SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers size up Hartikainen

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:21 PM ET

NASHVILLE — Size has never been an issue for Teemu Hartikainen.

Growing up in Finland, the Edmonton Oilers winger was always among the bigger kids out on the ice. It’s what encouraged his appetite for destruction.

“That’s part of my game, I like to hit,” Hartikainen said. “I like to go in front of the net and I like to play the physical game. I was a pretty big kid all the time growing up and it’s something that I loved to do.

“When I was 15, I grew up so fast that my hands were brutal and I was really unco-ordinated and had trouble handling the puck. Now that I’m 20, I’m starting to feel the puck and I’m becoming better and better with it all the time. I feel my skills are getting better all the time.”

Called up just over a week ago, the Oilers are getting a sneak peak into the skill set of their promising centre.

So far, it’s not Hartikainen’s hands that have impressed, but his willingness and ability to drive opponents through the boards.

Selected by the Oilers in the sixth-round — 163rd overall — of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Hartikainen came to training camp this season as an unknown commodity. He had 33 points in 53 games playing in Finland last season and there were questions to how his game would transfer to North America and a smaller ice surface.

Early indications would suggest, it suits him better.

“The game here is faster and the ice is smaller, so it’s something that you have to get used to, but I’m comfortable here now,” Hartikainen said. “It’s a little bit tougher to be physical in Europe, because it’s a bigger ice surface, so you have to skate a longer way to hit somebody. There also a lot of teams that move the puck quickly so it’s tougher to get to them.

“But the good thing about it, is that I got used to playing against men. I think physically, we’re at the same level, so now, I feel safe going into the corner with some of these guys. I know they are big and they can hit, but I feel I can match-up with them.”

Along with recording a couple of impressive hits, Hartikainen picked up an assist in his NHL debut Thursday in a loss to the Phoenix Coyotes.

He continued his physical prowess two nights later against the Colorado Avalanche.

“I feel comfortable,” Hartikainen said. “Before Saturday’s game I wasn’t nervous anymore, which was good. I just wanted to play my own game and it looks like I can do it.

“It’s a lot faster game up here and you have to skate all the time. It’s really important that I work on my skating this summer. If I’m able to get faster, then I’ll be able to do more things up here.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

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