Why Kari Lehtonen Can Win The Vezina
Dallas have become the darling of many people’s eye heading in to the new NHL season.
With strong additions over the summer, a devastating power play unit and a core able to drive the franchise for years to come, the Stars appear to be a team on the right path.
One major reason the club has managed to make such strides is the goaltending of Kari Lehtonen. And with Dallas in the spot light, this year could be the year the Finn final gets his dues.
Drafted 2nd overall by Atlanta in 2002, Lehtonen was pegged to be the Thrashers franchise netminder and went 4-0-0 in 2003/04, as the Georgia franchise gave him his first taste of action. But a series of groin and back injuries marred his time with the club, raising questions about his fitness.
The Helsinki native underwent back surgery in September 2009, ruling him out indefinitely, but this failed to dissuade then Dallas management pair Les Jackson and Brett Hull from making a move for the puck stopper, shipping Ivan Vishnevskiy and a 2010 fourth-round draft pick to Atlanta.
Lehtonen went on to play 12 games for Dallas that season and signed a 3-year extension during the summer – and hasn’t looked back since.
Concerns about his diet were addressed (and there were concerns), and Lehtonen went on to play a career high 69 games in 2010/11, going 34-24-11 and posting a solid .914 save percentage. The 6’4″ stopper played 59 games the following season, recording 32 wins and improving his goals against average (2.33) and save percentage (.922) in the process; an effort that convince Dallas to extend his stay in Texas for another five years.
Undergoing a small regression during the lock out shortened 2012/13 season, Lehtonen bounced back last year to help power the Stars in to the post season for the first time in six years.
Working with Stars goaltending coach Mike Valley, Lehtonen has become one of the games elite netminders – and a key reason Dallas has been able to get back in to the play-off picture.
Despite playing 229 games since 2010, question marks still linger about his health – which is bizarre given he has played more games than Ryan Miller in the same span, whose fitness is rarely questioned…
In that span, Lehtonen has gone 114-80-28, posting a strong .918 save percentage and 2.41 GAA (as well as 13 shut outs), and is arguably more important to the Stars than Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin – as Lehtonen goes, Dallas goes. And Lehtonen has only got better and better during his time with the organisation.
Playing for a Dallas team who stumbled through ownership issues and mismanagement kept Lehtonen in the shadows for a time, but at 30, he is in his prime and with Dallas almost ‘expected’ to make the play-offs again this year, his contribution to the team is as important as ever. And his opportunity to impress better than ever.
With his highlight reel saves and ever improving technical game, Lehtonen’s ascendency from flawed prospect to NHL star is almost complete. He has the tools to win – now he has the opportunity to win.
Their offence is impressive, but the real reason to fear Dallas is the flying Finn.