GLENDALE - The Coyotes are counting on new goalie Antti Raanta to play between 55 and 65 games this season, his first as a starter in the NHL.
It's a crucial challenge the 28-year-old Finnish netminder has embraced with open arms.
"It feels great," Raanta said regarding being named the starter with the Coyotes after serving as a backup in Chicago and New York the past four seasons. "It's awesome to be here right now. It's going to be fun to start the season with these guys. There's going to be lots of new experiences for lots of guys, but I think everybody is eager to go out on the ice and show what we have."
Raanta's 'new experience' will be his heavier workload. His NHL career-high for games in one season is 29, which he set last season with the Rangers.
The Coyotes are confident that Raanta can take the next step, a la Cam Talbot, who evolved from New York Rangers backup to Edmonton Oilers starter last season. The team feels all Raanta needs is an opportunity and support.
"I think he's ready for the larger workload, for sure," Goaltending Coach Jon Elkin said. "I think he has shown a lot of consistency the last two seasons in the backup role, and he's 28 years old, he's got a lot of playing experience. Being a starting goalie requires some experience and I think he has enough of that. As far as the adjustment, it's just a matter of managing one's energy, and we'll figure that out and help him out with that. It's not like he's that old that he's going to run out of energy soon. I'm not concerned about that adjustment for him."
Raanta broke into the NHL in 2013 when he 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.
Video: A Preseason Look at Antti Raanta
"He's never played 55 or 60 games (in an NHL season), so this is a situation that I'm sure he wants to grab it and hold it," Head Coach Rick Tocchet said after Raanta's first few practices. "He's a calm goalie. I like calm goalies. He doesn't flip and flop. Goalies that are quieter in net, it's easier to play defense in front of them."
Playing for New York last season, Raanta was asked to start eight games in a row while starter Henrik Lundqvist nursed an injury near the end of the regular season. Raanta notched a 3-3-2 record during that stretch and he stopped 202 of 221 of the shots he faced. That's a .914 save percentage.
More importantly, he experienced what it's like to play on a consistent basis.
"I think when you're playing more games it's kind of easier," Raanta said. "You get a rhythm going. You just go and play. Sometimes you make your life hard when you are a backup. You play one game and then you sit five, six games on the bench and you just think about all kinds of crazy things and all the bad things (from your last start)."
Raanta's primary strengths are his positioning, his patience and his athleticism.
"You put those three things together and you've got a pretty good goaltender," Elkin said. "And I see those three things in Antti. He reads the play great, he's very poised and patient, and he's very athletic. I like what I see."
Another strength for Raanta is his personality. General Manager John Chayka has described him as having a friendly aura about him. His teammates agree.
"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," Stepan said. "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."
Raanta is eager for the preseason games to begin this week. He's waited a long time to take the ice as a starting NHL goalie and to see if he can handle the challenges, physical and mental.
"Sometimes there's going to be bad periods, bad goals," Raanta said. "I think you just have to get over it. If your team is able to help you out in one of those games when you're not the biggest star in the game, I think that just proves that the team is ready to go. Then there will be games when you have to save your team."
He added: "It's one shot at a time. You don't want to get too ahead of yourself because then you are going to be watching the scoreboard. So, it's one game at a time, one shot at a time and we'll see how it goes."
Video: Raanta Speaks after 1st Practice