Kaapo Kahkonen could have been on the move in the offseason.
He was one of the handful of roster regulars exposed by the Wild in the Seattle expansion draft back in July, with the team able to protect 11 players and only one spot permitted for a goalie. The Wild penciled in No. 1 Cam Talbot.
But the Kraken instead picked up defenseman Carson Soucy, and now Kahkonen has the chance to continue his NHL career where it got off to a successful start.
"I really enjoy it here," Kahkonen said. "It's a good team we have, and I don't think we got any weaker during the summer. I think there's expectations for us to do well this year. I'm really looking forward to it."
Kahkonen backstopped the Wild to a 3-1 victory over the Avalanche on Monday at Xcel Energy Center, turning aside 15 shots in his first full game of the preseason. He also is expected to play Wednesday against the Blues.
"Really, really liked his game," coach Dean Evason said. "Made a couple big saves at the end there."
With many of the Wild's established players on the ice in front of Kahkonen, the scene was reminiscent of plenty of nights from last season.
Despite starting the year as a backup, Kahkonen assumed starting duties barely a week into the schedule when Talbot was sidelined by injury. He also made frequent appearances in February while Talbot was working his way back from a stint on the COVID-19 list.
Eventually, Kahkonen went on a 9-0 run that tied for the fifth-longest win streak in NHL history by a rookie goalie. He also set the franchise record for rookie victories, finishing the season 16-8.
"Everybody gets more confident when the team wins," Kahkonen said. "All the players, you trust them. They trust you, and everything just clicks."
Although Kahkonen was idle in the playoffs, backing up Talbot for all seven games in that first-round loss to Vegas, his play certainly helped the Wild advance. Together, the two stabilized the crease after the Wild went for a shakeup in net a year ago by trading longtime starter Devan Dubnyk.
"Winning is always way better than losing," Kahkonen said. "I don't look back today like I'm great. I won, whatever, nine games in a row in the NHL. That's cool and everything, but it's a new year."
In the summer, Kahkonen focused on honing the details in his game.
A fourth-round draft pick by the Wild in 2014 who played in his native Finland before logging two seasons with Iowa in the American Hockey League and then graduating to the NHL full-time, Kahkonen knows hockey gets faster at each new level. He realized he can combat that speed with smarts — by being patient and in position.
What the 25-year-old didn't do in the offseason was dwell on the possibility he could have gone to Seattle.
"It's not really my decision or nothing that I can do anything about, so I think it's better to see how it goes," Kahkonen said. "Nobody ever called me, so I guess that's where I kind of knew that, OK, I'm probably not going anywhere because the new team didn't call me."
How often Kahkonen will get called into action in the months ahead is unclear.
Last season, Evason didn't budget assignments for each goaltender; "It was just, 'If Cam plays well in this one, he's going to likely get the next one if we don't have [a] back-to-back,'" Evason said, "'and if Kaapo plays well, he's gonna go.'"
Evason is once again implementing that philosophy, and it's an opportunity for Kahkonen to deliver in his sophomore season.
"What I saw last year whoever plays well, plays whether you're a goalie, forward or d-man," Kahkonen said. "I think it's a fair mind-set from the coaching staff. Obviously, there's a lot of games so we need everyone. So, whenever it's your chance, just perform."