The New York Rangers and Antti Raanta are off to an excellent start in the 2016-17 National Hockey League season. Just passing the quarter mark of the season, the Rangers sit at 15-7-1, and are currently in first place in the Metropolitan Division, second in the Eastern Conference, and second in the entire NHL. The Blueshirts offense is fast and explosive, and is looking its best in years. Defense, aside from some bad turnovers here and there, is solid and helps provide minimal shots towards the Rangers netminders.
And then there’s the goaltending in New York. Henrik Lundqvist had a bit of a rough start, but has since rebounded, looking like his former self. However, the “King” is turning 35 this upcoming March, and questions are beginning to arise regarding how long Lundqvist will remain a Ranger, or if he is starting to get past his prime.
No matter how you look at it, there is no reason to worry. In the summer of 2015, 27-year old Finnish goaltender Antti Raanta was traded by the Chicago Blackhawks to the Rangers in exchange for forward Ryan Haggerty. The Rangers were in need of a new backup goalie, since they traded Cam Talbot to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for several draft picks earlier in the summer.
In his first season in New York, Raanta saw sufficient playing time, playing in a total of 25 games, starting in 18. He would finish the season with a record of 11-6-2. He averaged 2.25 goals against and had a .919 save percentage, with a single shutout. The Rangers front office was happy with his play and signed the goaltender to a two year, $2 million contract extension this past summer.
Fast forward to this season. Raanta became aware of his heavy workload for the year, most likely due to the fact that the Rangers are starting to prepare for the future, a future without Henrik Lundqvist. Antti Raanta has started in 6 games already this season; going 5-1-0 in those games, and has come in as relief for Lundqvist in two others.
A great record for sure, and in looking at those games, take into count that his four wins were all shutouts. His one loss so far coming this past weekend when the Rangers lost to the Ottawa Senators 2-0 at home. Raanta has averaged 2.20 goals against and has a solid save percentage of .931 (sixth amongst goalies with eight or more games played). Already, Raanta has proven himself has a great and confident backup goaltender.
New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has stated previously that he plans to start Lundqvist between 50-55 games, thus putting Raanta at 27-32 starts. The workload is there, but when Henrik Lundqvist has a night off on the bench, Raanta is sure to hold down the fort and keep the Rangers rolling.