Juuse Saros said he’s ready to be the No. 1 goalie for the Nashville Predators following the retirement of Pekka Rinne.
“I want to be a leader on the team, kind of continue from where I left off at the end of [last] year,” Saros said Friday, four days after he signed a four-year, $20 million contract (average annual value $5 million) with the Predators.
The 26-year-old was a restricted free agent and avoided a salary arbitration hearing.
Saros took over as Nashville’s No. 1 goalie midway through the season after sharing time with Rinne, who retired July 13 after 15 seasons with the Predators.
“I was lucky and grateful for sharing the net with him for four or five years,” Saros said. “So yeah, it was a little bit of a sad moment when he said he’s not coming back. Personally, I’m ready to take that next step and be the guy in net, take the lead on the team.”
Rinne played his entire NHL career with Nashville, which selected him in the eighth round (No. 258) of the 2004 NHL Draft. He is the Predators all-time leader in games played (683), starts (667), wins (369), shutouts (60), goals-against average (2.43) and saves (17,627). He also had a .917 save percentage and was voted as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the NHL four times, winning it in 2018.
Saros was 21-11-1 with an NHL career-low 2.28 GAA, an NHL career-high .927 save percentage and three shutouts in 36 games (35 starts) last season, with NHL career highs in starts and wins. He was 2-4 with a 2.78 GAA and .921 save percentage in six Stanley Cup Playoff starts.
A fourth-round pick (No. 99) by Nashville in the 2013 NHL Draft, Saros is 76-47-17 with a 2.50 GAA, .920 save percentage and 14 shutouts in 155 games (139 starts) with Nashville.
Predators general manager David Poile said on ESPN 102.5 The Game on Tuesday that it’s up to Saros to see whether he’s truly a No. 1 goalie.
“There’s a lot of things that [Saros] still has to prove,” he said. “It’ll be his first year without Pekka. In a normal 82-game schedule, he’s going to be called on to play more games than he’s ever played before.”
The most games Saros has played in an NHL season was 40, including 34 starts, in 2019-20. He said his mindset and daily routines will not change.
“Of course, it’s a bigger role, but at the same time, it doesn’t really change,” said Saros, who moved to Helsinki a few weeks ago where he’s been skating with other NHL Finland-born players including Predators forwards Mikael Granlund and Eeli Tolvanen.
“I always try to do my best, whatever the role is. So, I think I’ll adjust to that. Of course, I played as a No. 1 goalie before, too, in different leagues, but yeah, I’m just ready to get the season going.”