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Marlies Monday: Is new goalie Veini Vehvilainen any good?

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and AHL options for the Leafs after a tough week.

AHL: FEB 29 Belleville Senators at Cleveland Monsters
CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 29: Cleveland Monsters goalie Veini Vehvilainen (35) in goal during the first period of the American Hockey League game between the Belleville Senators and Cleveland Monsters on February 29,2020, at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, OH.
Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I’ll start off by answering the headline and saying, no, not really. Traded for Mikko Lehtonen from the Columbus Blue Jackets, 24-year-old Veini Vehvilainen (VV) was never going to make a difference in the NHL, much like the guy he was traded for. But then that begs the question, how good is he? For a goalie completely off most people’s radars, I was lucky to notice he had played four games against the Toronto Marlies last season — his first year in the AHL. After watching those four games, I’ve tried to come to as much of an informed opinion as possible on how good Veini Vehvilainen is, here’s what I found.

Parallel to this article, the Toronto Marlies played two games against the Laval Rocket over the weekend, splitting the series 1-0-1, which we’ll get to in a bit. VV didn’t play as he’s still in quarantine for his travels from the USA.

Vehvilainen played four games against the Toronto Marlies last season, one win, two losses, and a no-decision because he got pulled for being really bad. For context, the Marlies were a good offensive team (somewhere in the top-10 in the league) and the worst defensive/goaltending team last year. Meanwhile, Vehvilainen’s team, the Cleveland Monsters, were an average-ish defensive team in the AHL. Individually, Vehvilainen was 39th in save percentage among qualified goalies with a 0.901 and a record of 10-18-7 — behind the likes of Kasimir Kaskisuo, Garret Sparks, and Calvin Pickard. Joseph Woll (a year younger than Vehvilainen) was 48th with a 0.880, second last in the league also as a rookie.

Onto his play, before watching his four games against the Marlies, I first read some Goalie Scouting 4 Dummies articles in order to understand what I was looking for. I then took some relevant data down during the games and tried my best to see what was going on.

You’ve probably seen Cat Silverman’s excerpt on Vehvilainen’s play (it’s in our trade article post), talking about how Vehvilainen stays up on his feet and aggressively pushes out to challenge goalies, making up for his height. I tried to verify those qualities with numbers during my tracking, but I don’t think I saw enough to know either way. He certainly pushes up aggressively, though not too much like some goalies we know about.

In terms of getting beat high, the Marlies were seemingly missing the net a lot or he was deflecting the pucks that went past his ears. Comparing him to Kaskisuo, he caught the puck far less than the former Marlies goaltender.

Overall, Vehvilainen is a decently athletic goalie when he has to move laterally or out to the top of his crease. He tracks the puck okay and follows the play decently well, but he was prone to make mistakes. The speed of the Marlies often overwhelmed him and I worry what that means against the faster NHL competition. I don’t know if he bites at shots or cheats for them, but he often got beat on fakes and last-second passes. Liljegren and Rubins did it to him on two occasions that stood out, but there was a consistent trend of him jumping for a shot out of reflex before having to change his movement mid-way through. I saw that a lot early in the season and a little less near the end, but not by much. Salomaki’s goal below was at the end of February.

(Quick aside, Kristians Rubins deserves a shot in the NHL next season).

Vehvilainen’s pushes against the post were also fairly inconsistent. He wouldn’t be able to reliably find the post and push from it to get to the other side, often having to rely of sprawling on the ice. The Monsters acted as a good cleanup crew for him in the game he won. Despite that, Vehvilainen works hard to battle for those second and third chances and he never seemed to blame his teammates — that mental side of the game was encouraging — though his body language when giving up goals was tough to see. He’s not a good skater or passer of the puck, which might be blessings in disguise.

Overall, I put Vehvilainen on the same tier as Joseph Woll; an okay AHL starter for a rookie, not great at anything, but not terrible at anything either. Because of the speed factor, age, and inconsistencies with his lateral movement, I wouldn’t consider him a factor for the NHL — unless it comes up because of injuries and he has to go in. I will note, while I have him in the same tier as Woll, I would say their strengths and weaknesses are quite different. Woll is a very technical goaltender who works very hard at knowing where his body is and using his feet to get him where he needs to be. His downfall is reading the puck and following the play. For Vehvilainen, he seems to have a good idea of where the puck is and where it could go, but he struggles to get there in time and is often scrambling to get in position.

With Woll and Vehvilainen in the medium-ish AHLer tier, Ian Scott injured for the past 18 months, and Artur Akhtyamov still a teenager, the Leafs need to find a goalie for the present and future is high. The odds are strongly in the favour of help not coming internally from this crop of prospects. If Frederik Andersen is not the guy, Michael Hutchinson is very much not the guy, and we don’t know if Jack Campbell is the guy because of his injuries, the Leafs need to find a guy. Guy, where are you!

In Short...

Friday vs. Laval Rocket (4-3 W)

The game started off on the wrong foot, with Scott Sabourin running Laval’s goalie and assailing an unwilling combatant all within 23 seconds of the opening whistle. After watching him get ejected for the one-sided brawl and killing the five-minute penalty that followed, the Marlies got to work with the 10 forwards they had left. Despite giving up an early lead, the first line led the way with Petan, Barabanov, and Galchenyuk all scoring. Joey Anderson put away a shorthanded goal for the win.

