EXCITEMENT BUILDING FOR BLOMQVIST’S MOVE TO U.S.
WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – Earlier in the summer, goaltender Joel Blomqvist expressed his desire to depart his native Finland and join the Penguins organization full-time in North America. This move was later confirmed at Development Camp by new President of Hockey Ops Kyle Dubas.
When playing at the 2023 Prospects Challenge in Buffalo, New York, Blomqvist expressed his excitement to play regularly in North America, presumably for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. And as the 2023-24 season rapidly approaches, that excitement is shared by Penguins goaltending development coach Kain Tisi.
How did Blomqvist Do?
Tisi has spent his two previous years in the organization monitoring Blomqvist’s progress while playing for Oulun Kärpät in Finland. That included hours of film study and even traveling to Blomqvist’s homeland for further instruction. So it’s no surprise that as someone who has been so closely invested in the prospect’s progress, Kisi’s anticipation for Blomqvist’s transition is building by the day.
“When you put it that way, it’s fun to acknowledge that [his move to North America] is finally here,” Tisi said. “The talent level he has, how hard he works, the character that he’s shown in the past two years, we’re excited about the opportunity to get him over here.”
Blomqvist shined for the Penguins at the Prospects Challenge. Even though he allowed a goal on his first shot faced (a centering pass that deflected off a teammate and snuck through his five-hole,) the 21-year-old ended the event with a .958 save percentage, 1.32 goals against average and one shutout.
Perhaps the most impressive element of his performance was how well he handled bundles of traffic surrounding his crease. Blomqvist noted that a lot of his summer training included practices dedicated to contending with bodies in front, tips and controlling rebounds.
“Almost all the drills included some kind of traffic,” Blomqvist said in Buffalo. “So I had a good feel for that already in the game.”
Blomqvist shrugged off concerns of transitioning from the wider, European ice surface to the tighter confines of North America. Often times, both skaters and goalies remark on the difference when making the move, but Blomqvist claims he feels little to no change.
Tisi also balked at the notion that Blomqvist would struggle with the adjustment, but a lot of that is a result of the prospect’s preparation.
“There’s definitely a difference, but it’s more pucks driven to the net, pucks funneling to the net, more chances, more screens, more traffic,” Tisi said. “Things are just happening faster, but you can see that doesn’t bother him at all.
“Remember, he’s been over now twice to Wilkes-Barre. He’s practiced with us a bunch. He’s been to development camp. He’s been in training camp here now. He gets it.”
In brief AHL stints with the Penguins in each of the last two seasons, Blomqvist has logged two starts. While he’ll enter this campaign still searching for his first win in North America, reviews were positive coming out of those contests. He turned away 25 of 27 shots in his AHL debut when he was just 19-years-old. Last season, the 2020 second-round draft pick was bested four times on 27 shots, but in the words of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach J.D. Forrest, “He made some incredible backdoor saves for us, because we gave up a lot of Grade-A’s.”
Where to Check out Blomqvist Next?
With training camp underway in Pittsburgh, Blomqvist will continue to showcase his progress to the Penguins’ coaches as well as new management hired over the offseason. He’s dialed in, with experience from the Preseason, already entrenched in a laser-focused, competitive mindset. But for Tisi and the Penguins fans anxious to see Blomqvist embark on his first full North American season, all that’s left to do is let the excitement build for a few more weeks until the season arrives.
“He’s excited to be here, and we’re excited to have him here,” Tisi said. “He’s going to have to keep taking steps obviously, but yeah, we’re confident that he can take advantage of the opportunity he has.”