The most sizeable player on the Nashville roster right now won’t be found scrapping in the corners for the puck, nor will he be defending the blue line. No, at an impressive 6-5, goaltender Pekka Rinne
is doing what he does best—stopping the puck.
“He covers a lot of net,” said goaltending coach Mitch Korn of Rinne. “He’s also very quick. For a big man he is quite athletic.”
Quite athletic, indeed. At the time of his recall to Nashville from the Milwaukee Admirals, the 25-year-old Rinne lead the AHL in games played (60), wins (33), and was unbeaten in his previous six starts.
“He’s the MVP of that hockey team,” said Korn. “He’s gained tremendous experience playing that much hockey and carrying that team. It can only benefit him in the long run.”
This isn’t the first time Predators fans have gotten a glimpse of the Kempele, Finland native. In the 2005-06 season, Rinne played in two games for the Predators, posting one win and one loss.
“It feels different this time,” said Rinne after being recalled on March 22. “That was my first year and I had only played a couple months down in Milwaukee. Now it is different; I know the city, I know the people, I know how hockey is played over here. I am more confident.”
If his numbers in Milwaukee are any indication, Rinne certainly is playing a more confident game than Predators’ fans saw two seasons ago. After a solid training camp, Rinne was just barely beaten out by Dan Ellis for the backup role behind Chris Mason. But despite being edged out by Ellis, Rinne has kept a positive attitude and produced great numbers for the Admirals.
“He’s such a positive guy,” said Korn. “A lot of goalies would have been unhappy—we use the term sour—at different times not being called up or when he was sent to Milwaukee after training camp.
“But he’s got a tremendous attitude. He’s a laid back guy and he goes with the flow.”
Using his size to his advantage, Rinne is an imposing netminder who covers a great deal of area around the crease. While having long legs could create problems such as a larger five-hole—due to the lengthened time it takes to get from the standing to the butterfly position—Rinne works hard at closing that distance more quickly. His imposing height also allows him to protect a large area of the net, even while playing on his knees—something that is much harder for a shorter goalie to accomplish.
While Rinne does acknowledge that players at the NHL are stronger, faster, and more skilled than at the minor league level, he attests that his job as a goaltender stays the same.
“For a goalie nothing really changes,” said Rinne. “You just have to stop the puck.”
After a shoulder injury limited his ice time last season, Rinne worked hard to get back into shape and back on track. And with the noteworthy numbers he has put up in Milwaukee since his return, he seems up for the challenge of whatever may come his way up here in Nashville.
Keeping a positive energy and supporting his teammates is what Rinne sees as his role in Nashville right now; thinking about how long he will be in a Predators’ uniform is not high on his list of things to do.
“You have to be confident,” said Rinne. “I don’t want to think anything else. I just go day-by-day and go from there.”
Rinne may not be concentrating too hard on the long-term possibilities of staying on the Predators’ active roster; but in light of his recent recall, the coaches and management might be.
“I think everyone generally believes he’s going to be able to play at the NHL level,” said Korn. “And that’s a good thing.”