Prospect of the Week (1.16.12)

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, but one day this will be in a time capsule and we’d pay to see the look on peoples’ faces when they dig that thing up in 50 years. We wouldn’t pay a lot, though.

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, Goaltender, JYP (Finland).

Helenius has blossomed as a prospect all season despite sharing the JYP nets with 28-year-old Joni Myllykoski. Recently Helenius started to take control of the goaltending tandem, getting four straight starts – three of which came this past week. He won all four. 

In the past week, Helenius and JYP beat the Pelicans 4-2 (28 saves), HIFK 5-2 (28 saves), and HPK 2-1 (23 saves and second star). The Pelicans and HIFK are both above JYP in the standings, too. Thanks in part to Helenius’ strong play, JYP is now in the SM-Liiga top-6.

And his numbers are sick.

The Lightning’s No.1 pick in 2006 is 12-6-2 with a 1.48 GAA (first in league), .937 save percentage (2nd in league), and six shutouts (tied for first).

Helenius is just 23 years old and most goalies don’t come into their own until their mid-to-late 20s. It’s not unreasonable to think Helenius has played his way into the Lightning’s goaltending conversation next year. The key will be if he will come to North America and if he has to play in the AHL (a sticking point with some European pros). He played 25 games for Norfolk in 2008-2009 and a dozen games for the Ads the following season before losing playing time and eventually going home to Europe.

It’s suspected Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman will want rookie goalies to not be thrust into a No.1 spot with Tampa right away, instead learning behind a veteran much like Jimmy Howard did successfully in Detroit. The Lightning could do worse in 2012-2013 than Harding/Elliott/Schneider/Bernier and Helenius – and Lightning fans have seen worse. Much worse.

Previous BP Prospects of the Week:

Brett Connolly, Canada (U20 WJC) - January 10, 2012
*Due to the Christmas break when few games below the NHL level were played, no POTW award was given.
Mark Barberio, Norfolk Admirals (AHL) - December 19, 2011
Vladislav Namestnikov, London Knights (OHL) - December 12, 2011
Tyler Johnson, Norfolk Admirals (AHL) - December 5, 2011
Alex Killorn, Harvard (NCAA) - November 28, 2011
Nikita Kucherov, Team Russia/CSKA Jr. (MHL) - November 21, 2011
Vladislav Namestnikov, London Knights (OHL) - November 14, 2011
Dustin Tokarski, Norfolk Admirals (AHL) - November 6, 2011
Riku Helenius, JYP (Finland) - October 30, 2011
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