Assat Pori goaltending coach Jaakko Rosendahl has never come across a goaltender as unique as the Chicago Blackhawks' Antti Raanta.
Raanta's skill level put him in an elite category for Rosendahl, but it was much more than that. Working with Raanta last season at Assat in the SM-liiga in Finland, Rosendahl found himself often surprised by him on and off the ice.
"He's so different than any other goalie," Rosendahl said in a recent phone interview. "He was so open-minded. He was so relaxed. If you think goaltenders don't talk to other people, he's the other side of it. His outlook, his behavior with people, it's really different. Kind of every day was funny. He worked hard, but he was so funny, so different than other goalies.
"Before games -- two hours before a game -- he was like some guy who came off the street and into the locker room. 'Hey, let's go.' He's not heavy. He's not going to feel like not talking to anyone. He's relaxed. That's why he keeps so much in the game."
The 24-year-old Raanta's looseness added to his ability, which is a mixture of above-average athleticism and being positionally sound, produced grand results. He won the league's regular-season MVP trophy (Lassa Oksanen Trophy) after having a 21-10-11 record, a 1.85 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage. He also won the league's playoff MVP (Jari Kurri Trophy) after leading Assat to the league title with a 1.45 goals-against average and a .955 save percentage.
The Blackhawks had been scouting Raanta for much of the season and were able to beat out other suitors for him in early June. Raanta signed a one-year deal with the Blackhawks and is expected to contribute at some point in the NHL this season.
Rosendahl wasn't surprised by Raanta's play last season, believing Raanta had been building up to such a performance. Raanta's goals-against average had dropped and his save percentage had risen in each season since he had entered the SM-liiga in 2009.
"I was kind of watching his play the previous two years and collected that he would be better," Rosendahl said. "Last season, we started to develop what was bad in my opinion. We started it, and I think it went well."
Rosendahl wanted Raanta to get more aggressive on the puck, and it didn't take long to see results.
Rosendahl describes Raanta as a quick learner, and that's why Rosendahl doesn't believe his transition to North American hockey will take long. Raanta is expected to start the season with the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL to get him accustomed to the smaller rink.
"I think he's going to learn pretty fast," Rosendahl said. "If he practiced something, it would be 2-3 days when he realized it physically. It was pretty easy to learn something new. I don't think it'll be a problem."
Rosendahl believes Raanta has to add some more strength to his body, but his main advice for him going forward is to continue moving.
"He needs to just move more and more and more," Rosendahl said. "There's so much speed in the game. The goalie needs more speed. You need to be faster and faster and faster. That's my advice -- don't stop skating."
"If you don't have competition, you won't go anywhere," Rosendahl said. "He realizes that. It's not a problem. My opinion is he needs competition, and he wants it. I think he came to Pori because he wanted to play. He wanted to challenge himself. It was kind of the first step. Now the second step is a huge one going to Chicago from Pori."
Rosendahl doesn't doubt Raanta will be a fan favorite at some point in Chicago.
"People like watching him play," Rosendahl said. "He's the kind of goalie when he plays in the NHL people will want to be buy his shirt because he looks cool and thinks differently."