Pekka Rinne returns for his fourth year as the Nashville Predators' primary netminder and should be entering the peak of his career with a perfect mix of age and experience at 28 years old.
He has shown steady improvement over the last three years that culminated in his Vezina nomination and trip to the NHL Awards in Las Vegas in June.
Had it not been for a record setting season for Boston's Tim Thomas, Rinne would have been a shoe-in for the award as he finished second in the voting, finishing close to Thomas and well ahead of Roberto Luongo who was a distant third.
Rinne's 64 appearances, 33 wins, 2.12 goals against average and .930 save percentage were career highs in all categories.
In spite of all the attention, the mild-mannered Finn remains humble as always and has his sights set on improvement. "That was a confidence boost for sure. At the same time, I want to be a better goalie. There’s always room to improve for myself."
"I’m always working on my game to be a better goalie. Obviously, I’m proud of myself and us as a team for how we played last year but there’s still a lot of room to improve."
So how does he improve on last year and what area would be the focus? "Not really one area. In the NHL all the goalies are so good, you have to be consistent and bring your best game every night. Those who can do that are usually the best goalies. I always want to do that and be on top of my game."
With the Predators going to the second round and the trip to Vegas in June, it was a relatively short summer for Rinne but he had plenty of time to relax. "It was still a long summer. I had a chance to have time off from hockey and spend time with my family and close friends. It was a good summer."
When he returned to the States he continued to receive attention with an invitation to the NHL Media Days in New York earlier this month, where he even got to spend a few minutes chatting with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman over soup.
It was a surprise opportunity for Rinne. "I didn’t even know. Kevin (Wilson) and David (Poile) called me and asked if I wanted to do it. It was a cool opportunity. I had a lot of fun with Kevin up there. It was a good trip and it was good for the organization and myself and a good start to the season."
Rinne was on schedule to pick up where he left off in camp and played his first game last week in Baltimore throwing a shutout for thirty minutes against the Caps.
On Saturday, against Winnipeg, he had an abrupt departure after 14:24 minutes of play when he took a puck to the mask and received a cut to the brow in a freak incident.
Barry Trotz explained what the plan had been. "Chet was going to start and Peks was going to play the second and third. Peks wanted the time on the back end when the game was on the line."
"It didn’t work out that way, but that was the thought process. He was going to play two periods and then play a couple of full games here."
Rinne is set to make up for lost time in the two remaining home games. Predator fans should expect to see him in net on Wednesday against the Caps, and then again on Saturday when the Predators host the Carolina Hurricanes.
Rinne is primed and ready to go for another season in what will be his contract year. "I have stayed stayed healthy and I feel good and strong now and want to have a good year."
Buddy Oakes for PredsOntheGlass