Finnish goalie Husso used draft snub as motivation
Goalie Ville Husso of HIFK in Finland considered it a pretty humbling experience when he wasn't one of the 211 players chosen at the 2013 NHL Draft.
He only dwelled on it for about a millisecond, however. He thought the best tonic was to focus on doing whatever he could to re-establish himself as a legitimate top prospect for the 2014 draft, to be held June 27-28 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
"Not being drafted gave me so much motivation; I practiced harder and gained more speed," Husso said. "I thought I played well and took some big steps."
Whatever confidence and ability Husso lacked in 2012-13, his first year of draft eligibility, was forgotten when he seized the starter's role for HIFK's team in Liiga, the top professional league in Finland, and finished as one of the league's top goalies as a rookie.
In his first 28 games he went 15-9-3 with a 2.00 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and two shutouts.
"Husso had a great season two years ago when he took his team to the Finnish junior championship title, but maybe people expected too much from him [in 2012-13] and he had a really bad season in his draft year so he wasn't invited to the NHL Combine and wasn't drafted," NHL Director of European scouting Goran Stubb said.
In 2011-12, Husso played a huge part in leading HIFK over rival Jokerit in the Junior A finals, with a 2.23 GAA and .926 save percentage in 10 playoff games. In 27 regular-season games he had a 2.41 GAA and .913 save percentage, making an impression on the scouts in attendance.
He was considered the go-to goalie for HIFK in Liiga heading into the 2012-13 season but imploded playing for Finland at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, with a 4.63 GAA and .839 save percentage in three games. He spent the season with the HIFK junior team and didn't receive any action as a backup to Juuse Saros for Finland at the 2013 World Junior Championship. And in four pre-tournament games with Finland's under-18 team had a 4.22 GAA and .846 save percentage.
For every step forward Husso took two steps back, and the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder couldn't understand why.
That's when he was introduced to HIFK goalie coach Jan Lundell.
"Last season Ville came under the tutelage of Lundell, a good league goalie in Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic," Stubb said. "Under Lundell, Husso found himself again and had a good season."
He finished the 2013-14 season with an impressive 1.99 GAA and .923 save percentage in 41 games. He was fifth among all goalies in GAA and tied for seventh -- with Saros -- in save percentage.
"Ville has always been really talented since he's been playing with an older age class, so he's reading the game really well and is making very good choices on how to play on different kinds of scoring situations," Lundell said. "His ability to make those choices proved his maturity. Last year when Ville took a place on our league team we wanted to focus on his physics to improve his game in more different ways and provide him with more options."
Husso, who was No. 6 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of European goaltenders last year, improved to the top spot for the 2014 draft.
"Last summer Ville worked hard and he got more strength in his leg and mid-body," Lundell said. "We taught him how offensive players think and what alternatives there are in different situations. When you learn more about those things, it's easier to play the game. Ville is very determined and he begins to understand fast."
That Lundell has helped Husso get his career back on track is no surprise. He aided Joni Ortio, who was chosen in the sixth round (No. 171) in the 2009 draft by the Calgary Flames and recently concluded his finest season in the American Hockey League with the Abbotsford Heat, with a 2.33 GAA and .926 save percentage in 37 games.
"I like that he is very active. He wants to be in the game and he is talking a lot to his teammates on the ice," Lundell said of Husso. "His capacity to stay calm but remain energetic is admirable. He seldom finds himself in a situation that he can't solve."
Husso feels he could eventually challenge for a No. 1 spot with any NHL team with some mentoring and direction.
"I use a butterfly style and use my body to advantage; I can read the game well," Husso said. "I like watching Kari Lehtonen because he's fast and big. He reads the game well and is good with his stick."
Lundell doesn't doubt Husso's ability and feels any team drafting him will be rewarded down the road.
"Ville was disappointed that he wasn't drafted last year and he decided that he would work really hard," Lundell said. "We're still working with him; he has to be on a level that you can play every night. We're working on his reactionary time and how he can read and react even faster. After making that first, second or third save, you must be able to operate without delay."
Growing up in Helsinki, Husso said he never played any other position but goalie.
"I was 5 years old when I played on my first junior team and I had my own goalie gear and started playing the position right off the bat," he said. "I never tried forward or defence; I just liked the goalie position. I liked it when I caught the puck in my glove and the fans yelled, 'Ohhh!' I love making a glove save."
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer