Every Blues fan has their own take on Jake Allen. Newly-signed backup Chad Johnson has a solid backup resume (including more consistent success in large roles than ex-Blue Carter Hutton). However, neither of these netminders elevate the team to the level that the forward core and top defensemen are ready to reach. Which leads me to this: the case for Ville Husso to start at least 25 games in 2018-19.
Photo: Sep 22, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; St. Louis Blues goalie Ville Husso (35) makes a save on Washington Capitals right wing Tom Wilson (43) in the first period at Captial One Arena.
© Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Husso, the 94th pick of the 2014 NHL entry draft, is ready to play games with the big club this season. For the last two-to-three years, he’s been touted as one of the top goalie prospects in the league by Hockey’s Future and In Goal Magazine. Both of these articles were released during Husso’s three seasons in the Finnish Liiga, during which he posted .923, .915, and .927 save percentages from the 2013-14 to 2015-16 seasons, respectively, plus .935 in 15 playoff games to complete his final season overseas. Crossing the Atlantic proved easy for Husso, as his first two seasons in the AHL featured .920 and .922 performances.
Husso’s numbers speak for themselves, but another way to judge his readiness for the NHL is by comparing his development to past prospects that have taken a similar path to the league.
The most obvious counterpart is Nashville’s Juuse Saros, who was drafted one year earlier than Husso in a similar position (#99). Saros played two full seasons in the Liiga, posting numbers very similar to Husso’s (.923 and .929) before playing parts of two seasons in the AHL, with his second also seeing him play 21 games in the NHL with a .923 save percentage. Saros and Husso have been compared frequently throughout their development over the years, and although their size and play styles vary, their stats line up pretty closely.
Next: Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Lightning phenom. Vasilevskiy comes with first round draft pedigree, and had played in the more difficult KHL in Europe, but the numbers are similar. Vasilevskiy spent his first two seasons in North America split between the NHL and AHL before taking over full time as the starter in Tampa in 2016-17. I’m not suggesting that Husso will be a Vezina finalist in the next couple years, however I could reasonably see a similar tandem with Allen and Husso as Tampa had with Bishop and Vasilevskiy, before the young goalie took over.
Finally, Linus Ullmark in Buffalo. Drafted in the 6th round in 2012, Ullmark had a less impressive European career, capped off by playing in Sweden’s SHL. He’s been in North America for three seasons now, and seems poised to take significant time from Carter Hutton in Buffalo. This comparison isn’t perfect, although it’s another example of a European goalie in Husso’s age range that has posted good numbers for several years in the AHL and is ready to make the jump.
Now, prospects are tricky. You never really know what you have until they get into the league and show you; nothing is a sure thing. Even with the trio of forward darlings (Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, and Klim Kostin), we would be lucky if one of them is as good as many fans seem to think they all are. The same is true for Husso, but unlike the others he has grinded through one league after another, showing he’s ready to move up. Also, unlike the others, he’s prepared to step into a position of recent weakness on the team. All we can do is give him a chance and see what he does with it.