The 1st Ohio Battery summer prospect series continues with our #16 best prospect in the Blue Jackets organization, goaltender Veini Vehvilainen.
Reason for Ranking
The Blue Jackets selected Vehvilainen, who was passed up in two consecutive drafts, in the sixth round of the 2018 draft. The Finland native, who plays in Liiga (Finland's top professional league), has been dominant in the league for a few years now.
This past season, the 21-year-old won the Urpo Ylönen Award as the league's top goalie, as he posted a 1.57 goals against average and .933 save percentage in 17 playoff games as his club, Karpat, won the league. Those numbers were somehow an improvement over his regular season numbers, where he went 20-5-8 with a 1.89 GAA and .925 sv%.
Internally, we were all in consensus of Vehvilainen's ranking. Sam and Paul had him at 16, while I had him 17th overall.
Vehvilainen's "small" stature of 6-foot-1 likely caused him to go undrafted the past few years, and projecting goalies to the next level is borderline voodoo. Similar to Elvis Merzlikins in Latvia, the Blue Jackets are hoping that snagging the best goalie in a European league will pay dividends down the road.
Vehvilainen is slated to stay in Liiga for the upcoming season. He's basically proven all he can in that league, but with the Cleveland Monsters set at the goaltending position for the coming year, there isn't any logical reason for him to move – yet. With the uncertainty around Sergei Bobrovsky's long-term prospects in Columbus, the organization could look to bring him to North America for the 2019-20 season. He could find himself competing for an NHL job in short order, but he looks to be, at worst, an average AHL goalie prospect.
Best Case Scenario
Call me crazy, but his best case scenario is Pekka Rinne. Rinne, like Vehvilainen, won a Liiga championship (two, actually) also with Karpat, and was selected in the eighth round of the 2004 draft as an over-ager. Though Rinne's size sets him apart from Vehvilainen, he was anything but a can't-miss prospect. After playing three seasons in the AHL, he finally won the starting job in Nashville in 2008-09 at the age of 26. He's since become won of the top goalies in the NHL, and won a Vezina Trophy this past season.
It'd be a stretch to project a twice-passed-over, under-sized (by today's standards) goalie to become an elite NHL goalie, but it wouldn't be entirely out of left field, either.
Strengths and Weaknesses
He's technically sound and his pedigree is impressive. He's played in big games on a big stage and performed well. In 2016-17, he was dominant at the World Junior Championships, posting a tournament-best 1.51 GAA and .931 sv%.
His athleticism won't wow you like Sergei Bobrvosky, and as previously mentioned, 6-foot-1 is much shorter than most goalies in today's NHL.