If there’s one player that the Arizona Coyotes will be leaning heavily upon this year, it’s goaltender Antti Raanta. He signed a three-year, $12.75 million contract extension in April to remain in Arizona, and enters the season as the team’s unquestioned starter.
The 29-year-old Finn was outstanding in 2017-18, going 21-17-6 with a .930 save percentage and a 2.24 goals-against average. However, Raanta missed time due to a plethora of injuries and played just 47 games as a result. Without him in net, the Coyotes struggled badly, as the club’s other goaltenders combined for a dismal 8-24-6 record.
No goaltender that started a game for the ‘Yotes in 2017-18 – other than Raanta, of course – finished with a save percentage above .900. Darcy Kuemper, a midseason acquisition, came the closest with his .899 SV%, and he also had the second-lowest GAA behind Raanta at 3.22.
Obviously, it goes without saying that the Coyotes will need Raanta healthy and at the top of his game in order to succeed as a team this season.
How Good Was Raanta?
We already mentioned that Raanta was one of the best goaltenders in the NHL in 2017-18. But how good was he compared to the rest of the league? Let’s take a look at the numbers.
Among netminders that appeared in at least 20 games last season, Raanta’s .930 SV% ranked second in the league behind only Carter Hutton’s .931 SV%. Hutton also ranked first with his solid 2.09 GAA, but Raanta once again was second with his 2.24 clip.
These numbers are superb, but it was Raanta’s second-half performance that earned him his new contract. From Feb. 8 through the end of the regular season, Raanta posted an absurd save percentage of .950 and a ridiculous GAA of 1.67 while recording three shutouts in just 17 starts. Raanta’s save percentage over that span was far and away the best in the NHL among starting goaltenders (John Gibson and Philipp Grubauer were second at .934), and his goals-against average was first by a mile as well (Grubauer was the next-closest with a 2.00 GAA).
Raanta also went 13-3-1 over that span and clearly was the driving force behind Arizona’s impressive second-half surge, during which they played at a 104-point pace over their final 29 games. There’s no doubt that Raanta’s numbers last season were worthy of Vezina Trophy consideration, but the veteran’s injury issues and the overall non-competitiveness of the Coyotes during the early part of the season ended any realistic chances of Raanta bringing home the hardware.
Raanta Hasn’t Missed a Beat
Obviously, he will be hard-pressed to replicate his performance of last season, but so far during the 2018 preseason, he’s come close.
Raanta has played four periods of preseason action to date (two against the Los Angeles Kings on Sept. 18 and two against the Anaheim Ducks on Sept. 22) and has stopped 45 of the 46 shots he’s seen during his limited time on ice. Phoenicians who were in attendance for Raanta’s two preseason home starts saw first-hand that most of his 45 saves weren’t of the routine variety — the netminder stood on his head, made numerous tough saves, and arguably stole the show from the Coyotes’ explosive offense and power play in both of his performances.
Defense has crumbled in front of Antti Raanta but he’s stopping everything. Excellent tonight. #Coyotes
— Richard Morin (@ramorin_azc) September 23, 2018
Before giving way to Adin Hill prior to the start of the third period, Raanta stopped all 27 shots he saw during Saturday’s exhibition tilt against the Ducks at Gila River Arena. Raanta also would have maintained a clean sheet against the Kings on Sept. 18 if not for a fluky goal by veteran forward Jeff Carter, who pulled a loose puck out from beneath Raanta’s skates and got it over the goal line at 6:51 of the second period to get Los Angeles on the board.
Best Pads in the League?
While Raanta’s preseason play has been impressive, it still remains to be seen if he’ll once again reign supreme as one of the league’s best-performing goaltenders.
However, there’s no doubting his place on the list of the NHL’s best-dressed goaltenders. Last week, Raanta’s black kachina pads were revealed, and they took the internet by storm:
*HOWLS AT THE MOON* Antti Raanta's new pads are FIRE EMOJI (📸 goaliesonly/IG) pic.twitter.com/5SIFT7oqKf
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) September 22, 2018
Raanta’s pads were met with near-universal acclaim, and we’ll get to see a lot of them this season, as the Coyotes will wear their throwbacks for every Saturday night home game in 2018-19.
NFL legend Deion Sanders once said, “If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good. If you play good, they pay good.”
Raanta definitely has that first box checked off — will he be able to check off the second box and establish himself as one of the NHL’s best goaltenders? We’ll soon find out – the Coyotes’ regular season starts in just seven days.
Not that we’re counting, or anything.