Nashville Inks Finnish Prospect Juuse Saros
The Nashville Predators announced on Tuesday that they have signed Finnish goaltender Juuse Saros, their 2013 fourth-round pick, to a three-year entry-level contract. The signing signals the likely end of Swedish prospect Magnus Hellberg’s time with the franchise.
Saros is a much younger player, only 20, whose resume includes multiple stints with the Finnish national team at both the junior and mens level. The most recent of these saw Saros backing up Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne in the IIHF Mens World Championship in May. The two Nashville goaltenders combined to set a team shutout record for the tournament.
Saros has long been a highly touted prospect whose only knock has been size. He is listed at 5′ 10″, and this has kept many scouts and observers from ranking him higher. Despite the height disadvantage–and his youth–Saros has been playing for two years with HPK in Finland’s highest league. In 85 games over those two seasons, Saros has a .929 save percentage.
It’s expected that Saros will join the Predators’ AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals. If so, it’s probable that Magnus Hellberg will be moving on from the franchise. Hellberg, 24, was drafted in 2011 in part because of his physical and stylistic resemblance to Rinne and then-backup Anders Lindbäck.
Hellberg never quite caught on, however. Over his three years with the franchise, the 6’5″ Swede bounced between the Admirals and the Predators’ ECHL affiliate, the Cincinnati Cyclones. For the past two seasons, Hellberg has also seen competition from fellow prospect Marek Mazanec and was unable to claim the starting position there.
Hellberg is a pending Restricted Free Agent this offseason and it is unlikely that he will be re-signed by the Predators or that the team will find a trade partner for a player who can be had on the free agent market in a few weeks.
It is not unusual for taller goaltenders to take a bit longer to come into their own and Hellberg is only 24. It would not be surprising to see a team take a chance on him on a minor-league or two-way contract, hoping that he will find the control over his big frame that he needs to be successful. In the meantime, the Predators will probably stick with Mazanec and Saros in Milwaukee and Rinne and Carter Hutton in Nashville for the 2015-16 season.