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Perhonen could be next top Finnish goaltender

by Mike G. Morreale /
Samu Perhonen, NHL Central Scouting's top-ranked European goaltending prospect for the 2011 Entry Draft, hopes one day to be mentioned in the same breath as his childhood heroes -- Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators and Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins.

The odds of that happening are pretty good, too, since the 6-foot-4, 172-pound Perhonen possesses the same size, athleticism and flair as the aforementioned Finnish standouts did in their draft years.

"Mainly Pekka (2004 eighth-round pick)," NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb told "He has that size and he's a very talented goalie. It'll be interesting to see where he goes in the draft."

Judging by all the fuss Perhonen has generated these days, it could happen as early as the second round. That would be six rounds earlier than Rinne was selected and one round later than Rask, who was taken by Toronto with the 21st pick of the 2005 Draft.

The native of Jamsankoski, Finland, earned his top spot in Central Scouting's rankings by finishing with a 2.71 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in 29 games with JYP's junior team.

"The thing that I liked about goaltending was the fact it's an individual pursuit where you can kind of be your own individual and still be in a team atmosphere. I really liked that and have played goalie ever since." -- Samu Perhonen

"Growing up it was a small town, not a lot of taxis or busses, so walking to the rink was kind of the thing I did first with my friends," Perhonen told via interpreter Juha Mikkola. "The thing that I liked about goaltending was the fact it's an individual pursuit where you can kind of be your own individual and still be in a team atmosphere. I really liked that and have played goalie ever since."

He's done pretty well, too. Perhonen led his team to the SM-Liiga junior-league championship with a 2.44 GAA and .920 save percentage in 12 games. He also played four games for Finland at the World Under-18 Championship in April in Germany, going 2-2-0 with a 3.52 GAA and .875 save percentage. He made 27 saves in a 5-3 victory over the Czech Republic.

"There's no pressure at all (being ranked No. 1)," Perhonen said. "I think it'll be really great to get drafted and that's when the work starts. I'd look forward to getting selected and to work with the team to get my career moving forward."

Just because Perhonen doesn't yet have a grasp of the English language, don't think he's not privy to a bit of Americana.

During the interview stage at NHL Scouting Combine earlier this month, Perhonen was asked the inspiration for his wavy hair style. The 18-year-old never hesitated with his response.

"I said, 'I don't know, maybe MacGyver.'"

A sure sign Perhonen -- which in Finnish means "butterfly" -- never will feel out of place whenever he begins to establish roots in North America.

"He came, more or less, from nowhere," Stubb said. "The first time I actually saw him play was this fall and he was not even a candidate to play for Finland's U-18 team, but his team won the Finnish junior championship and he was the man behind it with some excellent games."

Perhonen realizes the importance of using his size to an advantage between the pipes.

"There are benefits to having the size since you can see through traffic a little bit better and if you get in a situation where you have to make a desperation save, you cover a little more space," he said. "But I don't want to be a blocking goalie. I want to be able to use my hands to catch shots and use the glove and blocker and make sure there are not a lot of rebounds."

In addition to gaining the attention of scouts, Perhonen has long earned the respect of his fellow countrymen.

"He's a good goalie. He's big and knows how to stop the puck well," said Assat Pori forward Joel Armia, rated No. 4 among European skaters.

Not only is Perhonen looking ahead to the Draft, he's already thinking about playing well enough to earn a spot on Finland's team for the 2012 World Junior Championship, which will be held in Edmonton and Calgary.

"It's a little hard to look ahead to something like the Olympics, but definitely my goal is Edmonton and Calgary with the WJC," he said. "There's a lot of competition in Finland for those goaltending spots, but it's something I'm looking forward to."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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