After nearly a year spent dealing with injuries and other headaches, goaltender Kari Lehtonen finally returned to the ice for the Dallas Stars after Marty Turco was pulled in the second period of a game against the St. Louis Blues. This marked the first time he’s played since April 11, 2009. Update: Lehtonen allowed 2 goals on 16 shots as the Stars lost 6-1.
Although the hockey world focused on Atlanta’s other trade of Ilya Kovalchuk, moving Lehtonen to the Stars ended an extremely frustrating era for the moribund franchise. The hulking (6-4, 200 lbs.) goalie was the second overall pick in the 2002 draft, going before players such as Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Semin and Cam Ward. To add to already high expectations, he was also the highest-ever drafted European goaltender.
Despite showing quite a few signs of promise (and put up save percentage stats that made some think he was an elite goalie), Lehtonen has been very injury-prone. Even before his 11-month sabbatical, Lehtonen only managed a heavy workload in one season (68 games played in 2006-07). There were also some murmurs here and there about Lehtonen’s attitude.
Our own Brendan Worley provided a wonderful breakdown of the good points and bad points of Lehtonen’s game.
“Like most goaltenders that come from Finland, he is very calculating and direct with his mechanics and plays a nearly flawless positional game. He’s also a very, very large goaltender; he’s listed at 6-4, 215 pounds but looks much bigger than that in net.… Where it gets concerning is his mobility across the crease, and his propensity to overreact to plays that cross in front of him. His best trait is his aggressiveness as he challenges shooters, and he get’s in trouble when he starts backing down into his crease. He also appears to be a goaltender who is driven by his confidence. When he’s on top of his game he is nearly unstoppable, but when he gets rocked once he starts to fold.”
Moving on to Dallas, Lehtonen is in an interesting situation with the Stars. He’ll be fighting for ice time with embattled (former?) franchise goalie Marty Turco. Both goalies have contracts set to expire after this season (Turco will become an unrestricted free agent while Lehtonen will be restricted). Both goalies have an innate ability to befuddle and dazzle onlookers in the same game.
It’s quite possible that both goalies are talented yet lost causes on a team struggling to find its identity. On the other hand, this could also be the case of a hard luck star finally getting a fresh start.
It’ll be fascinating to find out.