It's hard to believe that Pekka Rinne made his debut for the Nashville Predators in December of 2005. But it isn't so hard to believe he's still with the team - especially with the way he has performed.
It was Dec. 15 when he made his first start and the beginning was far from auspicious. The first shot he faced - from the Blackhawks' Mark Bell - eluded him for a shorthanded goal.
Demonstrating his resilience - Rinne hung in and the Preds beat Chicago, 5-3.
He only played one other game for the Predators that year, but a total of 53 in that season, including his time with the Milwaukee Admirals (of the American Hockey League). In the previous four seasons with Karpat in his native Finland, Rinne only managed to get into 32 games. Future Minnesota Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom was the starter, and he kept Rinne on the bench.
He was the 258th player chosen in the 2004 Draft in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Predators have picked two players who became regulars for them 28 spots earlier: defenseman Karlis Skrastins in 1998, and Patric Hornqvist in 2005. That's why Rinne has to be at the top of the best return for draft value in Predators' history.
[Preds Official Podcast: The Man, Myth, Legend - Pekka Rinne]
After proving himself in Milwaukee, Rinne became the Predators' starter in 2008-09, working with Dan Ellis. The "overnight success story" began to unfold, as he went 29-15-4 with a 2.38 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. For good measure, he added seven shutouts: against Buffalo, Minnesota, the New York Islanders, Toronto, St. Louis, the monumental 8-0 win over Detroit on Feb. 28, 2009, and at Arizona.
From that point on, Rinne was clearly "the man" in net for Nashville, leading them to seven playoff berths in the past 10 seasons, and to the franchise's first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2017.
With 13,444 saves through his shutout over Boston on Nov. 3, it's difficult to pinpoint any in particular, but clearly some have been spectacular:
He won the Vezina Trophy for his work last season (on his fourth try as a finalist). How he didn't win in 2011-12 when he was 43-18-8 with a 2.39 goals-against-average and stopped 92.2 percent of the shots he faced is still difficult to comprehend. Since his first full season in net for Nashville, Rinne leads all NHL goaltenders in shutouts (53 through Nov. 3).
Nov. 3 is also Rinne's birthday. He signed a seven-year contract on his birthday in 2011 in Arizona and celebrated with a shutout. That was early in his first season as a Vezina finalist. He won 36 more games that season, and 214 in all since that time. On his 36th birthday this time around, he had a two-year, $10 million contract extension to celebrate, and he did so in grand style with another shutout!
Yes, arguably the most popular player in Predators' history, and easily one of the most productive, Rinne has given us many pleasant memories and continues to manufacture them.