Sitting around with some buddies in Finland on a summer afternoon in 2004, Pekka Rinne received an unexpected phone call. It occurred during a “mid-summer holiday” back home (as Rinne calls it), known to us in North America as the NHL Entry Draft. The call Rinne received was to notify him that he had just been drafted by the Nashville Predators.
“I got the call and I was extremely surprised,” Rinne said, “I was just like ‘Yeah, cool, Nashville! That’s awesome!’”
The steps that the eighth-round, 258th overall pick from 2004 has taken since then, to get to where he is today, have been extraordinary.
Although Rinne played only 14 games with Finland’s Karpat Oulu of the SM-Liiga in the year he was drafted (was Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom’s backup), Predators European scout Janne Kekalainen saw enough of the 6’5” netminder to point GM David Poile in the right direction in the drafting process. Poile took a flier on the big, lanky goaltender in eighth round that summer.
Rinne, now 28 years old, called his first rookie camp an “eye-opener”, but Preds goaltending coach Mitch Korn knew at that moment that the organization had found a diamond in the rough.
“We had all (four) goalies on the ice, counting him,” Korn recalled of the camp, “and I remember we all left the ice and (Head Coach Barry Trotz) was watching. I walked off the ice and Trotzy looked at me and I looked at him; and at the same moment, we both said ‘that is the one’, and it was Pekka.”
For goaltenders, defining moments in their careers usually come when they go from being a backup to a starter, or from good to great. But Korn feels Rinne’s ‘red-letter day’ up to this point is actually his NHL debut, a 5-3 win over Chicago on Dec. 15, 2005, at the age of 23.
“I remember he came across the net and he ended up on his backside. (Chicago) shot one and he caught it,” Korn said with a smile on his face. “That was kind of a red-letter day because at that moment, there were only three goalies in our history that had won games for us when he did that.”