Kevin Lankinen comes in after a down season with the Chicago Blackhawks, which in all fairness we can’t really hold that against him. Almost any goaltender would’ve struggled in that situation.
A fresh start in Nashville, and not a ton of pressure, could be really good for the young goaltender who is just 27-years-old. Plenty of time to find his place in this league, and much like David Rittich last season, will be in an audition role to become a starter for another team.
Another one-year audition for the Nashville Predators backup goaltender
Lankinen is on a one-year deal, and will be counted on to take some of the workload off of Saros. The fresh start with Nashville will hopefully be good for him after a frustrating season in Chicago, including moments like this:
As brutal as it is to see a goaltender give up a goal off his own skate, you love Lankinen’s passion and raw emotion. It shows he cares and wants to win, and that’s what you need in a backup goaltender who in the back of his mind knows he’s playing for a full-time role somewhere else eventually.
Instead of moving forward with Connor Ingram, who was fully expected to make the full-time jump to the NHL, they went with Lankinen. A player with 66 career starts and very ordinary numbers at a .901 save percentage and 3.23 GAA.
It was hard to have any sort of confidence in Rittich whenever Saros was given some rest, and that became painfully clear when the playoffs came and Saros was out with injury in Game 1.
Here’s where we have to temper our expectations for Lankinen and be a little puzzled by this move from the front office. Last season Lankinen was among the league’s worst in Goal Saved Above Expected with a negative 28.6 per MoneyPuck.com.
The Predators are going to find themselves in the same situation they were in last year having to ride Saros close to 70 starts if Lankinen struggles this badly in his first handful of spot duty.
Lankinen does have upside and has the skill set to be a quality backup to Saros. If he can be closer to the goaltender he was his rookie season when he notched 17 wins and a .909 save percentage, then the Predators will be in good hands when Saros takes a breather.
Predictions for Lankinen’s 2022-23 season
I’m expecting Lankinen, if all goes according to plan, to get around 20 starts. He is a modest upgrade to Rittich, but I can’t say the same necessarily about Ingram. Clearly the front office had other plans for Ingram to play more in the AHL.
Lankinen is going to have a much better defensive team playing in front of him then he’s ever had since being in the NHL. That should be great for him to put up number similar to his rookie season, and maybe even a little better.
The question is, how rusty will he be coming off the bench and only playing once every couple of weeks. Is the Nashville Predators coaching staff prepared to use Lankinen more than they used Rittich? I would hope so if they went through the trouble of signing him in the first place to a $1.5 million deal this summer.
On that note, the uppper management must also feel it’s much more beneficial for Ingram to get a heavy load of starts in the AHL as opposed to the occasional starts behind Saros at the NHL level. Most goaltenders will tell you that it’s vital for youn, developing goalies to get the regular game reps and not sit on the bench.
I’m keeping my expectations very modest for Lankinen, but he has the ability to steal a couple games in his 20 or so starts. He’ll win half of his starts, put up around a 91 save percentage, but not be a major difference-maker one way or the other.
Lankinen is essentially the bridge that gets us eventually to Ingram, and further down the road to Yaroslav Askarov.