The Nashville Predators have found their backup goaltender. Kevin Lankinen has signed a one-year, $2MM contract extension for the 2023-24 season, keeping him from unrestricted free agency this summer.
After the disappointing performance of David Rittich as Juuse Saros’ backup last year, the team signed Lankinen to a one-year, $1.5MM deal last summer after he left Chicago. It turned out to be quite the investment, as the 27-year-old netminder has been outstanding in his limited role, posting a .922 save percentage in 14 appearances. With Saros taking the vast majority of starts, the Predators just need someone reliable behind him, that can keep them in games on back-to-back nights.
Maybe more importantly, they need someone they will feel comfortable with if Saros ever goes down to injury. That’s what happened just before the 2022 playoffs, forcing the team to go with Rittich, who lasted all of 15 minutes against the dominant Colorado Avalanche attack, before ceding the net to third-string Connor Ingram. While Ingram did his best, the Avalanche walked to a first-round sweep over the Predators, and showed them the importance of a strong backup goaltender.
Enter Lankinen, who burst onto the NHL scene as a rookie in 2020, posting a .909 save percentage behind a bad Blackhawks roster. He got some down-ballot Calder Trophy love that year, and while he couldn’t replicate it in 2021-22, is showing this year that he’s a capable NHL netminder.
The one-year deal doesn’t secure his services long-term but takes one more thing off the to-do list for incoming general manager Barry Trotz. The Predators are in a period of uncertainty going into the summer as potential sellers, after moving Mattias Ekholm and Tanner Jeannot over the last few days. With a ton of draft capital to play with, but still several high-priced veterans on the roster, it’s not clear how exactly Trotz will go about reshaping the roster. One thing he doesn’t have to worry about is goaltending, with Saros and Lankinen in place for 2023-24.