I recently had the opportunity to ask Oilers prospect and personal favorite Teemu Hartikainen some questions on his play last year, his season this year and his plans for the future. I'd like to extend a big thanks to KalPa Hockey, and especially Sami and Kimmo Kapanen for coordinating and arranging my time with Teemu.
The Copper & Blue: I suspect you are aware of the Edmonton-Finland connection, with Jari Kurri, Risto Siltanen and Esa Tikkanen among the all-time Oiler greats. What was your reaction to getting drafted by Edmonton?
Teemu Hartikainen: It was awesome when Edmonton drafted me. I know Kurri, Siltanen and Tikkanen played there. They were great players and they are big stars here. I hear a lot of good things about the Oilers and especially the great teams of the 80s. When I visited Edmonton this past summer, I saw how hockey is such a big thing there. The media followed us everywhere and people always wanted to talk to us, like in the airport and in the large mall that we visited.
C & B: What position are you playing for KalPa? What is your natural position?
Hartikainen: I'm playing both left and right wing. My natural position is forward -- in juniors I played a lot of center but now in the SM-Liiga, coach is using me as a winger.
C & B: You've been described as a power forward and from some photos we can see that your physique is impressive. What sort of physical training do you do in-season? What about during the off-season?
Hartikainen: Yes, I'm similar to a power forward. I try to get to the front of the net a lot and I like to hit often. I use my body and strength in the corners and then I try to drive close to the goal and shoot. During the season, I'm training often now to improve my on-ice skills -- skating drills, shooting drills and trying to improve my hands. Normally, I spend the summer training my body.
C & B: On draft day, some scouting services had questions about your skating ability. More recently, Tommi Kerttula said that your "...skating was generally good, but must improve explosiveness." Talk about your skating. How are you improving your explosiveness?
Hartikainen: I know that if I want to play in North America I must train and improve my skating. This summer I worked with Steve Serdachny and he gave me a good skating regimen. I'm training on my skating, I hope to skate better through training so often.
C & B: What's it like playing with Sami Kapanen? How has he helped your game?
Hartikainen: Sami is teaching me the little things I need for my game, especially how I can shoot better, and the things I need to do to play in North America. His advice is helping me so much.
C & B: In looking at the stats, we see that you were second among KalPa forwards in shots/time on ice. Was that asked of you by your coach, or does that come naturally to you?
Hartikainen: My coach [Pekka Virta] tells me "You must shoot if you want to score." So I usually try to shoot from everywhere because it's playing the percentages -- if I shoot 100 times, I know that 5-15 of them will go in the goal. But, sometimes, it can be a long time when the puck isn't going in the goal.
C & B: Your rookie year was quite impressive, culminating in the Wasama Trophy. What can we expect in your second year?
Hartikainen: I expect maybe 30-40 points this season. I'm playing about 18 minutes per game, I kill penalties and play on the power play, so I get to learn so much in each game. The early games are going okay, kind of medium, not very good, but not so bad. I'm not scoring very much yet, but I think if I play my game and try my best I'll score more goals this year.
C & B: You had an outstanding World Juniors tournament where the announcers noticed your play in both ends of the ice. Has your defensive game handled the SM-Liiga well?
Hartikainen: My coach says that everyone must play defense. We don't have those big stars that can play offense only. So, I try to play defense as well as I can, hit the opponent as often as I can and then try to help my team score.
C & B: When do you expect to play in North America?
Hartikainen: I don't know yet, I must learn to skate better before I come over there. Hopefully this season I'll learn to skate better and have a great season. Then I can determine which is the best place for me to play hockey.
C & B: Best of luck to you this coming season, Edmonton fans are rooting for you.
Hartikainen: Thank you.