Antti Raanta couldn’t have wrapped up his 2013 any better. The Finnish goaltender logged a shutout, one more NHL first in a month-plus that’s been full of them.
But Corey Crawford, whom Raanta replaced so well during Crawford’s apparent groin injury, is ready to return. With that, the Chicago Blackhawks face a decision: keep Raanta here with the big club or send him back to Rockford? It’s an interesting dilemma, one that coach Joel Quenneville said he and the Blackhawks brass would discuss.
The decision could be made later tonight or tomorrow before the Blackhawks head on their two-game trip to Newark and Long Island, where Crawford should start in one of the games. Keep in mind, the Blackhawks roster is currently at 23, so the team could keep Raanta and Jason LaBarbera here for a bit longer. But we’re guessing one of the two will go to Rockford.
So before the Blackhawks make their decision and render this story moot, let’s look at each argument for Raanta, and what we would do.
Keep Raanta in Chicago
Raanta has proven a few things in his brief time here: he’s a fast learner and he can take the pressure of being an NHL goaltender. The 24-year-old had a lot of weight on his shoulders when both Crawford and Nikolai Khabibulin went down to injury, and he handled it beautifully.
No, his game isn’t perfect. He’s been here a little more than three months, so it’s not going to be. He’s still shaky in shootouts, can still have the bad game now and then. He’s also rebounded from each.
Obviously, when Crawford returns Raanta won’t play as often. But Raanta’s shown he belongs here and can be a capable backup.
Send Raanta to Rockford
As we stated above, Raanta’s game isn’t perfect. He can still work on rebounds, still work on those angles that were so foreign to him when he first came over from Finland. While he’s improved dramatically from training camp, extra work wouldn’t hurt. He may not get enough playing time if he stays, and the Blackhawks would have a veteran goaltender in LaBarbera to back up Crawford.
In Rockford, Raanta would get ample playing time. He’d get even more of an opportunity to hone his game and really develop. Raanta’s already 24 but could still have a long NHL career. There’s no immediate rush, however, for that to happen. Get some more work in with the IceHogs.
What we would do
Keep Raanta here in Chicago – at least for now. Here’s our reasoning: he’s a great insurance policy. Whenever you have a goaltender coming off any lower-body injury, you want to be very careful about rushing him back. With Khabibulin’s struggles, Crawford had a tremendous workload prior to his injury. As anxious as Crawford is to play again, don’t push him. You want him completely healthy, now and for the postseason. And when Crawford does get days off, you want a guy the Blackhawks know and trust in the net. Right now, that’s Raanta.
Like we said, each argument has its valid points. Either way, Raanta’s game will continue to grow.