I have been waiting since the day the Colorado Avalanche drafted Sami Aittokallio 107th overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft to scout him in a live setting. Unfortunately, the 19-year-old Tampere, FIN native did not attend any of last year’s camps. But today, on the first day of the Avalanche’s rookie camp, I finally got my wish.
Like last season, Kirk McLean was not on the ice for the first day of camp. So aside from the rookies and the Lake Erie coaching staff, Aittokallio was joined by Calvin Pickard, then the pro group of Trevor Cann and J.S. Giguere. But for today, basic line rushes and some scrimmages were a perfect setting for me to focus on scouting Sami.
Right off the bat, Aittokallio looked like a solid concoction of typical Finnish goalie goodness. The quick hands, the fast feet, the superior natural skating ability, the fluid movements in the crease…he had it all, just at a very raw level. He’s one of those “fun to watch” goalies because he’s very agile, has a really active stance and a narrow, upright appearance.
Sami’s nimble and lanky nature, all of which is packaged into a 6-foot-2, 179-pound frame, made him look more like a 6-3 or 6-4 puck-stopper. By watching him for a few minutes, he will probably remind most goalie enthusiasts of guys like Jonas Gustavsson, Tuukka Rask and Ilya Bryzgalov. Those are not comparables in terms of talent, just goalies that have similar frames and styles.
The one thing that stuck out like a sore thumb in terms of Sami’s overall positioning was his very low hand placement. Off the top of my head, I could only think of one other pro goaltender that holds his hands around his knees – Antti Niemi. I can’t think of another Finnish product, that I have actually seen play, that holds his hands quite that low.
Low hands often lead many scouts to believe they are passive, but this is not the case for Sami. They are still out in front of his body, just tight and tucked in. So when his entire body condenses to absorb a shot, he has an extremely compact butterfly and builds a very nice, narrow wall. His pads snap down to the ice quickly, something that is helped by his loose pad setup.
The more I watched Aittokallio push off his posts, set his feet, drop into the butterfly to make saves and then recover back to his feet, the more I realized he has a very wide range of movement and great flexibility in his hips, legs and ankles. He relied on this agility to help him increase his speed and thrive against AHL and NHL-level shooters all morning.
More drills went by, and by the time the first hour ended, I was impressed by this raw-skilled Finnish prospect. Simply put, he has a very fluid, flexible and active butterfly style. Unfortunately, his low hand placement caused him to get absolutely roasted glove side high. It was so noticeable that the players were clearly aware of it and rarely shooting anywhere else.
When the scrimmages began, I was pleased to see that Sami was squaring off against some of the top Avalanche players, including Paul Stastny, Daniel Winnik, Brandon Yip and Kyle Quincey, who has an absolute rocket from the point. It was a terrific test and a great opportunity to see how his biomechanics handled the speed and accuracy of NHL shots.
To my surprise, he thrived. He stayed balanced. He moved very well laterally and he had some visible confidence. No, the pace was not all that fast, but the gap in talent level was still enough to make it a major challenge for him on the very first day of camp.
As I watched the scrimmage, I started to get a better sense for Aittokallio’s biometrics. Tons of flexibility in the ankles and hips. He likes to bring his left leg in to his core and flare out the right leg. I also liked the fact that he was keeping his back really straight while down on his knees. This is a fairly significant advantage in terms of other 19-year-old goalies. He has the frame to stay big in the butterfly, and he takes full advantage of his size.
Another aspect I liked about Aittokallio was his ability to coil up and spring out. You can see in the video and some of the photos that his flexibility improves his range of movement. So when he does go into a compact butterfly, he can still stretch out wide and eliminate space in the lower corners.
—[ CLOSING THOUGHTS ]—
Overall, Aittokallio displayed terrific natural skating talent and hand reactions, but gave up an overwhelming amount of goals over the glove due in part to his low hand placement. It will be interesting to see if he makes any kind of adjustments to his hands over the next five days, whether on his own or due to McLean’s guidance.
As I fully expected, Aittokallio showed that he was not at all comfortable with the speed of shots, the pace of line drills and the smaller rink. But he has no experience playing in North America, so I did not focus so much on his angles and positioning, except during the second hour of scrimmages.
In terms of his unique “set-and-ready” crouch and then flare, Sami showcased his high natural skating ability when he would drop to his knees, widen his stance and change the angle of his pads in order to get lower to the ice. This is the coiling aspect, then snapping the knees to the ice and using that flexibility to get wide is something I find to be very effective in today’s pro goaltender.
For a 19-year-old with next to no experience in North America, I was impressed with Aittokallio’s natural skills. I don’t take much from a couple of hours on the first day of a Rookie Camp, but I’m glad I was able to get a much better understanding of Sami’s style and talent level. Enjoy the scouting video we’ve put together and look for more of these when Avalanche training camp continues all week long.