Detroit — Goaltending is arguably the most important position for any NHL organization.
The Detroit Red Wings entered this offseason with cloudiness surrounding the position, particularly at the minor-league level.
Two weeks before the start of unrestricted free agency, the situation is looking a bit clearer surrounding the position.
The signings last week of Victor Brattstrom (who actually re-signed for another year with minor-league affiliate Grand Rapids), and Finnish goalie Jussi Olkinuora restock the Griffins’ depth chart and possibly the Wings’ as well.
The Wings are looking for someone to share the workload with Alex Nedeljkovic heading into next season.
Thomas Greiss had the job last season, but Greiss, 36, struggled most of the season. Greiss is headed to unrestricted free agency on July 13, with the Wings likely having no interest in retaining him.
So that leaves a hole, which the Wings are probably going to fill in free agency. But could Olkinuora be an option?
When Olkinuora, 31, signed last week, it was for a one-year, two-way deal worth $750,000. Olkinuora is an intriguing option, though there is a daunting question mark surrounding him.
Olkinuora (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) starred during this spring’s world championships, carrying Finland to the men’s world championship gold medal. In eight games, Olkinuora had an 8-0-0 record with a 1.11 goals-against average and .917 save percentage and was selected the MVP.
Still, Olkinuora has never played at the NHL level, which brings doubts as to whether he can handle NHL-quality shooters on a consistent basis. In his last North American professional experience, Olkinuora had a .864 save percentage in six appearances with Manitoba (AHL).
Olkinuora could likely be placed in Grand Rapids as a veteran complement to either Brattstrom or last year’s first-round draft pick, Sebastian Cossa.
Extending Brattstrom’s contract for another season showed the Wings saw something in Brattstrom, 25, who progressed in Grand Rapids.
The Wings’ 2018 sixth-round draft pick, Brattstrom had an 11-16-3 record with the Griffins, with a .894 save percentage.
Brattstrom’s 32 games played tied for the fourth-most for a Griffins rookie netminder and were the most since Petr Mrazek made 42 appearances in 2012-13.
Brattstrom’s first few games in the AHL last season “were shaky, to say the least,” Griffins coach Ben Simon said during Simon’s end-of-season media availability.
But Simon was pleased with Brattstrom’s development over the course of the schedule — and especially after goaltender Calvin Pickard went down with an injury.
“(Brattstrom) learned over the course of the season,” Simon said. “In practice, in games in certain situations how to battle more, how to fight through traffic to have to make that extra effort for that second save that tertiary save, to really compete on a daily basis. As the games went on, as he grew, he slowly matured his game, (and) was way more consistent with that.
“In saying that, when (Pickard) got hurt, he had to carry the load and he was ready. He did a really good job. I don’t think he’s ever played three games in three nights in three different cities like he did. And a few times, he was doing it sick. A lot of people don’t know that. He learned how to battle harder physically and mentally as the year went on.”
Cossa, one of the Wings’ most talked-about prospects, recently ended his junior hockey season with Edmonton, failing to win the Memorial Cup.
With little left to accomplish at the junior level, Cossa is expected to turn pro next season and begin his pro education with the Griffins.