It happened. Despite all of my screaming into the void... despite all of the articles on how good he was... I couldn’t convince the Hockey Gods. Jake Allen has been traded to the Montreal Canadiens, a team that was desperate for an amazing backup. Well, that got just that in Allen. In return, St. Louis only received a third-round pick and swapped seventh-rounders. That’s a cheap price to pay for Allen’s services, which were phenomenal as discussed HERE.
But life moves on. And coming up into Allen’s role will be the highly anticipated Ville Husso. Once a star prospect, Husso has hit a few road bumps on his way to 2020. But he’s still very much worth fans admiration, even if his talents may not look like they once did.
Who is Ville Husso?
Husso was drafted by the Blues in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft. The Blues snatched him up 14 picks before Igor Shesterkin was taken (hindsight 20/20 I suppose) and 26 picks after Igor Sorokin.
It was an exciting pick at the time. Husso was just 18 years old when he was drafted but was coming off a season as one of Finalnd’s best goalies. He ranked seventh in Finland’s top league (among goalies with at least 25 games played) in save percentage with an impressive 0.923. Only one goalie above him was close to Husso in age: Juuse Saros, who now backs up the Nashville Predators.
This trend continued for the next two seasons. Husso would put up jaw-dropping numbers in Finland’s professional league, with Saros being his only real competition. They were two peas in a pod, both star goalie prospects for Central Division teams. It was an exciting time, to say the least.
And it got even more exciting when Husso moved to North America for the 2016-17 season. It is VERY common for goalies to face a bit of a learning curve on the smaller sheets of ice found in NA hockey. But Husso showed no signs of struggle. He was terrific in his first appearances in the AHL, ranked 12th among the entire league in save percentage, although he did only appear in 21 games.
This meant that Husso didn’t qualify for a rookie season in 2016-17. Had he, his save percentage would have ranked third among all AHL rookies that year. But, never phased, Husso set out to improve upon that in 2017-18. With 38 appearances — finally qualifying as a rookie — Husso led all rookie goalies in save percentage and tied for the lead in shutouts. His save percentage ranked ninth in the league as a whole, coincidentally five spots behind Jordan Binnington.
But Husso fell off in 2018-19. Thanks to an absolutely awful case of the injury bug, he went from easily netting a save percentage at-or-above .920, to recording one at 0.871. It was the first time in nearly six years that he struggled in net. He didn’t do much to rebound this year either, only raising it to .909. While he has shown a bit of fight in the last two years, it’s been a bit bleak. The constant injuries clearly slowed down his game and, more importantly, frazzled him. The once almost-too-confident Husso was slow and uncertain over the course of the last two years, clearly struck by the combination of injuries and bad luck in net.
But How Does He Play?
But an NHL bump could fix that easily... maybe. And if there is a fix, the Blues are getting a very special goalie. Husso is fun to watch. His glove-side is absolutely elite, effectively making half the net impenetrable.
It’s not his glove that held Husso’s potential so high, though. It’s his speed. Husso is an incredibly fast goalie. Both his up-down and side-to-side play are lightning quick, even despite the goalie standing 6’2”. This makes him polarizing in net, as he whizzes around, shutting down the opposition.
And that’s the trait that was struck hardest by Husso’s injuries and confidence hit. He wasn’t as fast as he once had been. When he did move side-to-side, it was either too clunky or too much, and he’d go sliding out of the net. It made the once-fun watch a now very hard player to view; especially for those who knew where his talents once were.
But there’s plenty more to talk about when it comes to Husso’s game. Even in his frazzled state, he remains great at tracking the puck and setting up the perfect angles. His puck-playing is surprisingly good — even earning him a handful of career assists — and he’s far from timid in net; well, usually. Case-in-point, he has all the tools to succeed. He just needs to think he can.
So where should expectations lie for Husso? Well, to be honest, I don’t know. He was once praised as an elite prospect, ready to take over an NHL starting role by 2017-18 at the latest. That hasn’t happened. And in the extra time, Husso’s stock has actually taken a massive hit.
Husso is still a very skilled goalie. He has everything he needs to succeed at the NHL level and his contemporaries — players like Binnington and Saros — have done just that. But Husso’s mind is clearly rattled. With recurring injuries and confidence proving problematic over the last two seasons, it’s not easy to to place him.
But with that said, there’s no reason to doubt Husso right now. He’s a skilled goalie and the move to the NHL, behind a star like Binnington, will surely quell the worries he’s been having. His injury issues were also fairly phased out last season, so hopefully there will be no concerns there.
Is he going to replace the amazing skill of Jake Allen in the backup role? No, probably not. But he’ll do... alright. If the Blues defense can band together to perform a little better than last year, they’ll give the NHL rookie a comfortable platform to pull his game back together. Hell, with the right tempering, he might even become a star yet! The sky is the limit for Husso and he’s finally getting a chance to prove it.