GLENDALE - The time is now for Antti Raanta.
Well, maybe not now now, but soon.
The Coyotes are set to open their 2017-18 season in less than three months and, barring any unforeseen developments, Raanta will lead his new team onto the ice at Honda Center on Oct. 5, and start in Arizona's goal vs. Anaheim.
"We made the acquisition of Antti expecting him to be our No. 1," Coyotes General Manager John Chayka said. "…We think he needs some opportunity and some support ... In our analysis, he was the No. 1 guy we were going after (this off-season), and when we got a chance to get him we wanted to make sure we got him."
Arizona acquired Raanta, and center Derek Stepan, in a trade with the New York Rangers last month. The 28-year-old Finnish netminder was a must-have in the deal, which sent the seventh overall pick in this year's draft and defenseman Anthony DeAngelo to the Rangers.
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Raanta posted a 16-8-2 record in 30 games with the Rangers last season and notched four shutouts, two more than New York starter Henrik Lundqvist, who played 57 games. Raanta played well all season, especially down the stretch when he helped New York earn at least one point in eight of his final 11 starts, leaving some observers to at least wonder if he should have been New York's starter over Lundqvist for some of its games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That didn't happen, of course, and Raanta watched New York play 12 playoff games without taking the ice.
Raanta is planning to start skating soon to prepare for his new job. He knows he'll be expected to play about 60 games as Arizona's starter, and he says he is up for the challenge.
"You have to be in top shape to be a No. 1 goalie in this League and that's my goal right now," Raanta said. "You (also) have to have the right mind-set. There's lots of games to play, but you have to find the right way to handle your emotions and your work ethic. Hopefully I've learned something from Henrik's work ethic and hopefully I can be, one day, as good as him."
Raanta joined the NHL in 2013 when signed with Chicago after winning the Finnish championship that season with Assat Pori. He was voted the league's MVP for both the regular season and the playoffs that year. In four NHL seasons, he has posted a 47-23-9 record, a 2.32 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage in 94 games, all as a backup.
"I have been privileged to play behind Corey Crawford in Chicago and Henrik Lundqvist in New York, and working with great goalie coaches in Chicago and New York," Raanta said. "... It's been kind of like a step-by-step process for me. Last year, I kind of felt that my game was finding the right way and my confidence level was going better and better all the time. I felt like I was giving the team the chance to win every night. There's going to be other goalies and there's going to be a battle for the No.1 spot (in Arizona), but I feel my game is going in the right direction … and I feel like I'm ready to take one more step and be playing more and get the No. 1 spot."
Raanta earned 12 of his 16 wins, and posted a 1.99 goals-against average, on the road last season, and he posted a perfect record (4-0-0) vs. Pacific Division teams. Both of those stats are good news for the Coyotes, who struggled away from home (12-24-5) and within their division (12-12-5) in 2016-17.
Asked what he thinks will be the biggest challenge in making the jump from backup to starter, Raanta said "consistency."
"You don't want to go too low, you don't want to go too high. You just want to stay in the middle. When you play all the time you have to be consistent. I think that's one of the biggest things, and of course you need to find the right way to play the games. If you get a shutout, you can't be too excited about it … When you're the No. 1 guy, you need to be, every night, the same guy."
Stepan is pleased Raanta will be joining him in Arizona.
"He's a heck of a goaltender," Stepan said. "That's the biggest thing. When he steps on the ice he competes and that's something he did from Day 1 in New York. A big part of what made Antti such a big part of our Rangers team last year is not only did he compete and not only is he a great goaltender, he's one of the best guys to be around in the locker room. He's always happy, and he's got a smile on his face all the time. He loves being a part of a team that goes out and wins hockey games and he loves to be the guy that gets it done, and that's something he's going to do in Arizona. He's an elite goaltender. He learned from Hank (Lundqvist) a little bit in his two years there and I think he's ready and excited to grab some more ice time and some more games."
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