Kari Lehtonen: the Dallas Stars’ hidden gem

Kari Lehtonen of the Dallas Stars. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Kari Lehtonen of the Dallas Stars. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Dallas Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen certainly entered the NHL the beneficiary of much hype and attention. However, since his early days on a bad Atlanta Thrashers team, the spotlight has greatly diminished. When a goaltender is drafted 2nd overall, or anywhere in the top 10 for that matter, expectations are immediately high. Lehtonen didn’t live up to his draft day status at first. He couldn’t stay healthy, nor could he be expected to dominate on a team that played four post-season games in its eleven years of existence. But look at him now.

Kari Lehtonen has been reliable and exceptional for the Stars this season. His save percentage is an astounding 0.932, ranking him top ten in the NHL. And Lehtonen (along with Steve Mason 0.930 SV%) is the only current goaltender with a SV% higher than 0.930 who doesn’t play on a playoff calibre team. That being said, if he keeps performing at the elite level that has grown to define him, his club may have a shot at qualifying for the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Throughout his four seasons with the Stars, the Finnish goaltender has always posted a winning record. And each year, it wasn’t good enough to see his team play a post-season game. Lehtonen is doing his part on a Stars team that is in the midst of a rebuild. The good news for Dallas is – they have a great goaltender in place.

You can justifiably say that Kari Lehtonen is having a Vezina-like start to the 2013-14 NHL season. If he continues to perform at his current pace he has a shot at winning the award handed to the league’s best goaltender at the end of every season, even if the Stars don’t make the playoffs. Last season’s Vezina winner, Sergei Bobrovsky, failed to backstop his club to a playoff birth.

In February of 2014 the NHL will send its best players to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Lehtonen will probably be there as a member of the Finnish National team. He competes with many of the game’s best netminders for a starting spot. Between, Lehtonen, Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins), and Pekka Rinne (Nashville Predators), it’s safe to say the Finns have the best goaltenders to choose from in the world. In a tournament where one game decides a nation’s fate, Lehtonen could play hero in a few months.  The powerhouses should be worried about a one-game winner takes all against any one of Finland’s top netminders.