HE HAS DRAWN comparisons to Nashville Predators starter Pekka Rinne. And one goalie-centric hockey blog called him the "Leaning Tower of Pisa" for his awkward stance in net.
Yesterday, he became a Philadelphia Flyer. The Flyers signed Finnish goaltender Niko Hovinen, a former Minnesota Wild draft pick, to an entry-level contract. He was most recently a member of the Finnish national team that set off a celebration in the streets of Helsinki with a 6-1 drubbing of archrival Sweden in the IIHF World Championship final on Sunday.
Hovinen, 23, stands a remarkable 6-7 and is considered a promising prospect.
He was a fifth-round draft pick of the Wild in 2006, but remained in Finland, playing professionally for Jokerit and then Lahti in the Finnish Elite League.
He posted a record of 17-25-5 in 49 appearances, along with a 2.59 goals-against average, a .921 save percentage and three shutouts for Lahti this past season, his third with the team.
Rinne, the Predators' star, stands 6-5. But Hovinen is a long way from Rinne, who easily could have been nominated as a Hart Trophy finalist for his work in Nashville's crease this season.
It is unclear what the Flyers' plans are for Hovinen for next season, especially with a glut of young goaltending prospects. But the key is that Hovinen clearly will be given a chance to win a job on the NHL roster - or else the Flyers wouldn't waste their time and tie up a contract spot in the process.
Hovinen's Pelicans team in Finland issued a press release yesterday saying he will remain in Finland next season before moving on to the NHL in 2012-13.
Still, one would think that Hovinen will be given a chance to prove his mettle in training camp - or at the very least, a prospect camp - next season before returning to Finland. Many players in Europe do have clauses to break their contract if an offer from an NHL team exists.
We know that Michael Leighton (1 year, $1.55 million), Sergei Bobrovsky (2 years, $1.75 million) and Johan Backlund (1 year, $800,000) will be a part of the NHL mix in training camp. Backlund's contract converts to a one-way NHL deal on July 1. Bobrovsky remains on an entry-level deal and can swing back and forth to the AHL.
Restricted free agent Brian Stewart should be resigned for minor league depth. Nic Riopel bounced between the ECHL and AHL. Adam Morrison, a 2009 third-round pick, had a strong season for the Saskatoon Blades in the WHL.
Joacim Eriksson, a seventh-round pick in 2008, wrapped up his debut season in the Swedish Elite League with Skelleftea, where he finished with a .906 save percentage and 2.56 goals against-average.
It appears that the Flyers will not offer Eriksson a contract for the upcoming season, opting to let him stay in Sweden and try to win a starting job there to get more experience.
Speaking of the Swedish Elite League, Philly-area native Ryan Gunderson broke his 2-year contract with Orebro of the second-tier Swedish league to sign with Brynas of the SEL.
Gunderson, 25, a Bensalem native who played at Holy Ghost Prep before setting a University of Vermont record for games played over a 4-year career, led all defensemen in the "Allsvenskan" league in scoring with 44 points in 62 games.
Gunderson made news in Swedish tabloids in April when he turned down a contract from MoDo, the famed Elite League team that is run by former NHL stars Markus Naslund and Peter Forsberg, to sign with Brynas. MoDo finished in last place last season while Brynas was eliminated in the quarterfinals.
Along the way, Gunderson has been named a first-team ECHL All-Star with Trenton and also skated for the AHL's Houston Aeros for the 2009-10 season. *
For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at
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