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Looking Ahead to Iowa's Future in Net

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The Iowa Wild's goaltenders have struggled as much as the skaters in front of them. Does a change need to be made next year to see team-wide improvements?

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Just as the Minnesota Wild struggled at the goaltending position prior to the acquisition of Dubnyk, their farm team has also struggled. The Iowa Wild have had six goalies see action, but for the most part, Johan Gustafsson and John Curry have split the net. Gustafsson has played over 1400 minutes with the Iowa Wild this season, and while that's most of any goalie yet this year, back up John Curry has played almost as much, with over 1100 minutes logged. Curry has already played as many minutes this year as last, even though he has been the goalie who Minnesota has called up when needed. It's unusual that an organization would give so many minutes to a goalie, Curry, whose main role should be guiding the prospective NHL starter. If the Wild organization truly thought of Johan Gustafsson as a possible NHL player, they should be giving him an overwhelming number of starts, which they are not doing.

If they aren't going to use Gustafsson as the starter, they need to be developing someone. While it's good for the skaters if the goalie who is the most competent plays, it can be bad for the organization if those minutes in the developmental league are taken by a goalie who will not be a regular NHL player. The Wild need to be developing somebody.

Other than Gustafsson, the Wild have Stephen Michalek, Alexandre Belanger and Kaapo Kahkonen in their prospect pool. Michalek is in his third season at Harvard after playing a year in the USHL because of an academic scandal. He has posted an average save percentage of .926 and has played in all of Harvard's games this season, including a 63 save double overtime loss to BU in the Beanpot. He could turn pro next season or request another college season because of the season he spent in the USHL.

Alexandre Belanger started out the 2014-15 season playing for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, but was traded in early January to the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles just prior to the QMJHL trade deadline. His overall save percentage for the season looks a bit rough, particularly because of a stretch in November when he only played one game with a save percentage above .900. Since the trade, he's only posted a sub .900 save percentage once (having only played 6 games to this point, the sample size is small). Belanger will look to make the move to pro hockey next season, but he may not be ready for full time AHL duties.

Kaapo Kahkonen is looking like a legitimate NHL prospect. At this year's World Junior Championship, he was the third goalie for the Finnish team. While he did not play any games, many expect him to be Finland's starting goaltender for the tournament next year. This season, Kahkonen is the starting goalie for TuTo Hockey, a men's team in the second highest level of Finnish hockey. His .923 save percentage is impressive considering that many of his opponents and teammates are much older than he is. He looks like a legitimate possibility to be an NHL starting caliber goaltender. But he is still too young to be considered to come to North America next season, so he shouldn't be considered as an option to play for Iowa next year.

While Gustafsson's current contract ends at the end of this year, he is an RFA and will still be Wild property. The organization could decide to let him return to Europe. Or they could decide that because of the whole team's defensive struggles, Johan Gustafsson deserves another year in Iowa. Who the Wild decide to put in net for Iowa next year could depend on who is starting for Minnesota and how long his contract is. Right now, it's hard to guess what kind of timetable the organization would set on developing a prospect into a starter because they don't even know who is going to be starting in Minnesota next year. But it is certain that the Iowa Wild need to be better next year. Changing goaltending is not going to be a magical cure-all, but it could help.