Maple Leafs Hot Stove caught up with Justin Goldman — Founder and President of The Goalie Guild, Director of Goalie Development at the CAHA, and the Director of Operations at NetWork Goaltending — to discuss the Maple Leafs’ recent signing, goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo of Minnesota Duluth.

In addition to his familiarity with the NCAA ranks and a number of individual viewings on Kaskisuo as a UMD Bulldog, Goldman will be working with Kaskisuo at an upcoming 2016 GoaliePro Camp from June 6-10.

Kaskisuo will be joining the Toronto Marlies on an Amateur Tryout Agreement for the remainder of the season before his pro contract kicks in for 2016-17.

How would you classify Kasimir Kaskisuo as a goalie?

Justin Goldman: He’s your prototypical Finnish prospect. He’s very good at using active hands to control pucks, especially on plays in tight where he’s able to gain proximity on pucks in close to his body. For example, you’ll see him actively push that blocker hand out on a breakaway shot at the last second. Or you’ll see him actively catching as many pucks as possible, whether it’s in front of his body, across his body, way outside of his body, or low to the ice. He will even take the opportunity to catch a puck and quickly relay it to a teammate to kick-start a zone exit. He’s got some flash and flair and some good pro upside.

On that note, is he more of a “Scandinavian goalie,” where they’re playing deep back near the goal line, or out at the top of the crease with his toes or heels?

Goldman: In terms of his depth, it always kind of depends on the play and how a goalie feels, but I would say you’re going to see him pushing into shot lanes a little bit more than the average Finnish prospect. He is a bit aggressive in that sense of the term. This is a guy who really likes to use his hands and feet to his advantage. He’s an excellent skater with good inside-edge control, so his mobility, whether he’s moving in a composed manner or the play around him is a little bit more desperate, which calls for him to be a little bit more urgent in his movements and reactions, is above average for his age. Either way, he thrives in a lot of different situations because he has very good natural read-and-react ability.

He’ll go as fast as the play warrants?

Goldman: Yeah. Most pro goalies are able to adapt their gameplans to the situations or defensive structures in front of them. In the handful of games I saw these past two seasons, Minnesota-Duluth played a pretty solid system in their own zone, and they clearly had some success this season in that regard. But there were some games where he basically had to stand on his head, so I think he’s a pretty adaptable goalie in that regard. But still, obviously, he’s very young.

Overall, I think it’s a good fit. I think one thing I get concerned with, however, is that a lot of prospects that have come through the Leafs over the last five or six years have not had the type of success that maybe their upside initially warranted when they first signed pro contracts. This happens with a lot of teams, but it seems like everything goalie-related in Toronto gets put under the microscope and puts too much stress on the development process. He needs time, and I hope the Leafs stay patient with that process. It could take three or four or five years, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Is that related to a development problem with the Leafs?

Goldman: Not necessarily. It’s honestly so many different things. This is a complex issue with goalie development as a whole. There are so many endless variables that come into play. A goalie is, generally speaking, a product of his environment. That’s why you see a guy like James Reimer going from the ups-and-downs in Toronto to all of a sudden having a lot of early success in San Jose. Obviously it’s a limited sample so far, but in terms of what a goalie is going to post statistically, or how much support they get in different situations, or how quickly they become a bona-fide NHL goalie, a lot of that really does depend on the system around him.

Who has he been working with up until now? What schools and coaches has he been working with?

Goldman: Kasimir is partially a product of a program in Finland called GoaliePro, which is run by a very well-known and long-time goalie coach in Finland by the name of Jukka Ropponen. He works with a number of high-level Finnish prospects, and I’ve been fortunate to work with him for the past couple of years… I’ve learned a lot from Jukka, and I see why the goalies he works with have a lot of success. Jukka used to coach in North America, so he’s got that perfect blend of knowing what works in Finland and knowing what Finnish goalies need to do to be successful on smaller ice. He uses a lot of advanced technologies to support his development methods and his business background gives him an edge in furthering those new technologies. He’s one of the brightest goalie coaches in the world.

