He has drawn comparisons to Nashville Predators starter Pekka Rinne. And one goalie-centric hockey blog called him the “Leaning Tower of Pisa” for his awkward stance in net.
On Tuesday, he became a Philadelphia Flyer. The Flyers signed Finnish goaltender Niko Hovinen, a former Minnesota Wild draft pick, to an entry-level contract. He was most recently a member of the Finnish national team that set off a weekend-long celebration in the streets of Helsinki with their 6-1 drubbing of archrival Sweden in the IIHF World Championship final on May 15.
Hovinen, 23, stands a remarkable 6-foot-7 and is considered a promising prospect.
He was a fifth-round draft pick of the Minnesota in 2006 but remained in Finland, playing professionally for Jokerit and then the Pelicans in the top Finnish league. He largely was relegated to backup duty in Finland behind veterans.
The Helsinki native played for Lahti of the Finnish Elite League during the 2010-11 season, his third season with the team. He posted a record of 17-25-5 in 49 appearances, along with a 2.59 goals-against average, a .921 save percentage and three shutouts.
Rinne, the Predators star, also stands at 6-foot-5. But Hovinen is a long way off from Rinne, who could have easily been nominated as a Hart Trophy finalist for his work in Nashville’s crease this season.
According to "The Goalie Guild," as read on BroadStreetHockey.com, Hovinen was ranked among the “Top 50 Prospects to Ponder” in 2009 but they had this to say:
“Hovinen is kind of like the leaning tower of Pizza [sic]. He’s an absolute giant at 6-foot-7 inches, but does not have very good balance or stability in the net. He gets pushed around a lot and doesn’t have a stable presence in the net. Although he’s extremely large in the butterfly, recovering from that and then being able to stay square to shooters for rebounds is where he really seems to struggle. It’s also noted that he has issues with durability and stamina.”
It’s important to keep in mind that that was written 23 months ago, before Hovinen really had any shot at a starting job in the Finnish Elite League.
It is unclear what the Flyers plans are for him for next season, especially with a glutton of young goaltending prospects. But the key is that Hovinen will clearly be given a chance to win a job on the NHL roster – or else the Flyers wouldn’t waste their time and tie up a contract spot in the process.
Hovinen's Pelicans team in Finland issued a press release on Tuesday saying Hovinen will remain in Finland next season before moving on to the NHL in 2012-13 (stick tap to Teemu for translating the press release).
Still, one would think that Hovinen will be given a chance to prove his mettle in training camp - or at the very least, a prospect camp - this season before returning to Finland. If necessary, many players in Europe do have clauses to break their contract if an offer from an NHL team exists.
We know that Michael Leighton (1 year, $1.55 million), Sergei Bobrovsky (2 years, $1.75 million), and Johan Backlund (1 year, $800,000) will all be a part of the NHL mix in training camp. Backlund’s contract converts to a one-way NHL deal on July 1. Bobrovsky remains on an entry-level deal and can swing back and forth to the AHL.
Restricted free agent Brian Stewart should be re-signed for minor league depth. Nic Riopel bounced between the ECHL and AHL. Adam Morrison, a 2009 3rd round pick, had a strong season for the Saskatoon Blades in the WHL.
Joacim Eriksson, a Flyers 7th round pick in 2008, also wrapped up his debut season in the Swedish Elite League with Skelleftea, where he finished with a .906 save percentage and 2.56 goals against-average.
It appears that the Flyers will not offer Eriksson a contract for the upcoming season, opting to let him stay in Sweden to try and win a starting job there to get more experience.
GUNDERSON SIGNS: Speaking of the Swedish Elite League, Philly-area native Ryan Gunderson broke his two-year contract with Orebro of the second-tier Swedish league to sign with Brynas of the Elite league.
Gunderson, 25, a Bensalem native who played at Holy Ghost Prep before setting a University of Vermont record for games played over a four-year career, led all defensemen in the “Allsvenskan” league in scoring with 44 points in 62 games.
Gunderson made Swedish tabloids in April when he turned down a contract from MoDo, the famed Elite league team that is run by former NHL stars Markus Naslund and Peter Forsberg, to sign in Brynas. MoDo finished in last place last season while Brynas was eliminated in the quarterfinals.
Along the way, Gunderson has been named a first-team ECHL All-Star with Trenton and also skated for the AHL’s Houston Aeros for the 2009-10 season.
For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers
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