Fin future for Flames prospect?

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:11 PM ET

Yes, Joni Ortio’s performance so far at the World Junior Hockey Championships has been impressive.

The Calgary Flames draft choice — 71st overall in 2009 — went through the round-robin portion of the tournament with a 1.08 goals-against average, a .952 save percentage and a 3-0-1 record for Finland.

So, yes, the Flames are happy.

“To me, he’s basically a young Kipper,” said Flames goaltenders coach Jamie McLennan. “It’s a lot of same skill-set. He’s 6-foot-1, the same body type, same flexibility … It’ll be interesting to see how his development comes.”

Based on Ortio’s performance for Finland at the tournament — his second as the starting netminder — so far, so good.

Finland is not a slam-dunk medal team, but it sure looks poised to make some noise.

However, it’s a welcome performance for the teenager.

“He’s had an inconsistent year,” McLennan said. “But from a developmental standpoint, you have to remember he’s 19 years old. It’s up to the organization to see how they feel about him, but I like his temperament.”

If you’re wondering how McLennan keeps tabs on Ortio in Finland, he talks to him regularly on the phone and receives extra scouting reports from Miikka Kiprusoff, who is part owner of the TPS Turko pro team.

Ortio has seen action with the top club, so Kiprusoff reads the newspaper coverage and gets feedback.

“He’s a good up-and-coming goaltender,” said McLennan, who is careful not to over-sell the youngster.

Then again, the Flames still have high hopes for other ’tenders in the organization, notably Leland Irving, who is carrying the load for the AHL Abbotsford Heat.

Irving’s team is struggling to score goals, but the 2006 first-rounder (26th overall) continues to hold his own.

“Leland has to keep pushing the envelope,” McLennan said. “He’s got to be a star in the AHL. He’s got to continue to progress. By this point this year, he’s done what we’ve asked.

“To his credit, he’s always looking for more, and he’s gotten a lot better at self-evaluation. He’s confident to say, ‘I blew a goal’ or ‘I felt good’ and be right. Sometimes you’re not confident enough to be hard on yourself because others are, but his confidence and maturity level have grown.

“I’m happy with how far he’s come.”

As much as critics want to write off Irving for not making the jump to the NHL yet, McLennan is quick to point out it’s just the third pro season for the 22-year-old netminder.

It’s not a make-or-break year for Irving, but it is important he take a giant step forward.

“The message to him and Matt (Keetley) was they were going to get the opportunity to see where they are and separate themselves,” McLennan said. “We signed Karl (Henrik Karlsson) to a one-year deal — he was unproven but has come in and played very well.”

Keetley hasn’t seen as much action as Irving for the Heat, so it’s easy to say who’s pulled away in that race, but McLennan — who visits the minor-league goalies every month and talks to each goalie every Monday — reminded the season is only half over.

“Matt’s attitude and work ethic have been great. He just hasn’t had the chance to get the net,” McLennan said. “Through it all, he’s been the consummate pro.

“If you go through the system, there’s some solid prospects and the guys here have done well. Kipper and Karl have played well.

“Everything’s pretty good.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

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