Prospect of the Week (10.30.11)

This season Bolt Prospects introduced our Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their on-ice contributions. There are no trophies or plaques or oversized chunks of homemade Halloween caramel (a.k.a. caramel apples without the wasted space of an apple) awarded, but we’re fairly certain this will be mentioned in a player’s status update when they're grandparents and Facebook is only used by old people who can't let go.

Quite simply, we wanted to highlight prospects throughout the year to help fans get better acquainted with the next round of Lightning stars while recognizing the prospect’s achievement on the ice.

This week’s BP Prospect of the Week award goes to … Riku Helenius, JYP, Finland.

A somewhat forgotten prospect for the Lightning, Helenius left North America and the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals midway through the 2009-2010 season when the Bolts reassigned him to Sodertalje of the Swedish Elite League. At the time the former 2006 first round pick had fallen to No.3 on the Norfolk depth chart behind Dustin Tokarski and Jaroslav Janus. Helenius spent the season previous to that with five North American teams, including three ECHL clubs and a one-game appearance with the Lightning. It should be noted that Helenius did not allow a goal in that brief appearance with Tampa Bay, meaning he currently leads all Lightning goaltenders in the history of the organization with a save percentage of 1.000.

Last year Helenius struggled with Sodertalje, though he played well in the Kvalserien ES at the end of the year. He frequently battled to get starting time, reminiscent of his one year in the Western Hockey League with Seattle (2007-2008).

Moving to his native Finland this season, he started out in the same situation with JYP before making the most of his opportunities and exploding with three shutouts, two of which were back-to-back last week.

On Friday he shut out TPS in a 2-0 JYP win, stopping 20 shots. He beat former goaltender Marek Schwartz in the match in a battle of former NHL first rounders. Schwartz was the top pick of the St. Louis Blues in 2004.

The next night Helenius stopped 36 shots as JYP snuck by Pori Assat 2-0 with the help of ex-Bolt Eric Perrin, who set up Jani Tuppurainen for the eventual game winner.

For the season, Helenius has a goals against average of 1.65 and a save percentage of .931. He is currently third in the league in GAA and eighth in save percentage.

The Lightning still own his rights and the 6-foot-3 goaltender could play himself into a camp appearance with the Bolts next season if he keeps this up. The key for Helenius will be improving his mental approach to each game and his rebound control. He has the size and athletic ability to get the job done.

Previous BP Prospects of the Week:

Matthew Peca, Quinnipiac Bobcats - October 23, 2011
Radko Gudas, Norfolk Admirals - October 16, 2011
Carter Ashton, Norfolk Admirals - October 9, 2011
Brett Connolly, Tampa Bay Lightning - October 2, 2011
Mattias Ritola, Tampa Bay Lightning - September 25, 2011