Kevin SchultzThe Islanders have a lot of goaltenders but there doesn’t appear to be an obvious heir apparent to 37-year-old Evgeni Nabokov once his time as a starting netminder is over. The jury is still out on Kevin Poulin, who hasn’t had outstanding AHL numbers in recent years and has only been used in the NHL sparingly. Anders Nilsson is having a rough go after missing most of last year with injury, and the other Islanders draft picks and college signings (Parker Milner) are still far off, if they ever pan out. That’s left fans looking for any viable option and one that has come up recently is Mikko Koskinen, whom I’ve been asked about a lot lately as he puts up eye popping numbers in the KHL.
Koskinen has played well in Russia, where he reportedly signed a two-year deal this summer, leaving behind his native country of Finland. He has a .946 SVP to go along with a 1.62 GAA through 14 games thus far. Those numbers are good, but there’s a significant different between the KHL and the NHL.
There are actually 15 KHL goalies with +.930 SVP and some of the members of that group include ex-NHLers such as Michael Leighton, Mikael Tellqvist and Curtis Sanford. Koskinen’s numbers are better than all of theirs, but that’s not a very promising peer group to be a part of. The other thing is that the .946 SVP doesn’t mean he can put up that figure in the NHL. In contrast to those 15 KHL netminders, only seven NHL goalies have +.930 SVPs this season and the names on the list are a heck of a lot better than Leighton and company.
So before everyone piles on the Koskinen bandwagon, it’s hard to say that his numbers are NHL starting quality but they are absolutely promising as a reason to bring him back to North America and give him another look. But there’s another problem there.
Koskinen’s KHL contract reportedly is a two-year deal with his team, Sibir Novosibirsk, which severely hinders the Islanders ability to bring him back to North America if they so choose. That puts him in the Kirill Petrov classification where, unless the Islanders cut a deal with the KHL team (unlikely), they’ll have to wait to sign him until his KHL deal runs out.
For a little bit of history on why things didn’t work out the first time around with Koskinen, it was partly poor play and partly that he was in Bridgeport at a time when the Islanders had a plethora of young goaltenders.
Koskinen was originally drafted by the Islanders in the second round in 2009 and spent a full season in Bridgeport during the 2010-11 campaign. He played 36 games, but his save percentage didn’t break .900 as he posted an .892 mark. That same year, Kevin Poulin looked like the better bet, getting rave reviews from Patrick Roy and putting up a .932 SVP in 15 AHL games. Poulin was eventually called to action in the NHL for 10 games, as the Islanders were faced with a myriad of goaltender injuries and ended up using six different NHL goalies that year. Koskinen was among that group, getting in four NHL games and posting a horrid .873 SVP.
The following year, 2011-12, Anders Nilsson made his way to Bridgeport and the Sound Tigers ended up with a three goalie log jam that wasn’t going to work (a three goalie log jam also didn’t work in the NHL that year with Al Montoya, Rick DiPietro and Evgeni Nabokov, by the way). So in Bridgeport, Koskinen ended up the odd-man out and was allowed to head to Finland to play instead of riding the pine behind the other two.
Maybe Koskinen’s even the reason that when the Islanders drafted two goalies this past June, they were both headed to college to play (Eamon McAdam and Stephon Williams). That way, they can develop in college until they are Anders Lee-age, rather than creating a log jam in Bridgeport when the CHL is no longer a useful option.
For Koskinen, his entry level deal expired at the end of the 2011-12 season and the Islanders retained his rights with a qualifying offer. They’ll retain his rights until he becomes an NHL free agent at 27-years-old, which is why he’s still in the Islanders media guide and on their website under “in the system.”
His numbers in the KHL are nice, you definitely want to see him playing well against the competition no matter where that happens to be. With names like Sanford, Leighton and Tellqvist putting up similar, lesser, numbers there’s a chance he could be worth another look in the NHL. But factor in the rock-and-hard-place contract situation, Koskinen is likely a couple years away of being on Long Island, if he ever comes back.
As for Koskinen himself, he’s not ruling out a return to North America. In a recent interview with Russian sports site Championat.com — a very long and surprisingly readable interview when shoved into the Google Translate machine — Koskinen seemed open to a return and remarked about his earlier trip over that started at 21-years old (the “Siberia” mentioned being his KHL team):
– I guess it really was not the best time. Primarily because of the health problems that I had at the time.And psychologically, I am now more willing than it was then. At the moment I am more mature and confident goalkeeper. Who knows, maybe I still be able to try their hand in the NHL? It needs to be the best goalkeeper in every day and play well for the “Siberia.”It is associated with this team all my thoughts.
File the Finnish Koskinen in your KHL folder, along with Kirill Petrov, as potential NHL talent that may or may not someday find his way to Long Island.