Helenius Selected by Seattle; Teams Pass on Cunti
Lightning 2006 first round draft pick Riku Helenius was selected by the WHL's Seattle Thunderbirds in the first round of the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft today. Helenius, a 6-3 goaltender who missed practically all of last season with Ilves Jr. in Finland because of a shoulder injury, was taken with the 46th overall pick.
â€œWe spoke to Tampa Bay a year ago about adding Helenius to our team but the player was not ready to come at that time,â€ Seattle General Manager Russ Farwell said in a story on the Thunderbirdsâ€™ web site.
â€œThere is a good chance this year he could come over and we felt we would take that chance because this combination would give us the best 1-2 goalie combination in our division.â€
Seattle is losing their top goaltender, former Kelowna Rocket Derek Yeomans, next year. The goalie Farwell mentioned is 2008 Draft eligible Jacob DeSerres, who appeared in 20 games last year accumulating a 7-9-2 record, .900 save percentage, and 2.79 GAA.
â€œOur division has very strong goaltending again this year, but this would set us up perfectly,â€ continued Farwell in the Thunderbirds' Import Draft review. â€œJacob DeSerres has taken a step towards being one of the top goaltenders in his age group and Riku will give us the perfect starter for Jacob to develop with.â€
â€œIf we are able to recruit Helenius he will probably play in the world junior tournament and we will have quality goaltending right through that period.â€
Helenius, who is already listed on Seattle's roster, signed a professional contract with the Lightning in May. It still remains to be seen where he plays next season as there are rumors he has unfinished military duty in his homeland. Even if he is cleared to move to North America, Helenius could also choose to stay and compete for the Ilves (SM-Liiga) starting goaltender spot, but those chances took a hit when Ilves signed veteran Tero Leinonen from the Swedish Elite League earlier this spring. Leinonen played with Lightning 2007 6th round pick Johan Harju last season in the SEL. A native of Finland, Leinonen has played in both the SM-Liiga and SEL during the past six seasons. Helenius' replacement as Ilves Jr.'s top goaltender, Juha Metsola, was taken by Mitch Fadden's Lethbridge Hurricanes with the 25th pick today.
An additional option for Helenius could be to join the Lightning's ECHL affiliate in Mississippi. The Lightning has always been pleased with the development of their goaltenders at the ECHL level.
Luca Cunti, a 2007 third round pick, was not chosen. It's possible character concerns could have played into this, or more likely Cunti made it clear he wants to go the college route to either St. Cloud State or Clarkson.