Devils Should Have Ville Husso Atop Free Agent Wishlist

Ville Husso. Jack Campbell. Whether it’s a national insider like Elliotte Friedman or someone locally like Larry Brooks of the New York Post, those are the two goaltenders the New Jersey Devils have been getting connected to most this offseason. It’s no secret that goaltending is priority No. 1 for the Devils, so it’s not a surprise to see two of the three best goaltenders in this year’s free agent class linked to them. 

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Husso and Campbell are in different spots in their careers. Campbell is 30 years old and has solidified himself as a solid 1A in his two-plus years with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Husso, on the other hand, had a breakout season in 2021-22 with the St. Louis Blues and is now looking for a payday. Both would provide upgrades to the Devils, but it’s Husso who should be atop their free agent wishlist.

Husso’s Impressive 2021-22

Husso was a highly-touted prospect of the Blues for quite some time. Had he not gotten injured during the 2018-19 season, he would’ve been their call-up rather than Jordan Binnington. Instead, Binnington took the opportunity and ran with it, winning a Stanley Cup in 2019 and eventually earning a six-year, $36 million contract extension in March 2021. 

Related: Devils News & Rumors: Campbell, Georgiev & More

That delayed Husso’s jump to the NHL, but there were signs he’d at least get a shot with the Blues at some point. As a goaltender for HIFK in the Finnish Liiga, he never finished with a save percentage (SV%) lower than .915 in three seasons from 2013 to 2016. He also played well in the AHL, never finishing with a SV% below .909 other than in 2018-19, when he had a .871 SV% and was battling an injury. 

Eventually, Husso got his shot to be Binnington’s backup, but it didn’t go all that well; he finished with a .893 SV% and allowed 6.41 goals above expected in 2020-21. However, there was a stark turnaround this season as Husso not only took over for Binnington as the Blues’ starter at times, but he was also one of the better goaltenders in the NHL. 

Ville Husso St. Louis Blues
St. Louis Blues goaltender Ville Husso (Photo by Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Husso finished with a .919 SV% in 40 games this season and saved 14.18 goals above expected, ranked seventh among all NHL goaltenders. His high-danger SV% of .867 at five-on-five tied Igor Shesterkin for third in the league for goalies with 1000-plus minutes logged. Only Spencer Knight and Ilya Sorokin had better high-danger save percentages than Husso. And when expanded to all strengths, his high-danger SV% of .853 ranked fourth, with only Shesterkin, Sorokin and Jake Oettinger having better high-danger save percentages. 

There’s clearly upside with Husso, but it’s hard to know how good he actually is. Combined with his playoff appearances this past season, he’s only played in 64 NHL games. With that said, whether in the Liiga or the AHL, he’s had success at just about every level he’s played, so he has some form of a track record. And his 2021-22 campaign suggests he could be at the very least an above-average goalie, even though there’s risk in signing him.

The Husso vs. Campbell Debate

There’s no doubt Campbell has a stronger NHL résumé than Husso to this point in their careers, but there are some concerns with Campbell’s numbers. While he stops low and medium-danger chances at a high rate, his high-danger SV% is less than ideal. In fact, it ranks well in the bottom half of the league. Since the start of the 2019-20 season, he has a high-danger SV% of .790. That ranks 75th among all goalies with at least 1000 minutes logged at all strengths. 

I know what you’re thinking: Campbell has played on a worse defensive team than the Husso, but that’s not the case. Over the last two seasons, the Maple Leafs have averaged the seventh-least expected goals against per 60 minutes (2.23) at five-on-five, while the Blues tie three other teams for the seventh-most expected goals against per 60 at 2.56. This season alone, the Blues allowed 2.73 expected goals per 60, the fourth-worst in the NHL. Husso was getting a workout more nights than most when he played, but he still fared quite well. 

But while Campbell’s high-danger SV% is a concern, the rest of his numbers are good. He has a solid five-on-five SV% and has stopped pucks at a respectable rate on the penalty kill. He might not have a ton of excellent starts, but he will have a quality outing more often than not:

Jack Campbell
Jack Campbell goalie card, via JFresh Hockey

If Campbell is who the Devils can land in free agency, then that’s who they can land. It’s a weak year for goaltenders, especially if Darcy Kuemper re-signs with the Colorado Avalanche. They can’t put all their eggs in one basket, so Campbell should absolutely be among their targets too. With that said, it doesn’t mean he should be their No. 1 choice.

Given Husso’s past performances in leagues like the Liiga and the AHL, there’s reason to be optimistic that his 2021-22 wasn’t a one-off. He turned 27 years old in February, and while a three-year difference in age might not seem significant, Husso could be more of a long-term solution than Campbell. Plus, the Devils have had some bad luck with signing goalies in their 30s lately; Corey Crawford retired before even playing a game for the team, and Jonathan Bernier underwent major hip surgery. At 27 years old, you’d hope neither of those are issues for Husso anytime soon. 

Related: Devils’ 2022 Free Agent Targets: Goaltenders

Another thing the Devils could have going for them is their goaltending coach, Dave Rogalski, came from the Blues and knows Husso well. I don’t know what their previous relationship was like, but that could help the Devils lure Husso to New Jersey. It’s also worth noting that Martin Brodeur was the Blues’ assistant general manager from 2015 to 2018 when Husso was a prospect. He’s surely familiar with him and would probably be part of the recruiting pitch, even though he works on the business side of things for the Devils. At the very least, they’ll have some scouting knowledge on Husso. 

Unlike the last two offseasons, it’s not a great year to be in the market for a goaltender. The options are limited, with many teams needing upgrades but not having much to choose from. That means the Devils may have to overpay for someone like Husso, but he would be the smarter free agent bet. There’s risk in signing him, given he’s played less than 100 NHL games. But judging by his 2021-22 season, the payoff may be the highest from this year’s UFA crop, and that’s why the Devils should have him as their top target.

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Advanced stats from Natural Stat TrickEvolving-Hockey