested in him, but he was too small of a promising goaltender playing in the junior league,” said European scouting director Goran Stubb. “He was not on any international team in any tournament, so very few scouts had seen him play.”
What made Koskinen so attractive to scouts this year went beyond his stats. “The thing I liked was the improvement from the beginning of the season,” Andersson said of Koskinen’s play. “He was just another name at the beginning of the year, but then he started playing really well and the way he came out in the Finnish League…was really impressive.”
Islanders Assistant GM Ryan Jankowski said he loved “(Koskinen’s) size, athleticism, his technical game, his potential and how much he was able to accomplish last year in the Elite League.”
Koskinen uses a unique style as well.
“He is playing a very modern style,” Stubb said. “A combination of the butterfly and standup.”
Some people thought the Islanders went off the board by taking Koskinen with the 31st overall pick, but at least one Western Conference scout disagreed.
“You go back to Steve Mason, who might’ve played nine to 12 games in his draft year, and that (pick) was off the board,” the scout said, “But then he goes from being picked in the third round to being a Calder Trophy winner.”
Those who know him say Koskinen is a laid back, quiet person who's constantly relaxed — yet social with friends and teammates. He works hard, is calm under pressure and will do whatever it takes in order to succeed in the net.
“The passion he has for the game and how much of a sponge he is for wanting to learn and improve is incredible,” Jankowski said of Koskinen. “He’s very observant, quiet, yet very focused, but can still have some laughs with his teammates. As a goaltender, that’s so important.”
Koskinen was not even supposed to start for the Blues last season, yet stole the No. 1 job from Bernd Bruckler, who went on to sign in the Kontinental League.
“Koskinen was probably supposed to play 10-15 games this season out of 58,” said Risto Pakarinen, THN’s Finnish correspondent, “But he ended up playing 35, plus 14 in the playoffs. He’s a really big goalie, but moves super well.”
The Islanders signed Koskinen to a three-year entry-level contract July 13. Koskinen is expected to compete for the starting job with Bridgeport of the American League come training camp.
“Only Mikko can determine (when he is NHL ready),” Jankowski said. “He did mention that the small ice is different for him with the angles and that it was an eye-opener for him…but if he can understand what the differences are he can hopefully come back and make a splash in training camp.”
Based on the way Koskinen adjusted to higher levels of play in recent years, the Islanders should not be worried about his adjustment to the North American game.