New York Rangers, Mats Zuccarello
Photo by Bergen Record

With Cam Talbot now a member of the Edmonton Oilers, here is what the New York Rangers can expect from Antti Raanta during the new season.

By Bryan Pol

In a spot start against the Carolina Hurricanes on December 21, 2014 at the Garden, New York Rangers goaltender Cam Talbot, thanks to an early first period Ryan McDonagh goal, reigned victorious in a 1-0 shutout, his third of the season, proving his worth in spelling Henrik Lundqvist whenever needed.

Over a month later, against those same Hurricanes, Lundqvist inadvertently took a snapshot to the neck, but would stay in net en route to a 4-2 victory.  Lundqvist would mind the net again two nights later against the Florida Panthers, a 6-3 Rangers win, but in light of a damaged blood vessel in his neck, Lundqvist would be forced to sit indefinitely.

At 29-15-4 on February 2, near the top of the Eastern Conference standings, New York was forced to resort to Cam Talbot as their starting goaltender, their hopes for the conference’s top seed essentially dashed.

Beginning with a thrilling 3-2 win against the Boston Bruins on February 4, Talbot would win 17 of his next 25 starts, not only keeping the Blueshirts in the hunt, but preserving a hard-earned President’s Trophy victory that could not have have been won without Talbot’s masterful work in net, for which he went 21-9-4 with a 2.21 GAA and a .926 save percentage over the course of the 2014-2015 season.

Given that the Rangers already have a franchise net minder in Lundqvist (he would lead New York to a seventh game in the Eastern Conference finals against the eventual conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning), Talbot was deemed dispensable, traded to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for the 57th, 79th, and 184th picks in the 2015 NHL Draft.

With no one capable of serving as Lundqvist’s understudy on the current roster (Mackenzie Skapski, at 21, is not quite ready), the Rangers made a deal for former Chicago Blackhawk and Stanley Cup winner Antti Raanta, who arrived at the cost of shipping out Ryan Haggerty, who saw no ice time beyond his stint with the Hartford Wolf Pack.

Unfortunately, Raanta, a 26 year old goaltender from Finland, was third on Chicago’s depth chart behind Corey Crawford and Scott Darling.  Even so, Raanta managed a 7-4-1 record, a 1.89 GAA, and a .936 save percentage in 2014-2015.  For his career, Raanta is 20-9-5 with a 2.41 GAA and a .912 save percentage.  His numbers convey he can be another Talbot in the wings.

Even so, while Raanta is somewhat seasoned as a NHL goaltender, the former Blackhawk will compete for the Blueshirts’ backup spot with Magnus Hellberg, acquired from the Nashville Predators on July 1 for a 2017 draft pick.

According to head coach Alain Vigneault, he will suit up Raanta and Hellberg for New York’s first two preseason games, as the decision to name a backup to Lundqvist remains a “tough decision.”

Said Vigneault, “We have some tough decisions to make and I want to see how it all unfolds.  It’s an open battle between Raanta and [Magnus Hellberg].”

While the Rangers are unlikely to lose Lundqvist for a three month stint again, they are hoping Raanta could pick up where Talbot left off last season.

On an international level, Raanta has a championship pedigree of sorts.  In 2013, the 26 year old won a Finnish championship with his club Ässät, earning the Lasse Oksanen Trophy for his play as the SM-liiga‘s best overall player in the regular season, along with the Jari Kurri Trophy as the postseason’s most valuable player.  In all, Raanta posted a .955 save percentage two years ago for Ässät.

All told, Raanta will be expected to turn in over twenty quality starts this season should he win the job, and given his past internationally, along with his spells in the NHL and AHL, he will look to construct upon his promise as a veteran presence at backup, and he has Lundqvist, a Vezina winner, from whom he can learn along the way.

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I am an English teacher, music and film aficionado, husband, father of two delightful boys, writer, sports fanatic, former Long Islander, and follower of Christ. Based on my Long Island upbringing, I was groomed as a Yankees, Giants, Rangers, and Knicks fan, and picked up Duke basketball, Notre Dame football, and Tottenham Hotspur football fandom along the way.