This was supposed to be a rebuilding season for the Chicago Blackhawks. The team announced in October that it was committed to starting over and wanted its fans to adjust their short-term expectations accordingly.

Defenseman Olli Maatta, forward Brandon Saad and goaltender Corey Crawford departed in the offseason, and then in late December the Blackhawks announced captain Jonathan Toews would be out long term with an undisclosed illness. The center has yet to return, but Chicago is in position to make the playoffs anyway, thanks in large part to rookie goalie Kevin Lankinen.

The 25-year-old native of Finland is just 16 games into his NHL career but owns a 9-3-4 record and has a league-leading 508 saves. He has a .924 save percentage, which ranks among the NHL’s best. His 11 quality starts (outings with at least a league-average .908 save rate) not only give Chicago fans hope that the rebuild won’t be lengthy; it also places the team on a new trajectory.

Lankinen is fourth in goals saved above average (8.62), which calculates the difference between how many goals a goalie has allowed and how many a league-average goalie would have given up on the same shots. He also ranks second in goaltending point shares, Hockey Reference’s stat that measures individual contributions toward team victories, with 4.2, just eight-tenths of a point behind Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. No other goaltender has at least four point shares heading into Friday’s games.

If we project Lankinen’s point shares over an 82-game season, he is on pace to post the most by a rookie goaltender with at least 15 games played in the salary cap era, which started in 2005-06. His projected goals saved above average would put him second among the same group of rookies, sandwiched between eventual Vezina Trophy winners Henrik Lundqvist at No. 1 (47 projected goals saved above average in 2005-06) and Tuukka Rask at No. 3 (44 in 2009-10).

Lankinen’s rise to the top of the leader board is fueled by his ability to turn away a large portion of shots originating from the slot or crease at even strength. He has stopped 91 of 105 high-danger shots, giving him the second-highest save rate among goalies who have faced at least 100 of those opportunities. Looked at another way, we would expect a goalie to give up 21 goals on those 105 scoring chances, yet Lankinen has allowed just 14. Only Vasilevskiy has a bigger gap between expected goals allowed and actual goals allowed on high-danger chances at even strength.

Not all of Lankinen’s success in the NHL should be a surprise. He established himself as one of the top goalies in SM-Liiga, Finland’s top pro league, by posting a .918 save percentage in 105 games with HIFK and KooKoo. Lankinen had a .943 save percentage during the regular season and playoffs combined in 2017-18, his final season in Finland. During the 2019 world championships, he had a 32-save shutout against Russia in the semifinals and stopped 43 of 44 shots to secure gold in a 3-1 win over Canada in the title game. He finished the tournament with a .942 save percentage in eight games.

And with Chicago’s American Hockey League club, the Rockford IceHogs, he set an AHL franchise record with 55 saves in a 2-1 overtime win against the Milwaukee Admirals in December 2019. He also represented the IceHogs at the AHL All-Star Game last season.

“It’s nice to see him getting the chance to show that he can play,” HIFK goaltending coach Jan Lundell told last month. “It doesn’t surprise me because he’s worked so hard for this opportunity and he has prepared himself both physically and mentally for this opportunity, as you can see in how he’s playing and how solid he is. He’s ready for the challenge.”