If you’re Eetu Makiniemi, you have to be feeling pretty good right now. He is seeing the puck well and has been a nightmare for the opposition when it comes to breakaways and odd man rushes. On top of that, he is 3-0-0 to start the year and boasts an impressive .941 save percentage. It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle when you play on a team with so many top prospects, but Makiniemi is making a name for himself as well as a legitimate case to become the starter in Chicago.
I wanted to break down Makiniemi’s first three starts and analyze what has gone so well for him in the AHL. After all, the level of competition is higher and certainly provides more of a challenge for a young goalie. When I watched Makiniemi with Ilves in Finland, I was blown away by how great he looked in spite of a poor defense in front of him. Now that Makiniemi is in Chicago, he’s showing that he can be a legitimate goaltender even with a strong defense in front of him. Alli Velucci, Social Media Coordinator for the Wolves, was kind enough ask a handful of questions to Makiniemi for me, so I’ll be sharing his answers throughout. When asked about what is different in the style of play between Finland and the AHL, Makiniemi had this to say. “The tempo is faster. I think it is because of the smaller rink size, so the game moves faster. That has been the biggest change.”
3-2 W vs. Milwaukee, 10/22
It took Makiniemi about a period to settle in but he still made a bunch of quality saves through traffic and in close. His rebound control was poor and could have cost him a few goals, but his spectacular puck tracking and recovery prevented any rebound opportunities from finding their way to the back of the net.
Makiniemi was exceptional at covering the lower half of the net during the first period of this game. It’s clear that Milwaukee was trying to beat him through the five hole and Makiniemi shut the door every time. This clip not only highlights the rebound control issues that I mentioned but also the strong coverage of the lower half of the net. Makiniemi works to not let that rebound become a problem.
Going through Makiniemi's games for tomorrow's article. The initial rebound was a tough one but I love the save he makes immediately after. pic.twitter.com/1TGPmieIY6— Canes Prospects (@CanesProspects) November 5, 2021
The second period starts with the following clip.
This could have been a costly turnover but once again, Makiniemi says "ei" pic.twitter.com/ULZpMTdSvd— Canes Prospects (@CanesProspects) November 5, 2021
It’s difficult to react to a turnover, especially when you have two players waiting for the breakout pass, so Makiniemi’s ability to react to that play and make the save is impressive. The Wolves added another goal in the second period, but not before making things difficult for Makiniemi. First, a pass gets deflected right in front of Makiniemi, who is once again square to the puck and makes a very difficult save on a redirection. Then, Chicago gets a power play and allows Anthony Richard to have two shorthanded breakaways. Both are stopped by Makiniemi.
What I’ve noticed about Makiniemi on breakaways is that he’s very calm and collected. He lets the shooter make the move and stands his ground, making stops with ease. I asked Makiniemi about his mindset regarding breakaways and if his stance changes for them, and this is what he had to say.
“Everything comes naturally to me, so I don’t have to overthink it. If I overthink something, it’s hard for me so nothing changes about how I play.”
Finally, the third period is more of the same. Strong stops from Makiniemi keep the Wolves ahead and keep them in a game where they were getting outshot. Makiniemi does allow two goals in this game, both coming from similar spots. Both times a player shot from the top of the circles and beat Makiniemi through traffic for a goal. Neither goal could have been his fault, because each time there were at least two or three player in the shooting lanes.
Throughout this game, I was impressed with how Makiniemi’s quick reaction time, puck tracking and athleticism allowed for him to make stops. If he were to give up a rebound, he’d react so quickly that a player wouldn’t get a good shot off. Instead of making a lunging desperation save, Makiniemi would simply put himself in position and make a chest save. He had a few heroic moments in net, but for the most part, it was a steady performance.
3-0 W vs. Grand Rapids, 10/27
The Wolves gave up a lot of grade-A chances in this game, but the Griffins missed the net on a solid 75 percent of them. Makiniemi challenging the Griffins’ shooters was a part of the reason for that, though. He’s a big goalie and takes away a lot of the net for a shooter, often forcing a player to shoot high or wide because they’re unable to see more than a few inches of space.
This was more of the same for Makiniemi and his vision wasn’t challenged nearly as much against Grand Rapids as it was against Milwaukee. Grand Rapids couldn’t get anyone in the net front position and they struggled because of it. I would argue that Makiniemi’s effort during the game against Milwaukee was better because of the level of difficulty of some of the saves he made. A shutout is a shutout, however. He did make this nice save on a smaller breakaway.
Another save from Makiniemi, this time one on one pic.twitter.com/f1lbd2f1lj— Canes Prospects (@CanesProspects) November 5, 2021
6-3 W vs. Grand Rapids, 10/31
This was one of Makiniemi’s toughest games from a competition standpoint. The Griffins were attacking the puck, exploiting holes in the defense and moving the puck a lot better than they were when he shut them out previously. I was able to see Makiniemi’s cross-crease movement in this game, something I hadn’t in the previous two games. Neither team made Makiniemi move too much prior to this game, making it a relatively easy outing both times. This time, the Griffins changed the angle of their shots and spread out the defense, creating more dangerous scoring chances in the process. Makiniemi’s movement from post to post was impressive, and it’s all due to the amount of power he gets when he’s pushing off with his foot.
If you’ve watched a Hurricanes broadcast, you’ve probably heard Tripp Tracy talk about explosiveness in a goalie’s push, and that’s exactly what happens with Makiniemi. He makes a strong push to get to the other side, exploding out and making the stop before the puck finds twine. There weren’t any egregious goals allowed in this game. All were on good shots or came from good passes, so it’s good to see that teams will have to work in order to beat Makiniemi. All in all, it was another solid effort and another game that saw Makiniemi stop each breakaway he faced.
The Hurricanes might have something in Makiniemi. Once he gets his rebounds under control, I expect to see a goalie that can compete for an NHL job. I asked Makiniemi what he has learned in the AHL and how he wants to improve after a few starts, and here’s what he had to say.
“There’s more we have to do off-ice here, which is important. I’m learning that all of the little things are very important. As a goalie, the little things are what make a difference so I want to keep improving all of those areas.”
There isn’t much to dislike about his game, to be honest. All three starts have been impressive, and we’re seeing a confident goaltender right now. Chicago’s defense hasn’t done him many favors, either. They have allowed at least two breakaways in all three of his starts, and while Makiniemi is perfect on breakaway attempts so far, I don’t see that continuing to be the case as the season goes along. For now, however, Makiniemi is making a name for himself.
I’ve always liked Makiniemi, even from the first time we saw him in development camp. There was a quiet confidence to his game and he has improved ever since. I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes the starter’s crease from Alex Lyon this year, in fact. The sample size is still small, and I doubt he can maintain a .941 save percentage over the course of a full season, but the early returns are promising. It will be interesting to see how he looks over the course of a full season, so I’m planning on watching him closely this season to get an idea of what his NHL upside is. For now, the future is bright and it’s a great time to be a Carolina Hurricanes fan.