I had a chance to catch up briefly with Leafs goaltending coach Francois Allaire in London this weekend and ask him about newcomer Jussi Rynnas and some of the other developments in the crease in the off-season.
All of the goaltenders who joined the team said having Allaire there as a mentor was a big reason why.
Here are a few tidbits from our conversation:
I know you haven't seen Jussi that much in person, but what's your initial impression of him as a goaltender so far?
"I worked with him a little bit this summer in July and the first thing you can see is size wise, he's an extra-big goalie. That makes a very good impression. For a big guy like him, he can have really quick legs, speed is good and his lateral (movement) is good. That is a plus, when you've got both. Some guys who are tall are slow, but he can deliver some good speed."
Does he have the talent to eventually play at the NHL level?
"Well, we'll see. But you know our expectation is to have all the guys we got in our system to have a crack at the NHL, of course. We work on that purpose with all of the guys we've got. Jussi's one of the guys, (James) Reimer's one of the guys, (Ben) Scrivens would be one of the guys -- all of the guys we try to bring now will be guys we hope will have enough talent and determination to make the NHL at some point in their career."
Do you feel better about the team's depth in goal than you did last season?
"Oh, no doubt about that. At the end of the camp last year, we knew we had some problems at the position for sure. This year I feel we really have a good level of goaltending anywhere in the organization. We're way deeper than we were. Last year, it was kind of average and good and average and good. I think we're going to have five guys (Giguere, Gustavsson, Reimer, Rynnas and Scrivens) who can really give us something where we're going to put them."
Is there anyone in the NHL you'd compare Jussi to in the NHL?
"Right now he's more a guy coming from Finland and they've got their way to play. But he's still young, he wants to be a guy who can play in [a different style] That's why he decided to come right away instead of one more year or two more years over there and (then) try to jump on the other side. That's a good sign because he really wants to come with us and be part of the organization and be part of the program we try to develop for goaltenders. He's still a young guy and we're going to try to manage to keep his strong points and try to develop or improve what we feel can be developed to play in North America."
Can you explain a little bit of what the technical side of what he needs to work on is?
"My first thing with him would be his skating ability. I want him to be a little bit quicker -- like I said, he's a big guy, a heavy guy, so we have I think to improve his skating. The game here is a little bit quicker, the rink is smaller, there is more passing and the passers are faster than Europe where the rink is so wide and you have time to go side to side almost before the guy shoots. Here sometimes on the power play, the puck is going and then there's a one timer (on goal), so we have to be a little bit quicker. That's going to be my main priority for the camp. Of course we're going to try to make sure everyone in the organization understands we have to work in a certain way to have success and he's going to be part of it. We want to say 'okay this is the way we work in practice, this is the way we work in the morning skate, this is the way we work in the warm-up.' We're going to try to put some discipline all the way into the system to make sure everybody is similar."
He's 23 -- does that leave him with room to improve into his late 20s?
"Oh yeah, for sure. There's no doubt. Those guys have a lot of upside. All the guys we got in the system, it's all (young) guys with a lot of upside. We're not at the end of the road. There's a long one to go in front of them."