The Oilers' young stars aren't the only players on the Oklahoma City Barons' roster who will be playing in Edmonton when the NHL lockout ends.
Teemu Hartikainen split time between OKC and Edmonton last year. But the bulk of his ice time was with the Barons.
This season Hartikainen wants to prove to team officials he's ready to join stars Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall as cornerstone pieces on a young, talented team with a bright future.
“The thing (Hartikainen) has to do is what he did in the playoffs last year,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “He was very dominant. He played a very physical game. And he has the ability to score goals.”
This season, Hartikainen has scored at least one point in every game except the opener. With seven points, Hartikainen is second in scoring behind rookie defenseman Justin Schultz.
“What he brings is the ability for us to sustain pressure,” said Edmonton general manager Steve Tambellini. “It's hard to move him off the puck. Teemu's biggest thing has been having consistency as a pro, deliver every night.
“He's off to a very good start, which is important for him. I know he's working very hard on his strength and conditioning to sustain the type of play we're demanding from him. If he keeps it up, he'll have a good shot at (playing in) the National (Hockey) League.”
Hartikainen, 22, has been a power forward his entire career dating back to junior days in Kuopio, Finland.
“I've been playing that way all my life,” Hartikainen said. “But when I came over here, I didn't know how I should play. Do I need to score a lot of points and be a really good player in the stats? Now I know.
“I don't have to be a 100-point player. Of course, I have to score goals. I'm on the power play. But that's not the biggest thing. It's to stand in front (of the net) and try and get the goalie's eyes off the puck, drive to the net, hit hard.”
Hall, the third member of Edmonton's No. 1 line alongside Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle and a former No. 1 overall draft pick, is close to returning from March shoulder surgery. Hartikainen currently is filling Hall's spot.
“He goes to the net well,” Eberle said. “That's his biggest key. He's a big body in front of the net. On mine and Nuge's goals, he's right there screening. When you have two guys skilled and him in there banging bodies, it makes for a good line combination.”
On an Edmonton roster full of speed, Hartikainen (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) can fill a role.
“He's fun to play with,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “I got to play with him a little bit last year when he came up. He protects the puck well and sees the ice well.”
Selected in the sixth round of the 2008 draft, Hartikainen has played in 29 games in Edmonton the past two years.
Hartikainen, though, has spent the bulk of his time in Oklahoma City. He's scored 81 points in 123 games with the Barons, including 34 goals.
In the final year of his contract, Hartikainen knows a solid showing during the lockout could turn into a promotion to Edmonton and an extended deal.
“I can better my game here and when the lockout ends, I'll be ready to go,” Hartikainen said. “I just have to keep in mind, someday, the lockout will be over and they will call up players. There might be some room for me, too. I just have to be playing good down here.”
Hartikainen has strengthened his case the first two weeks of the season.
“He's adapted to the North American style a lot better,” Eberle said. “It can be tough for Europeans to come over here and jump right into it. He plays that style where he gets into the forecheck quickly and has a good shot.
“He has all the things you want in a power forward. He's developed a lot. He's going to be a good player.”
BARONS VS. TEXAS STARS
When: 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Cox Convention Center
Radio: KXXY-FM 96.1. Jim Byers play-by-play, Doug Sauter color analyst.
Tickets: Prices start at $10. Available at Cox Center box office or by calling (405) 232-4625
Scouting report: OKC won the regular-season series last year (8-2-0). The Barons and Stars are tied in the AHL's South Division with identical 3-3-0 records. ... The Barons are coming off a 6-4 loss to Houston, a game the Aeros outshot OKC 39-20, on Friday night. ... Recording two more assists in Friday's loss, Barons defenseman Justin Schultz leads the team with 10 points, including four goals. ... The Stars are led by center Cody Eskins, who has six points, including three goals. ... Texas, the Dallas Stars' affiliate located in the Austin suburb of Cedar Park, has surrendered 19 goals in six games. ... Fans can skate with the team for 45 minutes after the game with admission. Skate rental is free, or fans can bring their own. Fans must register at the guest relations table by the end of the second period.