Lehtonen's growth key to Stars' success

Updated: November 7, 2013, 12:38 PM ET
By Craig Custance

One of the first conversations between Lindy Ruff and Dallas Stars goalie coach Mike Valley centered on Kari Lehtonen, a goalie with whom Ruff was still familiarizing himself.

"How's his puck handling?" Ruff asked Valley.

"Average," Valley answered.

"That's the thing I want you to focus on," Ruff said.

Lehtonen has always had skill and athleticism, but like many goalies raised on the big ice in Europe, handling the puck wasn't a priority in his early development. Throughout his career, he's addressed other areas of need first.

New Stars GM Jim Nill remembers his first impression of Lehtonen when he joined the Stars. He had been scouting Lehtonen since the netminder was 15 years old in Finland, so he knew the skill set. He was still impressed with what he saw on the ice.

"I am amazed at his preparation and focus," Nill said Wednesday. "I've come before practice and see him and I kind of want to go talk to him but look and he's in his preparation mode. You see him in the game and it's the same thing."

Intense preparation is an element to Lehtonen's game that he has added as he's matured from the young, gifted draft pick who couldn't stay on the ice because of conditioning shortcomings to a starting goalie in Dallas who appears to realize just how desperately he's needed on the ice at all times.