Twelve months ago, there was so much optimism around Kahkonen. It felt like the Sharks might have found an answer in the crease. The Sharks traded Adin Hill to the Vegas Golden Knights, hoping that Kahkonen would take the next step with James Reimer as the backup. Fast forward a year, and Hill has his name engraved on the Stanley Cup, Reimer is now with the Detroit Red Wings, and Kahkonen has more questions about his game than ever.
When Kahkonen came over at the 2022 trade deadline from the Minnesota Wild, it seemed like a good gamble. The Sharks gave up rough-and-tumble defenseman Jake Middleton for a swing on a goalie of the future. The Wild were trying to make a cup run, and Kahkonen was reliable enough for a deep playoff run. With 2021 first-round pick Jesper Wallstedt waiting in the wings to be the goalie of the future, there was no room for Kakonen to try and continue to develop on a win-now team.
When Kahkonen first arrived in San Jose, he had great numbers in his 11 games after the trade. He had a .916 SV% and a 2.86 GAA during that time. Last season was a different story. Kahkonen struggled. In 37 games, Kahkonen posted a .883 SV% and 3.85 GAA. His -24.6 GSAx was the second-worst in the league behind Elvis Merzlikins. While the Sharks didn’t help Kahkonen much, his medium-danger save percentage hurt him the most. He was dead last among qualifying goalies at .825 SV% when facing medium-danger saves. If that number can be around the league average of .880, it would be the biggest improvement for Kahkonen’s game.
Where does Kahkonen fit in?
Entering into the season, Kaapo Kahkonen is one of the Sharks starters. With newly acquired Mackenzie Blackwood, there should be a fairly even split in starts. While Eetu Makiniemi will probably earn some spot starts, it’s the Kahkonen and Blackwood show. Who gets the majority of the starts is up for discussion, especially after the preseason that Kahkonen has had. While Blackwood and Kahkonen are both considered “projects” this year as they look to rebound, Kahkonen has put some good tape out.
The key for Kahkonen’s early resurgence (yes, it’s preseason, and the Vegas Golden Knights haven’t put out the most NHL roster) is how much more confident he looks in the crease. He has been better at tracking the puck and letting the game come to him instead of being aggressive. Last season, he would get caught out of position for saves he should have made. Under new goalie coach Ryan Miller, Kahkonen seems to be playing a calmer game. Miller’s game was based on him hanging back in his crease, and this could be the perfect marriage between coach and player.
What’s next for Kahkonen?
This is a big season for the Finnish netminder. He enters the last year of his deal at $2.75 million. Kahkonen has shown flashes in San Jose but has struggled with his consistency. If Kahkonen can refind his form that made him the former AHL goalie of the year and a player that the Wild were excited about, the Sharks could have an answer in net. Kahkonen just turned 27 this summer and should be entering his prime right now. If Kahkonen’s game rebounds this year, Mike Grier should look to give Kahkonen (and Ryan Miller) a contract extension in the offseason. If not, Kahkonen will be looking for a job in the offseason.
Bold Prediction: Kaapo Kahkonen starts the majority of games this season and is re-signed by the Sharks.
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