Over the course of the last two weeks The Copper & Blue's Top 25 Under 25 has worked through some of the Oilers longer term prospects and some who are probably a little more suspect than prospect at this point in their careers. Finally though we've managed to reach the top ten, a point where the list gets to be a lot of fun because every name on this list is either already in the NHL or on the verge of making the jump.
On the verge is actually a good way to describe the man we find at number 10 - Teemu Hartikainen. That would have also been a good way to describe Hartikainen at this same time last year. After a 12 game audition with the Oilers to end the 2010/11 season, a lot of fans expected Hartikainen to spend a significant amount of time with the big club last season. That of course didn't happen and a year later he's still just knocking on the door.
Hartikainen is a big, gritty player who seems to enjoy playing on the edge. He isn't the kind of player who is going to score 30 goals but he isn't an offensive black hole either. Really, the biggest question surrounding Hartikainen at this point is whether or not he can play a top six role in the NHL. His play to end the 2010/11 season left many feeling that the answer to that question was yes, most definitely yes. So what happened?
|Rank||Player||DOB||Drafted||Year||Alan ||Ben ||Bruce ||DB ||Derek ||Jon||Ryan||Scott|
The good news is that what happened wasn't all on Hartikainen. At least those ranking him here didn't seem to see it that way. As a group we dropped Hartikainen just one spot and were nearly unanimous in our rankings. I see him as a victim of roster decisions over the summer (Ben Eager) and again during camp (when the Oilers opted to kept Anton Lander) that meant Hartikainen had to start the season in Oklahoma City with the Barons. When a spot with the Oilers became available as a result of injuries, Hartikainen was dealing with and injury of his own.
When we last checked in on Hartikainen in the Top 25 Under 25 Scott looked at his pre and post injury production and it seemed possible then that the injury was still affecting his play. The difference in his game was most noticeable in his shots totals which were much lower than what we've become accustomed to seeing with him. In the 25 games (11 regular season and 14 in the playoffs) Hartikainen played with the Barons since then he took an average of 2.92 shots per game.
He also played another dozen games with the Oilers where he wasn't as effective as he'd been the year before but his play was generally considered to be much improved over the games he had played with the team earlier in the season. In those games he also displayed that edge he plays with, most notably against the Dallas Stars when he skated from the blue line to corner with the sole intent of hitting Alex Goligoski into the end boards. Hartikainen left his feet on the play and a penalty for boarding should have been called but wasn't. Regardless, it was an example of something that the Oilers very rarely do and Hartikainen can provide.
Beyond border line hits Hartikainen also chipped in two goals and three assists including his first multi goal game against Anaheim. The Oilers beat the Ducks 2-1 that night with the Ducks' lone goal coming from Hartikainen's Finnish countryman Teemu Selanne. For the record, that was the first time in NHL history that multiple Teemus had scored in the same game.
In summary, Hartikainen still looks like the player we thought he was. That is a good thing but with the Oilers returning virtually the same lineup as last season Hartikainen will need to force his way into the lineup with a tremendous training camp or he will quite likely find himself starting the season in Oklahoma City once again. It's unfortunate that the team is more or less guaranteeing roster spots to players like Eager and Darcy Hordichuk when they've got Hartikainen waiting in the wings.