Photo by: Rob Ferguson of OKC Hockey, with permission.
Yesterday, Derek told us why Gilbert Brule was falling down the rankings; today, it's my responsibility to let you know why Teemu Hartikainen was ranked lower on each of the five ballots cast (even Derek's!) by an average of 4.4 spots. as a group, we've been pretty bullish on Hartikainen's chances, and before this season good news was plentiful. Despite needing to complete his military service, Hartikainen's offense improved from the year before, in which he won the SM-Liiga's Rookie of the Year award. After the season, he was invited to attend Finland's camp for the World Championships. Stylistically, he was willing to play a physical game that saw him get most of his chances from close to the net. Heck, even his contract was reason for optimism! Has the group here really soured on him?
I'll start by saying that Teemu Hartikainen has had a strong season so far in Oklahoma City. He's produced well both on the power play and at even strength, scoring 6-3-9 on the PP and 6-13-19 at EV in 44 AHL games. It's well short of the point per game clip you'd hope for from an offense only prospect, but Hartikainen's work along the boards and in front of the net suggests that he won't necessarily be that kind of player. Further, over his last 18 games, Hartikainen has been much closer to achieving that point per game target, scoring 6-11-17 and registering a +7 rating over that time. This "hot streak" coincides with the first re-call of Linus Omark and Ryan O`Marra, so is more likely to reflect increased ice time and responsibility, rather than a run of rolling sevens (although he is shooting a very healthy 14.6%). Hartikainen is already up to second in scoring among AHL rookies (or at least, the guys they consider rookies), and should be a strong contender for Rookie of the Year for the second time in three years.
So what's the deal? If he's performing this well in a professional league, why is he falling in the ranks? So far as I can tell, there are three main reasons. Firstly, on the season, Hartikainen's offense has regressed slightly going by NHLE, which could be considered a little bit discouraging. It's not at all uncommon for that to happen, so I don't think it should be a major concern, but it probably was something of a factor. The second reason is that his previous ranking of 10th was a bit false, truth be told. His aggregate ranking was 10th, but he wasn't ranked higher than 11th on anyone's individual list, so some drop was probably to be expected. His underlying numbers were bad, if you will. The last reason is the most encouraging of the lot: all these guys passing him are having tremendous seasons! Anton Lander, Jeff Petry, Martin Marincin, Theo Peckham, Devan Dubnyk... they've all taken big developmental steps forward, and that's nothing but great news for the Oilers. The reason I bring that up is because, despite his trip down the list, Teemu Hartikainen is a very good prospect who's staying right on track for an NHL career. He's taken a step forward already this season, and could well be in the NHL by the end of the year; he could even end up being very good. When you can say that about your (supposedly) 17th best guy, your organization sure does have a lot of talent.