CHICAGO -- Antti Raanta's hometown of Rauma, Finland has a population of about 40,000, so the goaltender's first trip here has been quite an experience.
Even though a minor injury has the 24-year old sidelined this week at Chicago Blackhawks development camp, he's been able to soak in the big city and take note of how much bigger it is than what he's used to back home.
"It has been great, because I'm from [a city with 38,000 people], so [even] at the airport there was much more people than in my hometown," Raanta said. "The whole city, it's unreal. You have seen it [in] the movies, but you have never been here, so I'm looking forward to [seeing] more of the city."
Raanta, who signed a one-year free-agent contract June 3 reportedly worth up to $1.4 million, also is looking forward to showing the defending Stanley Cup champions what he can do in the net. He'll just have to wait until training camp in the fall, when Raanta is hoping to be 100 percent healed an injury he declined to reveal but is believed to be to his ankle.
"It's a minor injury and it came last year [in] Finland, so the doctors will [assess] it and they're going to make the decision [about] what to do," Raanta said. "It's going to be like a short break, not so long. I was seeing doctors in Finland and they [were] thinking it's better to come here and [have] the team doctors [check out] the injury. Of course, I would love to be on the ice, but the coaches were already saying they don't want to take any risks."
After Ray Emery signed with the Philadelphia Flyers on July 5, Chicago signed 40-year old veteran Nikolai Khabibulin, a former Blackhawks goalie, the same day to a one-year deal reportedly worth up to $2 million to be starter Corey Crawford's new backup. So, barring injury, it doesn't seem likely Raanta will spend much time with the Blackhawks in the 2013-14 season.
His most likely destination is to play for the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League, but that doesn't sound like an issue for Raanta, who was highly rated after a stellar season with Assat Pori of the Finnish Elite League (SM-Liiga).
"It was kind of obvious they were going to take some [veteran] goalie [to replace Emery], so they didn't promise me that I'm going to be [one of] the first two goalies," Raanta said. "I knew that I [had to work hard] and get games in the NHL, but I'm ready for that … and if I have to go to [the] AHL, I'm ready for that also."
Raanta, whose style is comparable to that of Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, said the Blackhawks were his top choice all along. Early interest showed by Andrew Allen, Chicago's developmental goaltending coach, put them on top.
"He was watching the games in Finland and I [talked] with him a couple times in Finland, so Chicago was all the time the No.1 [team]," Raanta said. "After that, I was hoping I could sign here."
Raanta did that when the Blackhawks were playing the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final. The move signaled that Emery, who went 17-1-0 in the regular season spelling Crawford, probably wouldn't be back.
It also led to some thinking Raanta might get a shot to play in the NHL sooner rather than later, considering he won the Finnish league's most valuable player awards in the regular season and postseason. Raanta had a 21-10-11 record in the regular season with a 1.85 goals-against average and .943 save percentage, then led the league in the playoffs with a 1.33 GAA and .955 save percentage.
Though those are impressive numbers, they happened on a larger European ice surface. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman wants to see Raanta make the adjustment to hockey in North America, where the rinks are smaller and there's more traffic in front of the net.
"I think we looked at signing [Raanta] as a move for the future," Bowman said during Chicago's season-ending press conference. "He's a young guy. He's 24 years old and hopefully he can adjust to North American [hockey] quickly. Sometimes that takes a little bit of time, so we're not trying to rush him into anything."
Raanta, who will become a restricted free agent next summer, looks forward to the opportunity.
"The training camp is crucial," he said. "If that goes good, maybe sometime I [will] get the chance, but I have to be ready for battling in Rockford also. But I [can't] think [about] those things now. I have to try and get in good shape and be ready for training camp."
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