Prior to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ game against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday evening, there was a bit of surprise with the team’s roster. Newcomer goalie Veini Vehvalainen was placed on the team’s taxi squad on the weekend; then, on Monday there was an announcement that goalie Jack Campbell would have a complete night off and Vehvalainen would be the back up goalie on the evening.
On the Face of It, Sitting Jack Campbell Made Sense
Just looking at the face of it, there’s some good sense to the fact that the Maple Leafs didn’t even dress Campbell last night against the Oilers. The team’s been monitoring his workload quite carefully after his lower-body injury. That said, given the Maple Leafs’ goalie situation this season, fans have to wonder.
In addition, Campbell hadn’t practiced for the past few days? I read that Campbell is “expected” to start Wednesday’s game against the Jets in Winnipeg; however, given the team’s troubles this season, it’s tough for me not to be concerned.
Still, although he wasn’t definitive, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe was quoted as being “reasonably sure that taking 72 hours off after Saturday’s win over the Oilers would be enough recovery for Campbell’s lower-body issues to face the Jets in the first of two first-place showdowns.” We will know tomorrow night for certain, I suppose. (from “Injured goalies cloud Maple Leafs’ future,” Lance Hornby, The National Post, 30/03/21).
What Happens If Campbell Can’t Play?
On Monday against the Edmonton Oilers, Michael Hutchinson looked iffy at the beginning of the game but pulled it together and helped the Maple Leafs gain a point in the standings. He might be asked to repeat that task, hopefully pulling two points as opposed to one. With Hutchison starting against the Oilers, newcomer Vehvilainen was sitting as the backup. Will he do that again?
Maple Leafs might recall that 24-year-old newcomer Vehvalainen was traded to the Maple Leafs from the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier this month as a way to bulk up the team’s depth in goal. Finnish defenseman Mikko Letonen went the other way. Vehvalainen posted a save percentage of .901 and goals-against-average of 2.76 in 33 AHL games last season.
What Do We Know About Vehviläinen?
Before coming to North America, Vehviläinen was presented the Urpo Ylönen Award as the Liiga’s (Finland) best goaltender. He was also named to the Liiga All-Star Team in both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons when he played for Kärpät. He’s represented Finland a number of times in international play and helped his team win the Gold Medal at both the 2019 IIHF World Championships and previously at the 2016 World Junior Hockey Championships. He was also named a Top Three Player for Finland at the 2017 World Juniors after recording a 3-2-0 record with a 1.51 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage at the tournament.
In other words, he has a good track record playing in and for his home country. But the jury’s out on how good he will be at the NHL level.
Will We See Vehviläinen in Action?
No one knows the answer to that question. Perhaps Campbell will be right as rain and play well in net tonight against the Jets. But if he doesn’t, we have a streaky Hutchinson again. And, behind him Vehviläinen.
Perhaps the trade for Vehviläinen doesn’t make much sense right now, but given the goalie uncertainty within the Maple Leafs’ organization, it’s likely that Vehvilainen is now one of the top goalie prospects the Maple Leafs have. He played really well in Finland. Can he do that in North America?
Maple Leafs’ fans might soon find out.
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