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Maple Leafs' Top 25 Under 25: Why we should believe in Kasimir Kaskisuo

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Kaskisuo might be three years from a starting position for the Leafs, but he's got the mental toughness and athleticism to get there.

Kaskimir Kaskisuo’s pads were still the brown and gold of University of Minnesota-Duluth when he made his professional debut on April 1. The first team he faced as a Toronto Marlie was the Syracuse Crunch, with Latvian Kristers Gudlevskis across the ice; and the first goal scored on him was by Tampa Bay’s prodigal son, Jonathan Drouin.

It was a testiment to Kaskisuo’s determination to play pro that his transition from college to AHL looked competent, and the game ended 4-3 for the boys in blue. OUR boys in… For the Marlies.

How did that goal get in? Drouin picked up a rebound from Gudlevskis and a blink later was halfway up the ice. Kaskisuo skated out to cut down Drouin’s angle, but with only Rinat Valiev between Drouin and the net, Drouin had plenty of time and space at Kaskisuo’s right to fire it in.

The second shot that Kaskisuo let through was from Matt Taormina, who scooped up a loose puck when the Marlie skating it up center ice lost control. Taormina found just the right spot through five skaters to successfully obscure his shot, and although Kaskisuo was tracking the general direction of the puck, it was clear that he couldn’t see it coming.

The third shot that Kaskisuo let past him was on an unsuccessful Marlies penalty kill. Crunch player Tye McGinn stood reasonably undefended with his butt in Kaskisuo’s face, and neatly batted in a rebound that Kaskisuo couldn’t quite control.  Kaskisuo had a decent debut, saving 26 of 29 shots, and the result was still a Marlies victory, his first as a professional.

Interviewed after the game, Kaskisuo broke down the difference between the NCAA and AHL, something that we all probably assumed was true: "Plays are coming down with a little more speed. Guys are bigger and stronger and move the puck better."

And now I will pause in my description of Kaskisuo’s hockey to quote from President of The Goalie Guild, Justin Goldman, who spoke to Maple Leafs Hot Stove about Kaskisuo and his development in the Maple Leafs system:

I think one thing I get concerned with, however, is that a lot of prospects that have come through the Leafs over the last five or six years have not had the type of success that maybe their upside initially warranted when they first signed pro contracts. This happens with a lot of teams, but it seems like everything goalie-related in Toronto gets put under the microscope and puts too much stress on the development process. He needs time, and I hope the Leafs stay patient with that process. It could take three or four or five years, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Let’s unpack this a little. Goldman, who is tough but fair about Kaskisuo’s skill, is worried that the pressure facing him as a Maple Leafs goaltender is going to break his confidence, like it has with many goaltenders before him. This gets away from pure skill and into how the mental game can crush a goaltender (was Garret Sparks really being used to tank the Leafs? Is that even fair to say, Feschuk?), especially in a city where Steve Dangle vlogs his angst after every loss.

Can Kaskisuo continue to take his NCAA experience and level it up to look natural as a professional, in the face of the kind of enormous pressure that mercilessly exposed Sparks? Goldman says that personality is one of the deciding factors in whether a goaltender succeeds or not. "A lot of it really has to do with personality," Goldman told Hot Stove. "Just from the games that I’ve seen and the times that I have discussed him with other goalie guys, this is a guy that more than one NHL team was interested in potentially signing."

Due to my admitted NCAA bias as PPP’s lone American writer, I’ve already written much in support of his goaltending. I was also the only PPP writer who ranked Kaskisuo at 15th in the T25U25. Although I know that it will take time before he can learn better ways to track high danger shots and rebound control during a penalty kill, I’ve seen enough evidence of his mental toughness to believe that he’ll be able to outwait the people who want to rush him. To quote my previous article,

Kaskisuo is a goaltender who likes making saves more than he likes fancy moves, and takes his leadership on the team seriously. "If I make a mistake," he said to NNC, "It hurts the whole team. It's my job to win the games for us, and we lose if I'm not playing my best."

If, as Goldman says, mental toughness is an important factor in goaltender development, I believe we’ll see good things coming from Kaskisuo in the next few years. But obviously mental toughness is not the only deciding factor. What about Kaskisuo’s skill?

Importantly, Kaskisuo is a Finnish goalie, not one that grew through the USA Hockey system. Chris Johnston wrote an interesting article about how Kaskisuo made unusual career choices to get "unstuck" in Finland. After he was firmly positioned in a backup role in Jokerit for three years, Kaskisuo decided to play for the North American Hockey League instead, and moved himself to Minnesota. After half a season with the NAHL Minnesota Wilderness, the University of Minnesota-Duluth noticed him. He committed to the university, and was the starter for two seasons with a career SV% of .920 in 75 games.

Goldman, who works with Kaskisuo’s GoaliePro camp in Finland, scouts his game thus:

He’s your prototypical Finnish prospect. He’s very good at using active hands to control pucks, especially on plays in tight where he’s able to gain proximity on pucks in close to his body. For example, you’ll see him actively push that blocker hand out on a breakaway shot at the last second. Or you’ll see him actively catching as many pucks as possible, whether it’s in front of his body, across his body, way outside of his body, or low to the ice. He will even take the opportunity to catch a puck and quickly relay it to a teammate to kick-start a zone exit. He’s got some flash and flair and some good pro upside.

Judge for yourself: