It's just a matter of time before Barons center Teemu Hartikainen returns to Edmonton.
The National Hockey League trading deadline is Tuesday. The Barons host Hamilton on Tuesday night at the Cox Convention Center.
But will Hartikainen still be in Oklahoma City later this week?
When Hartikainen made Edmonton's roster after the lockout ended, speculation was he might be in the NHL to stay. But after returning from a shoulder injury the 22-year-old native of Finland was sent to OKC due to a lack of production (three points in 19 games).
“It was a numbers game,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “They had all their guys healthy. And a guy like (Magnus) Paajarvi has been playing really well. It was hard for Hardy to get in the lineup.”
One advantage to playing in OKC is Hartikainen will get more ice time after averaging only 10 minutes a game with Edmonton. He'll be the Barons' in-the-crease force on power plays and play regular shifts.
Hartikainen, 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, has played on all three teams in Barons history. Last season, he was a key member on the team that reached the Western Conference finals.
“This is sort of like home to me,” Hartikainen said. “I feel comfortable in this locker room. I can play my game, be physical, score goals and play in front of the net on the (power play). I know what I can do in this league. My confidence is good.”
A sixth-round pick in the 2008 draft, Hartikainen proved he can fill a lower-line role for the Oilers. One reason he was reassigned to Oklahoma City is Edmonton could send him to Triple-A without exposing him to waivers.
“When Hardy is playing his game he's very tough to play against, when he's moving his feet, finishing his checks and is very strong down low,” Nelson said. “He's learned the last three years his role is to be that big body up front. The big thing for him is consistency.”
Hartikainen scored two goals and added an assist in Oklahoma City's 7-3 win Saturday at Rockford. The first goal was a highlight reel special. Hartikainen stickhandled the puck between his legs and slammed home a backhander in the crease.
His focus is to fine tune his game after the shoulder injury sapped some momentum from a strong start.
“It's a higher level,” Hartikainen said. “There are a lot of good D-men. It's hard to come out of the corner and beat them every time. I just need to work a little bit harder. I felt I was playing pretty well the first 12 games before I got hurt. But I didn't score enough.”
Including games before the lockout, Hartikainen has scored 30 points, including 13 goals, in 40 games with the Barons.
In his three seasons in OKC, Hartikainen has 104 points, including 44 goals, in 157 games in three seasons with the Barons.
“It's been great to see guys like Teemu come down with the right attitude,” said defenseman Taylor Fedun. “They know if they work hard and do the right things they'll be right back up there. Teemu is a shining example. He's been a huge contributor.”
After the lockout ended, Hartikainen was on Edmonton's third line with Ryan Smyth and Shawn Horcoff. He later was moved to the fourth line. When he returned from the injured list the Oilers didn't have an open spot in their rotation.
“He's definitely part of their future,” Nelson said. “They're young with a lot of skill players. Hardy is one of those power forwards, a big body. He can handle a rough game, but he also has skill to put pucks in the net. Those guys are hard to find.”