The Colorado Avalanche are about to find themselves in a little goaltending trouble, depending on the status of their top netminder, Darcy Kuemper. With regular backup Pavel Francouz on his way back from injury, he has been sent to the American Hockey League (AHL) for a conditioning stint, and the team called up Justus Annunen from the Colorado Eagles.
Before his arrival, Justus Annunen had been drawing big praise, and he won the AHL Goalie of the Month Award after some fantastic performances in November when he started every game. The award comes at an ideal time for Annunen, who received a nice confidence boost before joining the Avalanche on their road trip. While the team faced early struggles, especially from their defense, the Avs have been better recently, and Kuemper has played a part in that.
The Eagles are going to miss him, but Avalanche fans may get an early glimpse of the Finnish netminder in action.
Annunen’s Recent Games
In November, the Eagles played a lot of one-goal games when Annunen was between the pipes. They weren’t all victories, but he was able to keep his team in games and gave them a chance to win.
The Eagles won five of their eight games in November, with Annunen carrying the workload due to injuries on the Avalanche. In October, he started five games and conceded three goals or more in every one of them. In November, he never conceded more than three goals in a game and allowed one goal four times.
At the start of the season, Annunen struggled to keep the puck out of the net as he adjusted to the North American style of play. The 21-year-old spent three seasons playing 20-plus games in the Liiga in Finland. He doesn’t lack experience at the professional level, but he didn’t have experience on the smaller ice surface.
It can be a tough adjustment for netminders, who have to adjust their style to suit the new angles they have to cover because of the smaller space, the play from the corners, bodies in front, and the general feeling of being surrounded, which are different in North America. It will take time, but Annunen is a long-term project for the organization.
Future Hopes for Annunen
The organization believes Annunen can play in the NHL, maybe as a backup, but even that is a couple of years away. When he was drafted 64th overall in 2018, the Avalanche saw him as a project and gave him time to grow before bringing him over to North America. What he needs to do this season, is continue to play well in the AHL and develop his game.
Next season, he should dominate the AHL in the same way that Francouz did before he joined the Avalanche as their backup. It wouldn’t hurt for Annunen to be the third netminder, which should mean a couple of call-ups during the season. Colorado has already been mentioned in potential goalie trades this season, given their history with injuries at the position, and this is another sign that Annunen is going to be given all the time he needs.
By the time we reach the 2023-24 season, the backup position could have Annunen’s name beside it. Any glimpses of the NHL before then will help his development. But as a young netminder still learning the North American game, it would be foolish to expect too much from him too soon.
Craig Jones is a freelance NHL writer from the UK, covering the Colorado Avalanche. Watching the NHL from afar, Craig has followed the Avs for more than two decades, and wrote about them for almost one. To get the UK perspective of the NHL and everything Colorado, follow Craig on Twitter @craigjones29.