One of our sister sites, Habs Eyes on the Prize, recently did a series of the top five one-and-done Canadiens players since 2000. Since it seemed like a fun idea, we decided to do the same over here at RawCharge, except we’re going all the way back to the start of the franchise. That’s a little easier for us to do that than the Habs with their long and storied history. Special thanks to Andrew Zadarnowski of HEOTP for having the idea and allowing us to run with it.
+1: Antero Niittymaki, 2009-10
When I came up with my list, it was fairly easy to pick five skaters and rank them. The tough part came when I checked up on the goalies and Antero Niitymaki stood out. But where to place him in the list? Who do I bump out? Instead of making the hard decisions, I decided, why not just add a +1 to the list?
Niittymaki came to the Lightning as an unrestricted free agent for the 2009-10 season after seven seasons playing for the Philadelphia Flyers and the Philadelphia Phantoms, their AHL affiliate. Hailing from Finland, Niittymaki came to the Lightning with two Finnish Liiga championships, an AHL championship, a World Championship bronze medal, and an Olympic Silver Medal. Niittymaki was Finland’s main goaltender in the 2006 Olympic Games, playing in six games with a .951 SV%.
The Lightning were struggling when Niittymaki entered the picture, coming off of two seasons that had allowed them to pick Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman in subsequent drafts. The goaltending during those years had been... well... not pretty. The Lightning had used seven different goaltenders those two seasons on the way to the high draft picks.
Although Niittymaki wasn’t the savior the Lightning were looking for, he was a respectable goaltender for a team that had struggled with consistency in net since the departure of Nikolai Khabibulin. He had a .909 SV% and went 21-18-5 in 49 games played. He made Team Finland for the Olympics that season as well, winning a Bronze Medal, though he did not appear in any games for Finland.
Niittymaki did as well as he could under the circumstances and stabilized the goalie situation for the year, with him and Mike Smith receiving almost every start. Come the end of the year, the Lightning had new ownership and a new general manager in Steve Yzerman. Yzerman moved on from Niittymaki and allowed him to walk away as an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, opting to go with Mike Smith as the team’s number one in net.
Niittymaki went on to sign a two-year contract with the San Jose Sharks. He played 24 games for the Sharks with an .896 SV%. In 2011-12, he was sent down to the AHL, and then waived in January. He played a total of 13 AHL games, splitting time between the Worcester Sharks and the Syracuse Crunch. The Crunch was affiliated with the Anaheim Ducks at the time, and Niittymaki was loaned there in February, though he only played 8 games with the team. He became a free agent at the end of the season and returned to Finland with TPS for the 2012-13 season. He retired from professional hockey after that season.