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Antti Raanta’s play over season’s final 10 weeks will determine his future

Arizona Coyotes goaltender Antti Raanta (32) makes a save on a shot by Columbus Blue Jackets center Pierre-Luc Dubois (18) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. The Blue Jackets defeated the Coyotes 2-1. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — There are 32 games left in the Coyotes season, with five sets of back-to-back games remaining.

Nothing is set in stone, but it’s likely that backup goalie Scott Wedgewood will play one end of each of those back-to-backs, and a handful of other games to stay sharp. If that’s the case, Antti Raanta would log roughly 24 more games this season, which is nearly as many as he had logged (28) through the first 50 games due to a series of injuries.

Assuming he stays healthy, this stretch will play a major role in the management and coaching staffs’ evaluations of Raanta. His two-year, $2 million contract expires after this season. The Coyotes are still determining if Raanta is the horse to which they want to hitch their No. 1 goalie hopes.

“I think you’re always evaluating and you do need a lot of data with goalies to make a decision,” general manager John Chayka said. “Having said that, he’s passed a lot of the tests. He’s done a lot of good things.

“He hadn’t been healthy enough to get on a run like he’s been on lately so you want to see him continue to play like that. At the same time, we have no reservations about saying Antti’s a very good goalie and capable of being an impact guy that can win you games.”

January provided a good read on what Raanta can do when healthy. The Coyotes felt comfortable enough with his health to let him resume his No. 1 goalies duties in mid-December. He took a half dozen games to get his sharpness back, but in eight January games, he stopped 223 of 239 shots for a .933 save percentage. He allowed two goals or fewer in seven of those eight games.

Overall, Raanta’s .919 save percentage is tied for 15th in the NHL. His low-danger save percentage (97.23) is second among goalies that have logged at least 1,000 minutes, according to corsica.hockey. His medium-danger save percentage (91.41) ranks 16th, his high-danger save percentage (78.22) ranks 25th and his goals saved above average (-4.88) ranks 27th.

“There were things that didn’t go that well early in the season,” Raanta said. “Almost every game, there was something I didn’t like; one bad misread in the games and it cost us a goal or almost a goal.

“I feel like right now it’s more consistent. This has been a good stretch but there are some things I can still improve. When you look at other goalies who have made this step, they have been very consistent. That’s the No. 1 thing. It doesn’t matter what happens in the game. Just forget it and go for the next shot.”

Chayka said he has not had any conversations with Raanta’s agent, Kevin Epp, about a new contract, but he won’t wait until the end of the season to initiate those if Raanta keeps up this current pace.

“At the right time in the near future we’ll have discussions about what that means long term,” he said.

Raanta’s name has been bandied about in trade rumors as the Feb. 26 trade deadline approaches, but Chayka dismissed that talk.

“That’s just people making a guess based off his contractual status and he’s at a good cap number but I haven’t had a single realistic discussion on him,” Chayka said. “We’re in need of a good goalie and he’s a good goalie. That’s where I’m at.”

Raanta knows what the next 10 weeks mean for his future, but he tries to chase those thoughts from his head.

“It’s pretty much just trying to get better and trying to be more consistent but of course sometimes your mind travels a little bit and you have thoughts about it,” he said. “Usually it only lasts a few seconds.

“If you go through Twitter and start searching all the things people are talking about, you would get crazy so that’s not what I’m thinking about. I need stay in the moment and focus on the right things.”

Raanta understands others wonder if he can be a No. 1 goalie after four seasons as a backup and half of this season spent battling injuries.

“I don’t know if I need to prove it to myself. I think I can do it,” he said, “but you want to prove it to everybody else that you can be the guy the team relies on every night. It comes down to the small things. If you can do them a little bit better every day, it’s a step forward toward being the guy.”  

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