The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Mile High Hockey community. Eight writers and 320 readers ranked players under the age of 25 as of September 1, 2018 in the Colorado Avalanche organization. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked.
Ahead of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft in Dallas, I wasn’t optimistic that I’d be too busy; it was a weaker draft class for goaltenders, and teams seemed to be a little gun-shy when it came to taking long shots.
Then, of course, the New York Rangers went a little* off the board by snagging goaltender Olof Lindbom with the 39th overall pick, and the rest of the teams quickly went to work taking the goaltenders they’d had on their board.
For the Avalanche, Annunen was an easy selection. A native of Kempele, Finland, he’s been studying under goaltending coach Ari Hilli, who made his debut as the Finnish Olympic goaltending coach this past winter and travels in the same circles as Avalanche coach Jussi Parkkila.
At just 18, Annunen is already emerging as one of the top Finnish goaltending prospects not already in North America. He’s fresh off a season that saw him stun opponents at the U20 level during a fantastic postseason run, which saw his team finish as runners-up in Junior A SM-liiga play to KalPa’s U20 program. He also managed to snag a gold at the U18 Ivan Hlinka Tournament, although his biggest test will no doubt come next season.
Annunen’s own coach, Hilli, confirmed via phone that the recent draftee is expected to get a serious look with the Kärpät senior club next year, although he’s been practicing with them regularly since last season.
His game still needs refinement, although Hilli suggested that his execution of North American-heavy techniques like post play is already strong. He’ll predominantly work on cleaning up his depth decision making and angles, hopefully making a smooth transition from exclusively Junior A play (save a single game he earned up with the Kärpät senior program last year) to a heavier, more competitive workload.
His working relationship with Hilli seems to be superb, so there’s little reason for the Avalanche to be interested in pulling him across the pond before his current contract expires at the end of the 2019-20 season. Add in that Hilli knows Parkkila, and it’s a perfect development situation that could pan out well if the Avalanche are willing to be a little patient.
He’s low on the Top 25 list because he’s young, unproven in North America, and goaltenders are hard for most people to evaluate. But it’s telling that his arrival immediately bumped Spencer Martin out of the ranks; with too many underwhelming draftees in net in the last near-decade, Colorado’s faithful are more than ready for someone to step up to the plate.