The Minnesota Wild have struggled to find a reliable goaltender this season. Kaapo Kahkonen has proven his ability and should be given a chance to play. Kahkonen could provide the performances necessary to advance to round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Kaapo Kahkonen Should Start
To this point, goalies Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock have manned the cage for the Wild. Dubnyk looks nothing like his past self, going 12-15-2 throughout the 2019–20 season. Also, Dubnyk posted a .890% save percentage with a 3.35 goals-against average. Even a casual follower of hockey could tell you these statistics are less than impressive.
Dubnyk’s counterpart and long time backup goaltender is Alex Stalock, who found himself in a unique role this season. Stalock started for the majority of the year as Dubnyk struggled with stopping the puck. Furthermore, Dubnyk had personal problems that pulled him away from the Wild. These circumstances put Stalock in a starting role where he went 20-11-4. Stalock also held opponents to 2.67 goals-against per game while posting a .910% save percentage.
The statistics that Stalock put up this year are nothing to scoff at. Stalock is a reliable goaltender who has shown up in big ways this season for the Wild, but reliability is not always an ideal trait in the playoffs. The Wild need a goaltender who can make desperation saves and can stop the puck in any situation.
Nothing to Lose
Kahkonen is not only a reliable option for the Minnesota Wild, but he also goes into this play-in series with nothing to lose. The Vancouver Canucks are a young, inexperienced team in terms of playoff experience. Also, the goaltender for the Canucks is Jacob Markstrom, who has never played a playoff game. The Canucks have a group of skilled and quick players who can exploit goaltenders. Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and more all prepared to try and attack the Wild’s mediocre goalie performances.
Kahkonen played five games in the 2019-20 season going 3-1-1. His statistics were not far off of Stalock’s, but the team played with confidence in front of the goaltender. The game that sticks out is the Wild’s 6-5 win away from home against the Edmonton Oilers. Despite giving up five goals, Kahkonen held off Connor McDavid and the Oilers for the win. Skaters for the Wild seem to play harder if there is an inexperienced goalie in the cage.
Kahkonen has proven his ability to be a competitor in the Wild’s depth chart. Before leaving for Edmonton, the Wild played two intrasquad scrimmages. In these scrimmages, Kahkonen played two periods and kept a shutout both times, including a 13 save outing in one of the scrimmages.
What if Kahkonen Fails?
There is no negative scenario to come out of this situation. If Kahkonen succeeds, the Wild organization can begin to plan next season around the young goaltender. Additionally, he could help push the Wild to make a run for the Stanley Cup. Jordan Binnington helped the St. Louis Blues do it and Kaapo Kahkonen could potentially do the same for Minnesota. If he fails, then the organization can plan for how to strengthen the position for next season. Also, it is a five-game series. If game one goes horribly, there is still enough time to come back with Stalock or Dubnyk to try and even the series.
There is a possibility Kahkonen starts, plays horribly, and fails to qualify the Wild for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Although this would be disappointing, it would not be the end of the world. Against all odds, a play-in round loser won the draft lottery, so if the Wild lose they would have a 12.5% chance at getting the highly sought after number one pick. The Wild’s front office would be smart to play Kahkonen to determine whether they trust in him to start next season. If all else fails, the Wild would be in the running for the first overall pick.
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