THE TEAM TODAY: Teemu's Time
Third-year pro Teemu Hartikainen talks about an off-season fishing in Finland, expectations for 2012-13 and possibly playing with RNH and Eberle
TEEMU'S TIMEOKLAHOMA CITY - It's been a roller coaster of a professional career so far for Oilers prospect Teemu Hartikainen but now heading into his third pro campaign, the big left winger from Kuopio, Finland looks to make some big strides towards eventually securing a full-time gig in Edmonton.
"You just have to come here and play as good as you can. It's the same thing for every young player. We have to prove we can play here at a high level every night. I need to do the same as I did last playoffs, play like that every night and be one of the leaders on the ice," said Hartikainen following the third day of training camp Tuesday in Oklahoma City.
"I just have to show them that I can play."
In his rookie season, Hartikainen turned some heads with 17 goals and 42 points in 66 regular season games for the OKC Barons. He finished the regular season in Edmonton and finished strong with three goals and five points in 12 outings. He followed that up with another strong season last year.
"He's come along nicely," said Barons head coach Todd Nelson. "I think that after the first season we were expecting bigger and better things and that's what we saw in the second season. One of the primary focuses with him was just to work on his defensive zone. He got a lot stronger with it as the season went on."
Hartikainen had 14 goals and 32 points in 51 games -- essentially the same pace as the year before -- but as Nelson mentioned, his defensive play was much improved. He also got into 17 games with the Oilers putting up two goals and five points.
"I thought down the stretch last year he was one of our most effective players," said Nelson. "He had a great playoff run with us and just played some excellent hockey. He was a force to be reckoned with out there on the ice."
The Finnish winger displayed some of the grit and scoring touch that the Oilers need during the Calder Cup Playoffs with four goals and eight helpers in 14 games.
Heading into the off-season, Teemu spent his time trying to get better.
"I went to Helsinki and skated there with my friends. In my hometown I skated with my buddy and sometimes when my hometown team had some ice time available I went with them but not every day."
Hartikainen also spent some down time away from the rink.
"It was a great summer for me. Working out, hunting, fishing, traveling a little bit and doing some normal summer stuff. Going to the beach, hanging out with friends," he said, adding that hunter and fishing is a big part of the culture in Finland.
"Usually the more north you go, the more fishers and hunters you will see. We have 5 million people living in Finland and maybe 200,000 hunters so it's a big thing. Usually, where I'm living there's maybe two of 10 or three of 10 guys hunting. I love it. We have good forests and good lakes."
Refreshed and ready to go, Hartikainen wants to help carry the Barons even further following a successful 99-point season that saw them advance to the third round.
"We had a good season last year, went to the conference finals. We know we can go further this year. We have a really good team; young but really talented," he stated.
Coach Nelson added that having more of a comfort level will also help Hartikainen this year.
"Harty feels a lot more comfortable. He knows what to expect from the coaching staff and knows what's expected of him. I think just moving forward, this year is going to be a very important year for him. He's only going to get better."
The head coach also expects Hartikainen to get off to a better start.
"We'll see where he left it off from last year. We'll see the things we taught him and the things that he's learned, how he applies it at the start of the year. Hopefully he hasn't forgotten everything," Nelson laughed. "If he comes back and applies those things, it's up to us to push him. Push him to a new level. We've got to get players playing responsibly but also offensively chipping in. We have to keep on pushing and driving him to excel so when the NHL's ready to start up he's ready to go."
The addition of Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins up front will have a ripple effect on the entire team. Hartikainen talked about the excitement of playing with those two at the AHL level.
"They're two good players. It's a pretty good year Ebs had last year, and Nuge too," he said. "You can play with them and see how they're playing and learn from that."
Not mincing words, Hartikainen admitted he was hoping to be one of those players who gets to skate alongside the star duo.
"It's good for our team. We're going to have a really good power play. I hope I'm on one of the power plays and I get a chance to play with two guys like that."
Though he didn't come out and say it, Nelson did hint that Hartikainen could get a look with the pair.
"For Harty, we know that he's able to play left side or right side -- it doesn't really matter -- but he would definitely be with two other individuals that have some skill and would provide some offence for us."
The Barons made some numerical changes to their roster on Tuesday morning with four players changing digits. Jordan Eberle goes from number 14 to number 7, Antti Tyrvainen switches to 14, Eric Hunter takes Tyrvainen's old number 14 and Ryan Martindale, who was number 7, switches to 17.
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com