Edmonton Oilers: How will Mikko Koskinen age as an NHL goalie?

Edmonton Oilers, Mikko Koskinen #19 (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
Edmonton Oilers, Mikko Koskinen #19 (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images) /

Goalie Mikko Koskinen of the Edmonton Oilers reminds me a lot of Dwayne Roloson. Both were very late bloomers to the league.  Roloson never really made the NHL until he was 27, and wasn’t an NHL regular until he was 29.  That’s very late in terms of NHL goaltenders.

The good part of that is he has reduced NHL mileage on his body, which means he can stick around the league longer than most players as long as his numbers are still good.  That’s exactly what happened with Roloson.  Statistically, Roloson had his best years in Minnesota as a tandem with Manny Fernandez.

In these parts, of course, Roloson is best known for being acquired at the trade deadline in 2006, then getting hot and playing the Oilers into the Stanley Cup finals where he would tragically get injured at the worst possible time in game 1, shattering the Cup dreams of players and fans alike.  He didn’t retire until the age of 43, and was at least an NHL average goaltender up until the age of 42 – and was elite in the playoffs that same year.

Would that have happened if Roloson wasn’t a late bloomer?  Probably not.  It doesn’t happen a lot, but sometimes late bloomers in the NHL can have staying power.  Roloson played 606 NHL games.

Can Mikko Koskinen do the same on the Edmonton Oilers? 

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Possibly.  Koskinen has only played 106 NHL games so we don’t really know what we have with him yet as a player.

Early on in his career, his first 4 NHL games with the New York Islanders were a disaster.  He then went back to his native Finland to play in the Finnish pro leagues and later on the KHL before Peter Chiarelli brought him back to the NHL for another kick at the can.

His path to the NHL has been different.  Those 4 games he played with the Islanders were when he was 22, but he didn’t become an NHL regular until the age of 30.

Now he has had a long pro career, but the European pro leagues typically have shorter seasons, so their brand of hockey is easier on the players’ bodies and can extend their careers.  A lot of NHL players who retire will play hockey for another 1-3 seasons in Europe afterward specifically for that reason.

Koskinen has taken a different development path than Roloson, but there are certainly parallels in terms of being a late bloomer.  Goaltenders are tough to forecast at the best of times, and because Koskinen doesn’t have a big enough sample size in his GP numbers yet, I can’t say for sure whether Koskinen will have the same longevity in his career.

But the tools are there.  1 thing that helped give durability to Roloson’s career in the NHL is he rose to the occasion in the playoffs and elevated his play – shown by his career sv% of .918 as opposed to .908 in the regular season, and subsequently, his GAA went from 2.72 down to 2.54 in the same way.

Roloson was a bit inconsistent, though, as he did have years in the regular season where he was elite or near-elite, but only ever sustained those numbers in multiple seasons once.  Koskinen thus far is not an elite goaltender but is at least able to be consistently average.  Is that better?  I don’t know.  It’s probably easier on Ken Holland’s heart rate, but other than that it’s tough to say.

So far this season Koskinen is struggling a bit, but at times so is the team in front of him.  It certainly didn’t help that Mike Smith sustained an injury in the preseason and the Oilers don’t have a viable 1A for him so we’ll have to ride Koskinen between the pipes until Smith is healthy again.

You always have to take goaltender stats with the grain of salt in terms of how the team in front of them is playing.  A goaltender can only be as good as the team defence skating in front of him is.  Even the best goaltender can’t stop them all, and obviously with more shots comes more goals.

This is why I take Koskinen’s trip to the playoffs last year with a grain of salt, too.  1)  4 games is not a big enough sample size to project career numbers forward 2)  It was literally Koskinen’s 1st trip to the playoffs and 3)  The team in front of him let him down in terms of defensive coverage, just as is going on right now in the regular season.

Hot. A huge thank you to the legend known as Wayne Gretzky. light

If Koskinen can elevate his game in the playoffs, that will certainly help his NHL career going forward just like it helped Roloson’s career in the NHL. Personally, I’m not going to crucify Koskinen’s career right now until we see how he plays when the team in front of him plays better and until he gets more experience and we know exactly what we have with him.  Oh, and having a viable 1A to spell him off will help too.