Iilahti keen to play for Giants as Canucks decide next step
By Gordon McIntyre, The Province July 11, 2011 11:45 AM
Jonathan Iilahti: the 19-year-old Finn was chosen 175th by the Canucks in the 2010 draft, the 17th goalie drafted overall that year and the second from Finland.
Among the tourists checking out the Lower Mainland this summer is Jonathan Iilahti; unlike most of them, the 19-year-old Finn hopes to become a resident.
Iilahti is a goalie chosen 175th by the Canucks in the 2010 draft, the 17th goalie drafted overall that year and the second from Finland.
And last month, the Vancouver Giants used their only pick in the Canadian Hockey League's import draft to select Iilahti, with the 39th pick overall.
The only wrinkle is Iilahti's junior club in Finland, the Espoo Blues, have a contract with his name on it that says he owes them another year.
The Canucks and Giants, not to mention the 6-foot-1, 175-pound goalie, expect he can get out of his Finnish obligation.
“For us, it's essential [Iilahti play for the Giants] because he's not really going to progress there to the level we'd feel comfortable with,” said Dave Gagner, the director of player development for the Canucks.
The Canucks have to decide whether to sign him because if they don't he'll go back into the NHL entry draft next year, and they want him close to goalie coach Rollie Melanson.
As well, playing for Don Hay and Giants assistant coach Glen Hanlon, a one-time Canucks goalie and, like Hay, a former NHL head coach, is a bonus, as is working with Giants goalie coach Paul Fricker.
“We've got to make a decision on him in the next year,” Gagner said. “He would be a big help to the Giants and we think it would be a great progression to his development.
“We'd like to see that happen. Hopefully they can work something out there, but we're confident it can be done.”
Iilahti, one of eight import goalies selected by the 62 teams that make up Canada's three major-junior leagues, would challenge returning goalie Brendan Jensen for the Giants starter's job – Jensen is 18.
"He'll have some adjustments to make," Hay said of Iilahti, "but we didn't draft him to be a No. 2 guy."
Iilahti was part of a goalie tandem himself last season.
“That's the reason I want to come over, to get more playing time,” Iilahti said. “It would be nice to play in North America … superior to develop rather than in Finland.
“Smaller rinks, faster game, better players – everything is better than back in Finland.”
Hockey's Future, an online forum that rates prospects, gives him a grade of 6.5 (out of 10), the mid-range grade they give to goalies they figure will be backups or career journeymen (think Manny Legace or Jeff Hacket).
He's part of a pool of prospective goalies that includes David Honzik, drafted this June, Joe Cannata, drafted in 2009, and Eddie Lack, a free-agent signing last summer who was named to the AHL all-rookie team.
“I watched him [in Finland] last winter, he’s very fast laterally,” Gagne said of Iilahti. “You can see he’s got a bright future because his athletic ability is high-end.
“Rollie’s been working with him and he’s really impressed. He just has to learn some control and being more composed in some situations, but that will come.”
The summer development camp wraps up today at Rogers Arena.
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