Written by Mark Ritter
Making good on his promise to scour the universe for unknown talent, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke is at it again, as he is rumored to be very close to signing Jussi Rynnas (one of the premier Finnish goaltenders) to a contract.
The addition of Rynnas will only strengthen an already crowed collection of goaltenders within the Leafs organization which includes Jonas “The Monster” Gustavsson and J.S. Giguere.
Rynnas, was/is a highly sought free agent goaltender who played with Finnish club Assat Porti last season. It is believed he was being pursued by several NHL teams including the Dallas Stars, Montreal Canadiens, and Philadelphia Flyers, amongst others.
The Rynnas signing is yet another example of Burke’s ability to A) identify talent and B) to do a “sales job” on some of the game's most talented and undervalued players, convincing them that their best opportunity for success is with the 29th place Leafs.
Burke has also made a concerted effort to sign some of the most elite college prospects including Christian Hanson, Tyler Bozak, and Brayden Irwin—all of whom had a decent impact on the Leafs’ roster this season.
Burke’s ability to think outside of the box and offset the Leafs' draft losses has put the club in the position to be successful. Let’s face it, there is no salary cap on free agent signings from abroad— Burke and the Maple Leafs ownership seem content to make an investment if Burke deems it appropriate.
Rynnas, just 22 years old, stands 6'3" and weighs in at 205 pounds. At this point and time he has yet to sign a deal with the Leafs but it is expected that he will put pen to paper in the next 48 hours.
Rynnas posted a record of 14-13-1 last season with a 2.50 goals against average and a .929 save percentage and is thought by many to be a top goaltending prospect.
Nobody can argue that Finnish goaltenders have been making an impact in the NHL with the likes of Miikka Kiprusoff (Calgary Flames), Pekka Rinne (Nashville Predators), Niklas Backstrom (Minnesota Wild), Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins), Antero Niittymaki (Tampa Bay Lightning), and Antti Niemi (Chicago Blackhawks) all playing at a very high level this season.
All of these Finnish goaltenders posted 21 wins or more and a save percentage above .903 with Kiprusoff leading the way with 35 wins and Tuukka Rask emerging with the NHL’s best save percentage at .931 on the season.
Rynnas is expected to spend next season with the Maple Leafs AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies where he will share the workload with current farmhand James Reimer—who is practically a mirror image of Rynnas, standing 6'2" and weighing in at 208 pounds.
Reimer, also just 22 years old, who is a former fourth-round draft choice (99th overall) of the Maple Leafs in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, had a record of 14-8-2 in 14 regular season games with the Marlies this season with a 2.25 goals against average and a .925 save percentage.
The biggest difference between the two goalies is that Reimer is a right-handed shot while Rynnas is a left-handed shot. Reimer is also more familiar with the North American game, of course, which should serve him well going forward.
Together, Reimer and Rynnas are expected to push each other for the starting role on the Marlies. This is exactly the healthy competition that Burke has been striving for throughout the entire organization, which is starting to take shape on all levels.
The Leafs have a long way to go before they are truly a contender, hopefully this signing is another step in the right direction.