November 06 2012 05:50AM
In yesterday’s AHL grades piece, I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about Teemu Hartikainen. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t optimistic about his NHL future – far from it. In fact, he’s done as much to cement a shot at an NHL job when this lockout ends as anyone on the team not named Justin Schultz.
What Hartikainen Doesn’t Need To Be
Here’s what I wrote about Hartikainen yesterday:
I’ve been awfully impressed with Teemu Hartikainen, though he clearly isn’t at the same level as Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins. He’s been an effective guy in front of the net, and he’s been a pretty decent wingman for the NHL kids. The play typically dies on his stick more than it does on that of the other two, and despite improvements in his skating he’s not exactly fleet of foot, but he’s shown enough that he might get a skill line audition when NHL hockey returns.
I’ve never been overly impressed with Hartikainen’s offensive abilities. His nine points in ten games is the best clip he’s managed over his young career. Prior to this year he’s been roughly a 50-point guy in a full average AHL year. That’s significantly lower than we’d like to see for a guy auditioning for a skill line. He’s also recorded 10 points in 29 career NHL games – both of those things point to a guy who might be a 30-point man in the majors.
Realistically, though, Hartikainen doesn’t need to be a Milan Lucic or Ryane Clowe or Erik Cole (although all of those guys had relatively slow starts to their pro careers in terms of points, so we can’t entirely dismiss the long-term possibility that he might grow into that sort of player). He doesn’t need to be a 30-goal scorer or a 50/60-point man in the NHL. All he needs to do is keep up.
What Hartikainen Needs To Be
All Hartikainen really needs to do to stick in the top six is be a 35-to-40 point guy. It’s okay if he’s the third wheel on whatever line he’s on – as long as he’s banging around and adding a little chaos to the mix.
In terms of comparables, we might liken him to Dainius Zubrus, the long-time winger who spent most of last season on New Jersey’s second line. Zubrus is a 6’5”, 225lb utility guy who has reached more than 1,000 NHL games in his career simply because he’s big, pretty physical, and can chip in occasionally. He’s scored in double-digits for the last 12 seasons; he’s typically in 35-45 point range. Just twice in his career has he scored 20+ goals or 50+ points.
Personally, I see no reason why Hartikainen can’t enjoy a Zubrus-style career. His performance in the minors so far suggests that placed with high-end skill, he can chip in more than he has in his career to date. His career to date indicates that he’s probably a 30-point guy in the majors. If Hartikainen’s a 30-point guy in the top-nine, gusting to 40-50 points when he’s given a bump in role, that’s going to be enough to have a very solid career given his other attributes.
Why These Are Good Times
The Edmonton Oilers have been searching for a big power forward for ages now; certainly since Kevin Prendergast was first promoted to the chief scouting position, and arguably longer. It’s been a quest that hasn’t worked out very well to date.
Teemu Hartikainen isn’t the perfect fit for the job. His offensive skills could be a little sharper. He could be meaner on a more consistent basis. He could also probably be a little bigger and a little faster. But none of that matters, because he’s far and away the best fit the team has in the system. He’s the only legitimate, nearly NHL-ready prospect the team has that combines enough actual hockey ability with physical edge.
Getting the breaks with a team is as much about suitability for team need as it is overall talent. Linus Omark, to use one example, is more offensively gifted than Hartikainen. Omark, however, has never really been a priority for the Oilers because if everything works out he’s going to be competing for jobs with the Eberles and Hemskys and Yakupovs of the world. That’s not the slot Hartikainen fills. There isn’t a guy in the slot Hartikainen’s aiming for – the closest fits on the current roster are probably Taylor Hall and Ryan Smyth, with Hall having too much value and Smyth’s age lying outside the current core of the team.
Realistically, if the Oilers want to add a guy to the top six who can score a little bit but adds size and a physical dimension, they have three choices: Hartikainen, a trade outside the organization (which will cost significant assets, assets that could be used to shore up the blue line or the goaltending), or wait and hope that Mitch Moroz can be that guy.
Even if this team were run by Sam Pollock in his prime, it’s difficult to imagine the trade for a big forward happening quickly. And even if absolutely everything goes right, Moroz is likely years away.
It’s Hartikainen or its nobody, in other words. And with nine points in ten games playing with Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins, he’s making a pretty good argument that he deserves a shot.
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