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Is Mikko Koskinen the Answer to Islanders Goaltending Issues?

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Reports have the Islanders turning back to their 2009 31st overall draft pick after success in the KHL.

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Islanders
Some things have changed since you were here last.
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Reports out of media covering the KHL are linking the New York Islanders to a return engagement with SKA goalie Mikko Koskinen, their 2009 draft pick (31st overall) who saw just four NHL appearances with them in 2010-11.

Koskinen would exit SKA St. Petersburg, who was eliminated in the semifinals by the KHL’s other stacked team, CSKA.

Over on these shores, The Athletic’s Islanders beatwriter Arthur Staple says the Islanders aren’t saying anything yet, though according to the original reports that could be because a currently “verbal, mutual” agreement would be made official on July 1. Either way, sounds like Koskinen is coming back to North America, and quite possibly with the Isles:

More to the point for our discussion, would this be the answer to the Islanders’ goaltending woes?

Jaroslav Halak hits unrestricted free agency this summer, when he’ll turn 33, after an up-and-down four-year tenure with the club that included a banishment to AHL Bridgeport during the Great Three-Goalie Idea of 2017.

And of course, they are tied to Thomas Greiss, who had a horrible 2017-18, for two more years after he earned a three-year contract for playing much better than he played last season.

Koskinen is no spring chicken. He will turn 30 this summer — remember, he was passed over in the draft and the Islanders selected him at age 20 after a breakout season in Finland where he put up a .932 save percentage.

While in the Islanders organization, he had basically one full season in AHL Bridgeport with an ugly .892 save percentage, though it was on a(nother) weak team. A hip problem clearly interfered with his performance during his entry level contract playing for the Islanders, Sound Tigers, and their then-ECHL affiliate Utah Grizzlies.

He is 6’6 — the Isles would be going from one of the smallest goalies in the league to one of the largest. (Not that height guarantees anything.)

Act II: KHL Success, but...*

There has been a second act to Koskinen’s career, however; a successful one. He has been mostly outstanding for SKA the last four seasons, though it’s important to remember that SKA is one of the KHL’s stacked teams — Islanders draft pick Ilya Sorokin is on another -- so one would be wise to view goalie stats on these teams with even more suspicion than normal.

Koskinen’s performance has been consistently good in the KHL though, including two seasons with Novosibirsk Sibir before SKA nabbed him. (Check out his career stats on his hockeydb page here.)

This, of course, is all just us trying to decipher from stats and game reports, plus highlights here and there. The Islanders will have needed to scout him to make a call on whether they think he can adapt back to the North American game.

On that note, the KHL season is a lighter load; the most he’s played in a season is 41 games in 2013-14 (with Novosibirsk Sibir) and 2015-16 (with SKA). And keep in mind the international-width rinks, with different angles and styles of attack for goalies to contend with.

(For a jarring example of how goalie stats can turn sharply from KHL to North America, check out fellow Isles 2009 pick Anders Nilsson’s career numbers on both continents.)

Oh, also there’s the fact he’d be coming from a top team in its league to a team that allowed the most goals against in the league, and in fact the most allowed by any NHL team since 2006-07.

How stacked is SKA? They had a +136 goal differential this past season. Second was CSKA at +86. The next closest team (Jokerit) had +43.

Can it work?

I mean, crazier things have happened. Perhaps it’s...worth a shot. It doesn’t cost them in trading assets or relying on waiting until July for a thin free agent market. In one sense it’s reminiscent of the trade for Halak’s rights in advance of the free agency signing period four summers ago, making sure they addressed this need quickly. (Though if we’re signing older maybes coming off good years...Carter Hutton anyone?)

But should the Isles put all their eggs in this basket?

Hell no. There’s the KHL asterisk, and the volatility of goaltender performance -- which itself obscures our understanding of how much is on them, how much is on luck, special teams, team defense, etc.

(For argument’s sake, look back at each of Greiss and Halak’s four recent seasons and then use those to project what would happen the next year. Tough to predict, right?)

Regardless, if this happens, the Isles will be putting their chips toward: Hoping Koskinen can adjust and translate his KHL success to the NHL, hoping Greiss can bounce back from a season that started poorly and only got worse (assuming they don’t dump his contract), and hoping that promising prospect Linus Soderstrom excels in Bridgeport to become stronger insurance than they’ve had there in many years.

The goalie search, as ever, continues.

Trivia: Of his four NHL appearances, Koskinen was the goalie of record in the Epic Fight with Pittsburgh, stopping 35 shots in a 9-3 win. So we’ll always have that.