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Wild Statements: Is Kahkonen going to be a starter?

It’s time to survey our staff.

Minnesota Wild v Calgary Flames Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

Welcome to Wild Statements! In this series, writers and staff at Hockey Wilderness will share their opinion on one timely statement, using the typical agree/disagree scaling system. Of course, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Statement:

I believe Kaapo Kahkonen can be the Minnesota Wild’s starting goaltender.

Kyle — Slightly disagree. When I think of a starter, I think of a goaltender getting the lion’s share of the starts, like Jusse Saros, Jacob Markstrom or Andrei Vasilevskiy. Sure, you’ve got “1A” type guys in time shares, and maybe Kahkonen can be that, but a go-to, start every game except the second of travel back-to-backs? I don’t see it for Kahkonen. Yes, he’s young. Yes, he’s still technically Calder eligible and should have a decently long career ahead of him. But the way he struggled towards the end of last season when the Wild were trying to build up towards the playoff was very concerning. It’s amazing how well he’s performed when he’s absolutely had to - especially when Talbot was out last year. But the hallmark of a starting goaltender is consistency, and I don’t think we’ve seen enough of that from Kahkonen to project him as any more than the main guy in a time share. And with Jesper Wallstadt waiting in the wings and Cam Talbot locked up for another year, his starting window with the Wild is pretty slim.

Jeff — Agree. Kahkonen is 25 years old, which isn’t young for a goaltender, but it’s almost to their prime. He has shown at times in 2021-22 that he can be an extremely strong goalie, but unfortunately, the defense has let him down lots of times. In his four most recent games (at the time of this writing), Kahkonen has allowed 15 goals, and you’d have to go back two more games to find the last time he only allowed one. However, the Wild were also in a funk. He’s still sporting a .912 save percentage and slightly-below-zero goals saved above expected. There’s obviously still room for improvement, but there has been more things to like than dislike about his game as he’s developed. Whether or not he can lead them to a Stanley Cup is one question, but can he be a starter? Absolutely.

Brock — Neutral. Kaapo is a bit of a mystery to me. My biggest question mark is whether he can keep his composure over long periods of time. Last year we saw a very similar trend to what we appear to be seeing now. Kaapo had his shot to be a no. 1 goalie for the team, completely took advantage of it, and then saw his game completely collapse when he wasn’t getting consistent starts. While this might suggest he is cut out for a starter role, which it very well may be a sign of, I think there is a legitimate concern with his ability to string together solid play for a long period of time.

Additionally, it is no secret that Kaapo is not the long term plan for this team. Wallstedt had a great year overseas and appears to be more and more of a steal as time goes on. Kaapo might have a window for two or three years while Talbot’s contract expires and Wallstedt develops, but it’s clear that the Wild don’t see him as the long-term solution.

Do I hope he ends up being a great starting goalie? Of course. Am I confident this will happen in St. Paul? Not at all.

Grace — Disagree. Listen, I’m a big Kaapo fan and want nothing but the best for him. But he isn’t a 1A netminder yet — and I would have said this exact same thing before Sunday’s meltdown in front of Dallas. I see and am sympathetic to folks’ arguments saying he’s stronger when he gets some consistent playing time and I concede that’s probably true, but I think his issues stem more from perhaps some anxiety(?) seeing the other goalie in the rearview mirror waiting him out rather than juuust playing time. That being said, I do think we’re lucky to have him as a backup. He’s stepped up in a big way anytime Cam has legit been out both last season with Covid and this time around with Cam’s injury. Having a backup goalie we mostly trust when the team isn’t healthy is a really good thing! Go Kaapo!

Thomas — Neutral. It can go either way for me. He is still young enough to go down a path of improving and establishing himself, playing more and more each season. But, what he has shown at the NHL level is very inconsistent, going from unstoppable at one point and just letting in some real stinkers the next. I guess that’s just goaltending. And it’s not like he has had a terrible season either. With some of the stark surprises we have seen from more established netminders like Philipp Grubauer or Petr Mrazek, Kahkonen has a steady .912 save percentage through 23 appearances. Not that bad.

So what do you think?