The Dallas Stars may only be three games into the 2011-2012 campaign, but it is already evident that one man might have to carry a heavy load this season. The onus was put on Jamie Benn all off-season to jump to the next leave and be the Stars biggest player this season, but the true work-horse appears to Kari Lehtonen. Hopefully the Stars will not have to rely on him so heavily, but through three games the glaring standout has been Lehtonen.
Last season Kari helped carry the Stars to the brink of the postseason, and so far he has shown he is capable of doing it again this season. In two regular season starts he has stopped 77 of 79 shots against and been the biggest reason why the Stars won in both contests. While astounding efforts have also been had by Benn and Sheldon Souray, Lehtonen is proving to be a top goalie, at least so far. The Stars can’t rely on him nightly to have to carry them but knowing that he can should be a huge reason to trust in this team.
Kari of course came over from the franchise that used to be the Atlanta Thrashers after a couple of injury-ridden seasons and the Thrashers moving on to Pavelec. Not a bad move as the former 2nd round pick has at least given the franchise a nice young goaltender. But the former 1st round pick in Lehtonen still had the talent and potential, and he has proven it here in Dallas. With a 4th round pick and defensive prospect Ivan Vishnevskiy, Stars new GM Joe Nieuwendyk pulled the trigger on a deal to bring the Lehtonen to Dallas. At the time it was a calculated gamble that looked worth it, but more importantly it signaled the end of the Marty Turco era. It took confidence and a lot of faith from Joe and the staff to pull the move, but it gave the Stars an option with Turco probably on the way out and the team wanting to rebuild.
Fast forward about 20 months and it appears the Stars and GM Joe pulled off an amazing deal. Visknevskiy has been traded to Chicago and then left to play in Russia since he kept bouncing around and not being given a chance. And Lehtonen? With some better conditioning and a second chance, he has become a very solid NHL starter and withe another strong year this season could finally get some recognition. His athleticism and pure talent show regularly and he at times has almost single-handedly won games for the Stars (a great example was Monday night), and that is something great netminders can do. With one of the lesser defenses in the league in front of him, Kari posted solid stats last season with a 2.55 goals against and impressive .914 save percentage. Starting off this season, he has only continued to look promising leading the team to a pair of 2-1 wins in both of his starts.
The story of Kari is only growing. I will admit that when Dallas traded for him I liked him, but was unsure if they picked up a goalie for years to come or just a filler until something better came along. So far he some recognition short of being an all-star and it looks he could do it this season. And right now he is leading this team, and they will go as far as he can take them.