Prospect of the Week (4.25.12)

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.

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, G, JYP (SM-liiga, Finland).

The 2011-2012 season ended for Helenius this week – in the best way possible. The Lightning’s first round pick (15th overall) in 2006 completed arguably the greatest comeback season in Bolt Prospects history when he not only led the SM-liiga in nearly every major goaltending category in the regular season, but guided JYP to the league championship in the playoffs.

Helenius stopped 49 shots in an overtime win on Tuesday in Game 5 against the Pelicans to clinch the championship for JYP, 4 games to 1. He finished the playoffs with an 11-2 record, 1.73 goals against average, and an absurd .947 save percentage. While his GAA rose from his regular season league-leading total of 1.64, his save percentage actually got better (.936 to .947).

He made 49 saves in Game 4, too – a 5-4 overtime victory on Saturday. He saved 33 of 34 shots in JYP’s 4-1 win in Game 3 on Thursday.

Helenius is rumored to be under contract with JYP for another year and so far there’s no word of an out-clause that could get him back to North America (he played in the WHL, AHL, and ECHL prior to last season, when he played in Sweden). The IIHF doesn’t have an NHL-Finland transfer agreement in place that would enable Helenius to try out for the Lightning next year then easily return home if he didn’t make it.

He is a restricted free agent and the Lightning hold his rights, so it is possible (isn’t most everything when money is involved?) he could be in Brandon, Florida, for Lightning camp next year. His rights could also be a sweetener in an offseason trade.

For all the talk about a new goaltender for the Lightning, including the Kings’ Jonathan Bernier, it’s easy to forget that Bernier was taken just four spots ahead of Helenius in the 2006 draft. Helenius was the second goalie off the board behind Bernier, though Helenius was ranked as the No.5 European goaltender by Central Scouting in their final rankings that year. Other goalies from that draft, including Semyon Varlamov (Colorado), Michael Neuvirth (Washington), and Jhonas Enroth (Buffalo), have made noise lately in the NHL.

(As an aside, try not to think about the fact Helenius was taken seven spots ahead of emerging Flyers superstar Claude Giroux.)

While Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman is highly unlikely to put all his goaltending eggs in Riku’s basket, it’s not out of the question for Riku to get a camp audition – if allowed by JYP – and let the dominoes fall where they may.

He’s certainly deserves it after his championship, bounce-back season.

Previous BP Prospects of the Week:

Cory Conacher, Norfolk Admirals (AHL) - April 16, 2012
Mark Barberio, Norfolk Admirals (AHL) - April 11, 2012
Tyler Johnson, Norfolk Admirals (AHL) - April 4, 2012
Norfolk Admirals Hockey Club (AHL) - March 27, 2012
Richard Panik, Norfolk Admirals (AHL) - March 21, 2012
Tyler Johnson, Norfolk Admirals (AHL) - March 13, 2012
Danick Gauthier, Saint John (QMJHL) - March 6, 2012
Matt Peca, Quinnipiac (NCAA) - February 29, 2012
Pat Nagle, Florida (ECHL) - February 21, 2012
Alex Hutchings, Florida (ECHL) - February 14, 2012
Alex Killorn, Harvard (NCAA) - February 6, 2012
Adam Wilcox, Tri-City (USHL) and Alex Killorn, Harvard (NCAA) - January 30, 2012
Nikita Kucherov, CSKA Jr. (Russia) - January 24, 2012
Riku Helenius, JYP (Finland) - January 16, 2012
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