Oilers’ Koskinen making good on Chiarelli’s gamble in NHL return

Mikko Koskinen had a huge night, making 40 saves as the Edmonton Oilers beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-0.

EDMONTON — Back home in Vantaa, they call him ‘Kolmen Metrin Koskinen.’

That’s Finnish for ‘The Three Metres of Koskinen.’

Today, the six-foot-seven Mikko Koskinen — who left the National Hockey League eight seasons ago after a cup of coffee with the New York Islanders — is being measured in feats.

First, a 5-3 win in Nashville that snapped an Oilers losing streak to the Preds stretching over four years and 13 games, and now a 40-save, 4-0 shutout of the Chicago Blackhawks that puts his 7-4-1 Oilers right back on track.

Koskinen left an Islanders team that housed names like Dwayne Roloson and Doug Weight for a career that settled in St. Petersburg of the KHL, where he played with names like Ilya Kovalchuk, Artemi Panarin and, last season, Pavel Datsyuk.

“I am seven or eight years older. That makes a big difference,” he said. “Maybe the biggest thing is, I grew up a little as a human being. That’s the biggest change.

“It was always on my mind (to return). I had opportunities, like, three, four years ago, but I always decided to stay. I thought I could still get better (in KHL St. Petersburg), and my set-up there was great. It was a great organization. Everything was good for me there.

“But I always had in my sight, to come back and try to be a goalie here.”

Along came Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli, who paid — many would say overpaid — Koskinen $2.5 million and gave him a no-movement clause to push Cam Talbot in the Oilers net this season. In walked this massive Finn, with gaudy KHL numbers but an NHL resumé that could have come out of a fortune cookie.

“It was a last chance,” Koskinen said. “I couldn’t turn it down anymore. Now, I felt it was the right time to come over.”

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On Thursday he was Vantaa-stic, thwarting Jonathan Toews on a breakaway and making a 40-shot night look easy for the Oilers, in a 4-0 romp. The Hawks clearly thought he had a weak glove hand — that’s the book on Koskinen — and went there time after time.

In the end, you can entitle this one ‘From Russia With Glove.’

As it turns out, the Blackhawks need a new book.

“He was outstanding,” said Leon Draisaitl. “That is what good goalies do. He hasn’t played much, but he was able to stay confident. It’s pretty impressive to see him come out with two performances like that.”

So who is this giant Suomi in the Oilers nets? Well, he’s a man of few words, we can tell you that.

“He seems pretty quiet,” admitted Draisaitl. “He has some good stories about Russia.”

Oilers history has been littered with Finnish goalies with backstories. There was Jussi Markkanen, who darned near stole the 2006 Stanley Cup when Roloson went down in Game 1. And, of course, Karri Takko, who famously arrived in Northern Alberta in a trade for defenceman Bruce Bell, a swap forever known as the Takko-Bell trade.

Koskinen, the son of a construction man and a hard-working nurse, grew up in the Helsinki suburb of Vantaa, a town that has given hockey Ilari and Valtteri Filppula, goalie Antti Niemi, and the Bros. Ruutu: Jarko, Mikko and Tuomo.

“Pasi Nurminen was my role model, and then (Miikka) Kiprusoff came,” he said of his childhood heroes. “It was fun to watch those guys. They had great success here, so it was good for all the Finns.”

While Finland has exported some of the finest netminders of this generation, Koskinen was a late bloomer. He is 30, and Thursday played only his sixth NHL game. He’ll have to be a Jacque Plante or Glenn Hall to fill out his NHLPA pension.

“Great for him,” said his head coach Todd McLellan, who couldn’t have been sure if Koskinen could play at all after a shaky pre-season. “He’s been a good teammate. Guys want to play for him, and that’s really good for a goaltender who is finding his way.”

Hey, how many goalies have you seen who wear the number 19, like Koskinen does? Twenty, sure. That was Vladislav Tretiak’s number.

But No. 19? What gives?

“When I was young, I knew that Stevie Yzerman was wearing No. 19,” he said. “When I was five years old it was my first number.”

The Three Metres of Koskinen. The Oilers will stretch this story as far as it will go.

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