Jiminy. A lot of things can change in one year, can’t they?
Here we are, into the meat of the Flames Fifteen, at the stage of the game where we profile the prospects in Calgary’s system who actually matter, and in the prestigious Lanny McDonald number 9 spot we’re featuring a guy who couldn’t even make the cut last year.
Upon the completion of our Flames Fifteen: Version 2013 – a most comprehensive and totally readable series underscored by some very sound analysis even though we talked about Mark Jankowski too much – Hockeyus Emeritus Kent Wilson penned an assuaging ode to the poor few who just missed the cut, including this little gem on today’s profile, Flames netminder Joni Ortio:
#16 – Joni Ortio – G
The 22-year old Finnish goalie gets lost in the mix a bit these days thanks to the success of Laurent Brossoit and Jon Gillies, both of whom made our top-10 list. Although Ortio struggled in a very brief appearance for the Abbotford Heat in 2011-12, he went back to his native land soon after and established himself as a capable starter for Markus Granlund’s HIFK of the SM-liiga. Ortio started 54 of his team’s 65 regular season games last year and managed a respectable .917 SV%, the 9th best save rate amongst goalies who played 40+ games in the league.
A former 6th round pick by the Flames, Ortio has never managed elite results anywhere, but last year was a strong enough step forward that he’s worth keeping in the organization. Ortio may hop the pond and battle for a spot on the Heat with Brossoit and Berra, but he always has the option to go back and compete in the SM-liiga if things get too crowded in NA.
Laurent Brossoit, guys.
Needless to say, that former 6th round pick who probably should have gone back overseas looked at the collective mass of doubt, spit in it’s eye, and like some renegade outlaw lurking into town under a shroud of mystery, played some pretty good hockey. (I wanted to end that analogy on a much more illustrative note, but I was never much into Westerns. It’s not my fault John Wayne sucks)
Last season, only 3 of us on the panel had Ortio in the top 15 at all, and two of those were in the 15th spot, and he ranked no higher than 12 (Laurent Brossoit was ranked 10th). As you can see, aside from Taylor for no discernable reason (/spit), we all have more love for the Turku native this time around, and with ample reason. I tend to be an ol’ softie when it comes to goalies, if you’re wondering why I ranked Joni all the way up in 6th spot. Also, shut up.
What was once (and still is) a deep pool of quality goaltenders and also “traded for a second rounder” Reto Berra, over the course of this past season Joni O (as we’ll now call him) was treading water near the top of it. With both Berra and Joey “Stacks” MacDonald both incomprehensibly challenging Karri Ramo for number 1 minutes with the big club, Joni, perhaps through sheer luck, found himself the tender of record on most nights on a surprisingly competent Abbotsford Heat. Playing the bulk of the minutes out of all SEVEN men who strapped on the pads in Abby, Ortio was lights out, posting a stunning .926 sv% in 37 games, good for nearly half. Seriously, the only thing higher than Ortio’s save percentage in Abbotsford were people who live in Abbotsford. On most nights Joni would perform in a quiet, dependable form, the antithesis to the flashy superhero stuff his action movie star good looks suggest he should employ.
That was more than enough to earn an AHL All Rookie Team nod, and served to quash any lasting memories of Joni’s first stint in Abbotsford two seasons earlier, where in 9 games he looked as ugly and inefficient as Alison Redford’s looming Sky Palace. This was an all too recognizable and depressing notion for Flames fans, as the unheralded goalie who shone bright for a perpetually dark Finland in the 2010 and 2011 World Junior Championships floundered in the North American ranks before returning home, and we thought perhaps another promising star in the works had been just one more cruel mirage, destined to leave us without water when we ever forever parched for thirst.
Dramatics by your humble author aside, considering we had maybe seen Ortio go the Medvedev route, watching him turn it around in a big way at the AHL level was a big ol’ win for both Joni and the organization. It allowed the Flames to trial run all their options in the netminder position. looking for the right mix of goalies who could play (basically only Karri Ramo), without setting the development arcs of the Jon Gillies of the world by throwing them to the wolves too early.
Not that things turned out great, but as a result we know a few things: Reto Berra is terrible and gone, and Joey MacDonald is old and useless and plays a style so 1990’s that his pads have a mullet. Jon Gillies is going to be awesome, and the development of Ortio allows the team to bring up Gillies when he’s ready for them, and not vice versa.
Ortio’s progression rose so far this season that he was the logical choice to be starter over the “experienced” MacDonald when both Ramo and Berra were unable to play following the Olympic break. And while the numbers don’t paint a pretty picture (an .891 in 9 games), the numbers didn’t exactly flatter ANY goalie in Calgary this year (only Ramo had numbers that looked anywhere near league average. THANKS, LADI SMID). Still, Ortio showed the tools you want in a big league goaltender, and certainly you never felt like the team’s chances of winning were dashed whenever he was in the net. And again, I cannot stress this enough, he is not Reto Berra. Always one for the plus column.
Of course, this is sample size city. Ortio has nine games on NHL experience, and while he was real swell at times, he has yet to show enough at this level to determine whether he has any staying power. It’s one thing to be a solid option for a good AHL team, it’s quite another to replicate that success on a let’s say less than stellar NHL club that is unsure of just how much power it may or may not possess. Certainly Ortio doesn’t showcase a ton of glaring weaknesses in his game from a technical level, and he seems to have gotten over whatever it was mentally that left him unprepared once, but when we boil it down, he’s 9 games on NHL ice and 37 more in the AHL. One satisfactory season, as we’ve seen, does not a career keeper make. (Right, JIM CAREY?)
That’s not much information to go on when evaluating his worth, and with the revolution we’ve seen in the passing years on statistical analysis determining the value of players, the world lacks a distressing amount of tools to get an appreciable read on how good goaltenders are. With the information we have, we know Henrik Lundqvist is great, Jonathan Quick is overrated, and after that we have no damn clue. I personally believe he has the ability to be a league average goaltender at minimum, and fortunately the Flames do not need him to be much more than that at this time.
The Flames find themselves at a crossroads this season when it comes to Ortio (and the position in general). Is he capable enough to be a backup to Karri Ramo? Is Karri Ramo even going to be a starter? Will the Flames land a (insert James Reimer type of goalie here) in the offseason, bumping each Finnish incumbent one spot down the padded totem pole? Ortio is only 23 (kinda like TJ Brodie, I’m amazed at how long this guy has been around the team and is still only 23. This is a very good sign), and goalies are so hard to predict. In most cases, the young ones never really reach their peak development until their late 20’s, so how much do you want to keep him in upstate New York, getting quality minutes for the Baby Flames, relative to him playing one in every five in Calgary? Where does Jon Gillies fall into the mix? Hell, even Olivier Roy hasn’t been awful, what happens to him?
As always, with this team and it’s goalies, there are far more questions than answers. But Ortio has been good enough that he deserves to stay in the mix and murk the living hell out of the clairty of the discussion. It’s safe to say he’ll be either the starter in the AHL or the backup in Calgary, depending on where the Flames feel they are in their rebuild and how competitive they intend on being this season. Either way, Ortio’s destiny rests in his own hands, as it’s going to be his play that determines where he ends up more than that of his colleagues in the Calgary crease.