Photo by Rob Ferguson, OKC Hockey, with permission.
In the least-surprising move of the season, we've learned that the Oilers will call up Teemu Hartikainen prior to their game against Phoenix at Rexall on Thursday. Already injured in nearly every way possible prior to the game in Pittsburgh on Sunday, the Oilers lost Shawn Horcoff, Gilbert Brule and J.F. Jacques to injury and it looks like Horcoff and Jacques may be out for the rest of the season. Though promoting Hartikainen to the big club may have a significant negative impact on the Oklahoma City Barons run at the playoffs, the Oilers are long out of options with injury replacements. This one, however, may hurt Oklahoma City more than the rest.
Neal Livingston calls Hartikainen the heart of the Barons and has talked about Hartikainen's effort and offense have kept the Barons afloat since the new year. The 6'1" 215 lb left wing has carried the Barons on his back at different points throughout this season and the Barons can ill-afford to lose him. But the call has made all of that moot - Hartikainen will make his NHL debut Thursday night at Rexall place and restart a long-dormant Finnish tradition in Edmonton.
It's no secret that Hartikainen has struggled early in each of his professional seasons and with good reason.
In 2008, when he was eighteen, he moved from KalPa's junior program to the professional team. He spent the early part of that season acclimatizing to the league and the team. He caught on fast enough to post a marvelous rookie season and win the Wasama Trophy. He fulfilled his mandatory military service upon turning nineteen and through the final two months of service took a second job as a professional hockey player and once again his numbers suffered as he tried to balance the two jobs. Completion of his Army service invigorated the young Finn and the results posted in his nineteen-year-old season were extremely similar to those of Jere Lehtinen. As if his career hadn't seen enough tumult, he decided to come to North America to play in the AHL as a twenty-year-old. Adjusting to life in a new country with a new language would be difficult enough, but he's had to adjust to yet another new league as well. As has been his custom, Hartikainen posted lower numbers than expected through November, but as the calender turns to December, Teemu is heating up once again.
And heat up he has. Below are Hartikainen's updated splits.
|Dec - Pres.||42||10||21||31||12||83||0.238||0.738||1.976|
Hartikainen has received sheltered minutes, but he's made the most of them. At .738 points per game and a remarkable turnaround in the plus-minus, his all around game has been lauded by Neal time and time again. He also gave the Barons one of their highlights of the season with his dash through the neutral zone and pass to himself for a goal.
His full-season NHLE is 9G - 14A - 23P, so Hartikainen can't be counted on for much other than his typical strong game on the boards and in front. He does bring a much-needed element to the team and the power play especially. If he can work the boards to win battles and create problems in front with a man advantage, he may be able to carve a niche for himself heading into training camp in September. Given the injuries up front, projecting 12 healthy forwards is a chore, let alone trying to predict lines and Hartikainen's linemates.
Hartikainen's NHL debut will be gratifying on a personal level. Nearly two years ago I my took first look at the kid's numbers and I, along with the other writers here, especially Neal, have tracked him closely ever since. His promotion to the Oilers is the first step in building a great team - a team can never have enough Finns. Hartikainen is a genuine person possessing a hilariously dry sense of humor and he's an outstanding interview subject. His game is that of the prototypical Finn and he plays with the heart of a lion.
Welcome to Edmonton, Teemu. We hope you are here to stay for a very long time.