NASHVILLE ó 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. Itís what encouraged his appetite for destruction.
ďThatís part of my game, I like to hit,Ē Hartikainen said. ďI 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 itís something that I loved to do.
ďWhen 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 Iím 20, Iím starting to feel the puck and Iím becoming better and better with it all the time. I feel my skills are getting better all the time.Ē
Called up just over a week ago, the Oilers are getting a sneak peak into the skill set of their promising centre.
So far, itís not Hartikainenís hands that have impressed, but his willingness and ability to drive opponents through the boards.
Selected by the Oilers in the sixth-round ó 163rd overall ó 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.
ďThe game here is faster and the ice is smaller, so itís something that you have to get used to, but Iím comfortable here now,Ē Hartikainen said. ďItís a little bit tougher to be physical in Europe, because itís 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 itís tougher to get to them.
ďBut the good thing about it, is that I got used to playing against men. I think physically, weíre 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.Ē
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.
ďI feel comfortable,Ē Hartikainen said. ďBefore Saturdayís game I wasnít nervous anymore, which was good. I just wanted to play my own game and it looks like I can do it.
ďItís a lot faster game up here and you have to skate all the time. Itís really important that I work on my skating this summer. If Iím able to get faster, then Iíll be able to do more things up here.Ē