Sami Aittokallio: Don’t Forget About a Future NHL Starter


Sami Aittokallio decided to head home to Finland after three years in North America. The Colorado Avalanche’s fourth-round selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft gave his NHL debut in 2013, but ended up getting stuck behind fellow 2010 draft pick Calvin Pickard. Nevertheless, he could be back soon, and definitely shouldn’t be forgotten.

The 23-year-old Aittokallio is now the reigning Finnish league champion Kärpät Oulu’s starting goaltender, instead of having to battle Pickard or Reto Berra, Spencer Martin and Roman Will for AHL minutes. At the same time, he is under contract in Colorado and could return anytime.

So far, Aittokallio has played five games in the Finnish Liiga, where he posted a .935 save percentage and a goals-against average of 1.48. He is third in both categories among Liiga starters. However the Champions Hockey League — a tournament between the best European teams, except for the KHL — is where his stats are really outstanding.

In the CHL, Aittokallio faced 112 shots in five games. Out of those 112 shots, 111 were saved by the Finn. A save percentage of .991 and four shutouts are obviously best among CHL goalies.

So, is Aittokallio that good, are European teams that bad or is it all just a fluke? Spoiler alert, it isn’t the latter.

It can be said that the European leagues are quite far behind the NHL. Then-40-year-old Glen Metropolit, for example, recorded 41 points in 43 games for the German league champions Mannheim Eagles last season. Jeff Taffe recorded 59 points in 54 games in the Swedish SHL.

More from Mile High Sticking: 3 Preseason Storylines to Watch

However, they aren’t all that bad. Generally, it can be said that the top European leagues (Liiga, SHL, DEL, NLA, Extraliga) are at the same level as the American Hockey League. The Champions Hockey League is a combination of Europe’s best teams, which leads to the assumption that the quality of hockey is even higher there.

Now, Sami Aittokallio played 79 games for the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters, but was never close to the numbers he’s put up so far in Europe. His save percentage always hovered around .900, and it wasn’t a rarity for him to get three or more goals against. So what has changed?

More from Avalanche News

The player himself hasn’t really changed. Sami Aittokallio is still the same Sami Aittokallio he was before he left North America. The difference is that he is now put in a position to succeed.

Instead of being an average AHL club’s backup, Aittokallio is now one of the most important players on one of the best teams on the continent. That gives confidence.

Confidence obviously isn’t everything, but talent has always been there. Avalanche backup Pickard — let’s just call him that — was selected two rounds before Aittokallio, when the Avs tried to find at least one talented goaltender. However, Aittokallio looked like the one that has more potential, before Pickard stepped up his game and surpassed the Finn. That can lower a player’s confidence, which has now returned.

Sami Aittokallio isn’t needed in Colorado right now, but he is in the perfect place to develop. He probably won’t be able to keep a .990 save percentage over the course of a full season, but it’s nice to see that he had a good start. The way he is playing right now, it seems impossible to not get him back to North America soon.

Next: The Case for Calvin Pickard as Backup

Next: The Case for Reto Berra as Backup

More from Mile High Sticking