Helenius Signs Entry Level Deal

The Tampa Bay Lightning issued a press release today reporting that 2006 first round pick Riku Helenius has been signed to a three-year entry level contract.

The signing comes as a surprising and unexpected move by Tampa as Helenius missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. It has been speculated that Helenius may be coming to North America this fall to play in Canadian juniors, and that signing him a year early will mitigate signing risks next summer in the event he has a breakout season.

Helenius, a 6-foot-3, 202-pound native of Palkane, Finland, missed the majority of the 2006-07 season for Ilves Tampere of the Finnish SM-Liiga after suffering a shoulder injury. Helenius recorded a 2.68 goal-against average and a .919 save percentage in 26 games with Ilves Tampere Junior during the 2005-06 season. He was the top-rated Finnish goaltender in the draft by NHL Central Scouting and was ranked as the top European goaltender in the draft by the Hockey News when the Lightning selected him in the first round, 15th overall, at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver.

“Riku really lost an entire season of development due to injury last year,” Lightning GM Jay Feaster said. “We are anxious, nonetheless, to get him signed and have him continue with his career as we still believe he is incredibly talented and will one day be a top prospect for our organization.”

With the Helenius signing, the Lightning now have six goaltenders under contract including Johan Holmqvist, Marc Denis, and prospects Kari Ramo, Jonathan Boutin, and Ryan Munce. In addition, there has been much speculation that the Lightning are attempting to get Russian goaltending phenom Vasily Koshechkin under contract this summer as well.

The Helenius signing almost certainly means that the Lightning will not be tending an offer to resign Morgan Cey and Kevin Beech will likely be allowed to re-enter the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

The early signing of Helenius and the speculation swirling around Koshechkin's future now leaves the future of Jonathan Boutin with the organization somewhat in limbo.