Stars Lehtonen Finally Getting Recognition
Some of you may have already seen Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen rob Jordan Eberle on the way to a 22-save shut out against Edmonton last night.
For those that haven’t:
The truly amazing thing about this is that, for those who have followed Lehtonen’s career, this doesn’t really come as a surprise at all.
Atlanta selected Lehtonen 2nd overall in 2002, hoping the Finn would be the answer to their long term goaltending needs.
The Helsinki native’s talent seemed obvious early on, and he scooped the SM-Liiga Player of the Year, Goaltender of the Year and Play-Off MVP awards in 2001 whilst playing with Jokerit. But a series of injuries curtailed his development in Georgia, including major back surgery in 2009 that prevented him playing a single game for the Thrashers before being traded to Dallas in February 2010.
Event then, the deal seemed like a bargain for Dallas. Whilst Lehtonen’s injury woes were well documented, the Texas outfit only had to give up Ivan Vishnevskiy and a fourth-round draft pick to acquire one of the most exciting netminding talents in the entire league.
Now the Stars are reaping the benefits.
Occasionally groin issues have raised their head, but Lehtonen has largely been healthy since arriving in Dallas and is helping the Stars transition in to one of the leagues most dynamic outfits.
Perhaps it is because Dallas is not the powerhouse it was in the late 1990s that Lehtonen’s stellar play has been missed, the market does not garner the attention it once did. But his play is starting to turn heads now.
James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail highlighted a perfect example of the kind of level Lehtonen has been playing at:
That’s some pretty respectable company to be in.
Again, it’s not really a surprise to anyone who has watched Lehtonen that he is posting those kinds of numbers. Nor is it a surprise that he is entering the conversation for ‘leagues best goaltender’. If anything it is a little frustrating it has taken so long for him to get the recognition he deserves.
The truly crazy thing is, despite his incredible play, Lehtonen might not even make the Finnish Olympic squad – with Tuukka Rask, Pekka Rinne and Antti Niemi also in the frame (plus an honourable mention to Nik Backstrom).
Personally I had Rinne and Niemi locked in for two of the spots at Sochi 2014, but with Rinne sidelined the starting job for Finland is wide open. A few more save of the year candidates probably won’t hurt Lehtonen’s chances of taking the job – like this one from earlier in the season against Colorado:
This short feature perfectly encapsulates how Lehtonen has gone from being seen as ‘talented but made of glass’ in Atlanta to an unheralded star:
The way Lehtonen is heading, he won’t be unheralded for much longer.