The Marlies were on the back foot for much of the first period, but carried a strong second that included three goals and the lead into the third. The Rocket came at them in the final frame, and got close, but couldn’t go farther. Joseph Woll stopped 31 of 34 in the win in his first game of the year.

Sunday @ Laval Rocket (4-5 SOL)

The Marlies loss to the Laval Rocket was like a cosplay of the Leafs loss to the Ottawa Senators going on at the same time. Starting the game, the Marlies were completely flat, giving up tons of chances and getting only four shots on goal in the first, all from medium and low danger spots. Andrew D’Agostini left the game after one period due to an injury announced by the Marlies, he gave up two goals on 10 shots. He was replaced by Angus Redmond because Joseph Woll was in Ottawa to be the Leafs third goalie. Redmond stopped 13 of 15 and one goal in the shootout in his 40+ minutes of work.

As for the team, they spotted the Rocket a 20-8 shot advantage and a 3-0 lead midway through the second period when Alexander Barabanov scored his second goal in two games on the power play. His goal gave the Marlies a boost that led to the team fighting back offensively until finally Nic Petan made the game interesting at 3-2 with nine minutes to go. In the final minutes, the Rocket scored another, but Mac Hollowell and Joey Anderson each scored in the dying minutes to send the game to overtime. Michael McNiven stopped all the shots he faced in overtime and the shootout, while Redmond gave up only one in the shootout for the loss.

Thoughts on the Leafs

It seems pretty obvious to me the Leafs could use Barabanov, Liljegren, and maybe even Petan right now. I would call up Galchenyuk, but it would adverse to rush him because of points like many teams before. Joey Anderson has been great this year too, but I wonder if he’s being groomed for next year as a dual offensive-defensive threat. Barabanov clearly belongs in the NHL after his five-point (2g, 3a) weekend at Exhibition, Liljegren has deserved a long look for over a season now and keeps showing why every night, and Petan has shown energy and talent, both of which the Leafs could use right now.

Travis Boyd hasn’t been doing it for me, people have their opinions on Jimmy Vesey, and Justin Holl looks like he needs a break. What was so wrong with Barabanov with Tavares and Nylander? Dermott hasn’t been the same either, though his on-ice shooting percentage has been in the toilet these last 10 games and the rest of his numbers seem fine. I would like to see Liljegren with Muzzin again; I think he can handle the competition and his style works well with Muzzin. I’ve said it countless times that Sandin and Liljegren doesn’t work as a pairing and that I would like to see if Liljegren can do with Muzzin what Holl is doing right now. This isn’t me saying Liljegren is a Norris candidate, it’s me saying Holl is very much not a Norris candidate, by the way.

Sheldon Keefe is mad at the team right now and refuses to make changes until they get their act together. It also doesn’t help that the active roster can’t afford Barabanov or Liljegren on it right now with Campbell not on LTIR. Species and I recalled Angry Keefe last night from his time with the Marlies; telling the team it’s on them to shape up and sometimes it worked, other times they just had to miserably ride the PDO bender. They have a week now to make changes.

Transactions

The Leafs made a lot of changes over the weekend, documented by Katya starting on Thursday. First let’s start with Woll.

Woll was sent to the Marlies on Wednesday with the hopes Jack Campbell would be healthy for Thursday’s Leafs game. He was not so Woll was called back up. Woll then played on Friday and got the win. The next day, he was called back to the Marlies because Campbell wasn’t healthy for Saturday’s game, and stayed on the roster on Sunday and was with the team in Ottawa.

Before this weekend, Calle Rosen, Martin Marincin, and Nick Robertson were all assigned to the Leafs on their taxi squad. With the OHL starting soon, it’s time to decide whether Robertson can stay in the NHL. Corresponding moves saw Liljegren, Petan, Barabanov, and Lehtonen sent to the Marlies where all but one now reside. As you know, Lehtonen left in the trade, replaced by Vehvilainen.

Scott Sabourin was sent down to play in Friday’s game, which he technically did, not honestly did not, before being sent back to the taxi squad where he now sits with an AHL suspension pending once he’s back on an AHL active roster. We’ve seen pending suspensions like this before, you’ll remember Raffi Torres was suspended in both the NHL and AHL at the same time several years back.

Game Highlights

Friday vs. Laval Rocket (4-3 W)

Nic Petan (1) from Timothy Liljegren (6) and Alexander Barabanov (1)

Alexander Barabanov (1) from Alex Galchenyuk (4) and Nic Petan (1)

Alex Galchenyuk (2) from Alexander Barabanov (2) and Kristians Rubins (2)

Joey Anderson (4) from Kalle Kossila (4) (SH)

Sunday @ Laval Rocket (4-5 SOL)

Alexander Barabanov (2) from Alex Galchenyuk (5) and Mac Hollowell (4) (PP)

Nic Petan (2) from Teemu Kivihalme (4)

Mac Hollowell (1) from Alex Galchenyuk (6) and Tyler Gaudet (8)

Joey Anderson (5) from Alexander Barabanov (3)