CRANBERRY, Pennsylvania – Joel Blomqvist is confident he can compete with Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmiththe current Pittsburgh Penguins goalie tandem, for playing time.
But not immediately.
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« It’s a pretty tough question, but I think I can compete with them, » Blomqvist said. Maybe not right away, but with more experience and improving certain aspects of my game, I could definitely compete with them. »
It might be a while before we see Blomqvist get that chance. Jarry, a two-time NHL All-Star Gamer, will enter his third season as Pittsburgh’s number one goaltender. DeSmith is his back-up, having agreed to a two-year contract worth $3.6 million ($1.8 million annual salary) on July 5.
That’s not counting Pittsburgh’s other prospects in net, including Filip Lindberg and Taylor Gauthier. There is, however, a little something unique about Blomqvist, 20 and a native of Nykarleby, Finland.
“He is a special player. If you saw what he accomplished in Finland, it’s exceptional,” said Penguins goalie development coach Kain Tisi. “He improved over the season last year. We really like his skills as a goalkeeper and his way of moving in front of his net. He is calm. Nothing bothers him.
“He is an extraordinary human being. An exceptional young man. A young man, should I say. His skills and talent are phenomenal. We are very excited about him. »
Patience, however, will be required for Penguins fans before they see all the talent that Blomqvist (6-foot-2, 183 pounds) has. He was 6-3-5 with a 1.32 goals-against average, .940 save percentage and five shutouts in 20 games last season with Karpat in the Liiga, the top professional league in Finland. He was even better in seven playoff games, posting a 1.10 ERA with a .950 save percentage. His performances earned him a tryout with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins’ farm club in the American Hockey League (AHL), at the end of last season. In one start, he allowed two goals on 27 shots in a loss.
« It was awesome, » Blomqvist said. After my season with Karpat, I spent two weeks at Wilkes-Barre. I had the chance to discover the place, to get to know the coaches and the players. It was fun. I was able to play a game. It was an awesome experience.
“Of course, there are aspects that I need to improve. I consider that I have to become better, but I am very happy for myself. »
Blomqvist could start the season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. That decision may have been made during Pittsburgh’s development camp, which was held at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex July 10-14.
« Organizationally, we’re going to assess what’s best for him, » Tisi said. He is in a good situation in Finland. I went there to see how it works with Karpat. He had a lot of success there. We’ll reassess all of that after dev camp and see from there. »
The taste of North American hockey helped Blomqvist, assured the main interested party. More matches on this side of the Atlantic Ocean could accelerate its development.
« What I’ve noticed compared to Finnish and European hockey is obviously the rinks are smaller here, » Blomqvist said. It makes the game feel faster here, so it was a great experience to experience it in person and figure out what areas of my game need improvement. »