Goaltending – that’s the thing. A lot of it really has to do with personality. I can’t really comment on a lot in terms of where Kasimir is at as a pro prospect. Just from the games that I’ve seen and the times that I have discussed him with other goalie guys, this is a guy that more than one NHL team was interested in potentially signing. He’s made a lot of highlight reel saves and his name has been on my radar since his first year in North America with the Minnesota Wilderness [NAHL]. I remember seeing him play a bunch of times when I was living and scouting for the NTDP in Minnesota, and he stood out every night. He’s a very naturally talented goaltender. The athleticism, his read–and-react skills, those active hands, and the good skating fundamentals – I would say he has a very solid foundation to build upon. But that foundation is mostly centered around his natural abilities and instincts.

How do you think he’d mesh with Leafs goalie coach Steve Briere?

Goldman: That I can’t really comment on. I do know Steve a little bit personally, but I’ve only been on the ice with him one time, so I can’t really speak on behalf of his coaching style. Plus, coaching styles change and adapt depending on the goalie and his or her personality. But I think Steve is really going to enjoy working with Kasimir. He’s a former NAHL goaltender and Steve is a former NAHL goalie coach, so he’s a guy who has worked with a lot of NAHL, USHL, and NCAA goalies. I’m sure Steve has a pretty good book on him already and he has obviously done his homework, because the Leafs have gone ahead and signed [Kaskisuo].

I can only speak to what I have seen personally and what I like about his upside. I’m a bit biased, because I think the natural athleticism that comes with the majority of high-end Finnish prospects gives them a little bit of an advantage in today’s NHL games. The game now is so much “north and south” and shooters are releasing pucks with so much deception and so much speed. Having those natural active hands, which is just part of the Finnish culture and the Finnish goaltending foundation that’s been around for 30 years, I think will help him have some success as he transitions to the pro game.

It’s always kind of like a wait and see thing. This kid has made a lot of steps in a short amount of time. He was just breaking into North American hockey like three years ago. For him to go from the NAHL, play there for a year, and now two years with Minnesota Duluth — he’s made some huge strides. If you talk to anyone who follows the NCAA closely, this is a guy that was probably a top-five, top-six guy in terms of goalies that could turn pro early. So the signing doesn’t really come as a surprise to me. As a kid that is very is very naturally skilled, with great hands and great feet, you have a solid foundation, so [Steve Briere] is going to have a lot of fun working with him and moulding his professional game.

The Leafs have hired Lyle Mast as more of a consultant. How do you see them working together on head trajectory and that playing into his style?

Goldman: I think head trajectory can be very beneficial for a number of goalies, but everyone kind of processes this new technique differently. Some goalies take to it very well and it greatly benefits their game. With others goalies, maybe you don’t see so much of a difference because maybe they’re already very good at tracking pucks into their body due to natural vision skills, or maybe because it’s something that’s a bit uncomfortable for them.

I’ve never had a chance to speak to Lyle Mast directly, but from all the goalies that I’ve talked to over the past year, I’d say the majority of them did find some benefit. But there are some out there that, for whatever reason, it didn’t really help them too much. That’s not a negative comment on head trajectory at all; it’s just that every goalie is different. Clearly, we all get the notion that what will work for some goalies may not work for others.

That being said, head trajectory is something that very few NHL and pro goalies have had the chance to learn. So just getting that opportunity by being in the Leafs system is going to be a nice benefit. He’s going to get exposed to some new techniques and methods that he’s probably never been exposed to before. That’s always a benefit for goaltenders; the more you know, the more tools you have in your toolbox, the deeper it gets and the more adaptable and versatile and well-rounded the goalie becomes.

Kasimir is not a 17-year-old kid who is just being exposed to North American hockey for the first time. He’s played a couple of years of junior and college hockey, and I think that’s a really good start. I think the foundation is very good for where he’s at in terms of how many years he’s been in North America. I think Steve Briere is a good fit for him, because he’s worked with so many NAHL and NCAA goalies in the past, and now he’s got the opportunity to build a friendship and on-ice working relationship over the next couple of years. I think it’s a good signing for the Leafs considering some of the media out there is saying their cupboard is pretty bare with goalie prospects.

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