The Finn bounced around the previous season and wasn't putting up stellar numbers; a new European prospect was brought into the system by way of the draft and the Lightning organization was huge on him... So huge, in fact, they couldn't keep him in the ECHL because his quality of play exceeded that league by leaps and bounds. That newbie Euro got promoted to the AHL team and the Finn got told to stay home.
The story of Riku Helenius with the Tampa Bay Lightning organization played out this way to a T in 2009-10. Helenius went pro in 2008-09 and bounced beetween ECHL clubs before landing in Norfolk (and briefly in Tampa). That summer, then-GM Brian Lawton drafted Jaroslav Janus, signed the Slovak to a pro deal after stellar play at the World Junior Championships (he had been playing in the ECHL on a tryout deal before that), and then promoted him to the Norfolk Admirals to split time with Helenius and former Lightning prospect Dustin Tokarski.
And now it's happening all over again.
After personal issues that took away amounts of playing time for the just-returned-to-North America Helenius in 2012-13, the Bolts drafted Latvian goalie Kristers Gudlevskis in the 2013 NHL entry draft. Kristers came over from Europe immediately and impressed Lightning brass with his play during camp and during his stints in the ECHL and AHL. It was only a matter of days ago that Gudlevskis was promoted full time to Syracuse...
Helenius kept practicing with the Crunch but did not play. Teams usually don't like to keep three healthy goalies on a roster because playing and practice minutes are difficult to divide so that everyone remains sharp.
"There is no plan right now (for Helenius) on our end. Now, he's thinking about what he wants to do going forward,'' BriseBois said Tuesday. "He's a good guy. He didn't do anything wrong. We've decided to go with Cedrick and Kristers. In all fairness to them, it's tough to go with three goalies.''
Helenius, a first round draft choice in 2006 by the Lightning, after being ousted in Norfolk, went to Sweden and then Finland to play between 2010 and 2012. He signed a two-year contract with the Lightning in the summer of 2012 (the first year being two-way and the second year being a one-way contract) to return to North America. Oddly, with Helenius' return, Jaroslav Janus became an odd-man out. He has been playing in the KHL since the fall of 2012.
That one-way contract may be the cement-block around Riku's neck (it pays him $650,000 in the AHL or NHL level); it's not like other clubs are not in need of goalie depth right now. The problem is that, besides the contract, Helenius hasn't made a case for himself as a bona fide at the NHL or the AHL level - he's 2-3-0-0 this season with a .875 save percentage and 3.43 goals-against average. Any organization is taking a risk in acquiring Helenius even as quality depth right now. This may lead him to escape North America once again and seek a deal in Europe with a KHL, Swedish or Finnish club.