For years, the Nashville Predators have been associated with spectacular goaltending. With prospect Juuse Saros in the system, that stigma will not change any time soon.
Saros, a fourth round selection (99th overall) by the Predators in 2013, is one of the best goalie prospects in his age group. Last season, the 20-year-old starter for HPK in the Sm-Liiga had a 13-17-6 record and ranked in the league’s top five for GAA (2.14), save percentage (.929) and shutouts (six). In the year prior, Saros was the league’s rookie of the year.
Seeking a new challenge in his hockey career, Saros signed a three-year entry-level contract with Nashville in June and is expected to play for the team’s AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, in the upcoming season.
“I’ve played two good seasons [in Finland],” Saros said at the Predators’ annual development camp last week. “I thought [now] was a good time for me to come over. It’ll be a new challenge for me, and I’m excited.
“[NHLers] have harder shots that are more accurate. That’s a big step up for me, but I think I’m going to fit in just fine.”
There will be many adjustments for Saros in his first season in North America, but the biggest obstacle will be transitioning from the larger international ice surface to the smaller North American rink.
“It’s a much different game,” Saros said. “Of course, there are different angles around the rink because it is smaller. That’s the biggest thing.”
Traditionally, the Predators have favored tall goalies. Saros, 5-foot-11, 176lbs, does not fit that mold. However, for what he lacks in size, he makes up for in superb quickness and agility.
“I move well and have good pushes. I don’t see [my size] as a problem.”
In each of the last two years, Saros has represented Finland at both the World Championship and World Junior Championship. At both World Championships, Saros backed up Pekka Rinne. Unfortunately for Saros, Rinne hogged much of the net. Saros has started in just one game in two years, recording a 22-save shutout against Slovakia.
“We talked a little bit about coming [to North America] because it’d be good for me, but that’s about it,” Saros said about his conversations with Rinne. “It’s good that I know someone here already. I think he can help me a lot.”
During the World Juniors is when Finland relied on Saros the most. In 2014, he led the Finns to a gold medal and was named to the tournament all-star team. The following year, however, was disappointing for Saros, going 0-2 with a 3.03 GAA and .875 save percentage.
“Sometimes [expletive] happens,” Saros said. “You just have to get over it and bounce back. It happens sometimes.”
Saros’ goalie partner in the tournament was St. Louis Blues prospect Ville Husso. As elite goalie prospects in the same division, Saros and Husso are bound to play each other in quite a few rivalry games between the Preds and Blues in the future.
“It’d be nice,” Saros said about the potential of playing against Husso. “We’ve played against each other since we were fifteen or sixteen, so it’d be nice to play against a friend. He’s a funny guy.”
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Colin Fitts is a Nashville Predators staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter, @FittsTHW.