Photo by Candace Riley, © 2011, All Rights Reserved.
"I bring heart, I want to win, I want to win all the time – not just find the easiest ways, but be in the corners, drive in front of the net, go there and score the goals and be a team player."
--Teemu Hartikainen, in his interview with Bruce McCurdy
Except for maybe his family and his good friend Reijo Ruotsalainen, no one is as big of a Teemu Hartikainen fan and backer as I am and I've got reams of digital ink to prove it. It's easy to see why Hartikainen has become a fan favorite and why so many are rooting for him to succeed. On the ice, he's everything we've come to expect from Finnish forwards. He's gritty, but wants the puck. He's tough, especially when he's bulling his way to the net. He's greasy, the kind of guy who ends up under the pile in front after banging away at rebounds. He forechecks, hits and shoots. He loves to shoot. He's also Finnish.
Off of the ice, he's one of the nicest, most pleasant and genuine athletes I've had the opportunity to speak with. In spite of his early success, he remains unchanged and extremely easy to root for. He cracks jokes and alternates between uproarious laughter and a wry smile. He's also Finnish.
He's a fan favorite, but can he get it done on the ice? What does the future hold for the young Finn? Will he play enough minutes to get the Oilers back to the playoffs?
10 to 17 and back to 9. No one bounces around these rankings like Teemu. Below is a table with his rankings from each of our four lists:
Last time around, he dropped 7 spots as Ben, Bruce and Scott all dropped him 5 places and Jonathan 6. This time around, he storms up the rankings 8 spots as Bruce raised him 10 places, Jonathan and Scott 6 each and Ben 5. Toss in Jaysen's 13 and Hartikainen is solidly in 9th place, but well back of 8th. It's like those guys that dinged him last winter don't know that Hartikainen is a slow starter and a strong finisher. Me? I'm a consistent guy. Though Hartikainen remains my favorite hockey player in any league, I'm realistic about his ceiling and possibilities.
Hartikainen has a ton of tools and an enormous opportunity in the NHL. He's built like he was chiseled from granite, he's already got NHL size (6'1" 215 lbs), he plays a power forward's game, and he's nasty in the corners and on the walls. In a system laden with forwards, he stands alone as the only power forward, and the combination of the above is a tantalizing one. His NHLE, however, hasn't caught up to the possibilities.
|NLHE G||NHLE A||NHLE P|
The stats aren't overwhelming, but I've looked in great detail at the developmental obstacles Hartikainen has overcome thus far -- a new league, military service, a new continent, league and language -- and how well he compares to those that have faced the same obstacles before him. He carried Oklahoma City through January and showed extremely well in his limited time in the NHL at the end of the season. Prior to the Ben Eager signing, he looked set to snag the Oilers' 4th line left wing job heading into the 2011-12 season. Now, it looks as if he'll be forced to wait another year, or at least for an injury call up. This puts his future at a bit of risk. The Oilers are bringing a flood of wings into Oklahoma over the next two seasons, and Ben Eager's roadblock gives each of those wings a chance to pass Hartikainen on the organizational depth chart.
Hartikainen has shown dedication, and the willingness to work, especially on his skating, thus far in his career. Starting the year in Oklahoma City, a familiar place, a familiar league and a few familiar teammates, should be a great help to Hartikainen's numbers to start the year. If he comes out of the gate fast, Ben Eager won't be a roadblock for long.