Going through a practice with the Barons on Tuesday at the Cox Center, Teemu Hartikainen looked like he couldn't be happier to be back in Oklahoma City.
“It's great being here,” the 21-year-old Finn said. “Coming to the rink with this team right now makes me happy. We're a very close group, even closer than last year.”
On his latest callup to the NHL's Edmonton Oilers, Hartikainen had a chance to share the ice with a pair of the top Finnish players of all-time — Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu. Both play for Anaheim.
In the first of two meetings with the Ducks during the stint with Edmonton, Hartikainen scored a pair of first-period goals in a 2-1 win. Selanne scored Anaheim's goal, with an assist from Koivu.
“It was great to play against them,” Hartikainen said. “They're kind of my idols.”
Playing with Selanne, who has 663 career NHL goals, was especially gratifying.
The second meeting between the teams came in what could've been the 41-year-old Selanne's final home game.
“Of course, you don't want to go kill him in a corner or anything,” Hartikainen said. “You don't want to hurt him in maybe his last home game. You just watch how he does things and be amazed at his career.”
Hartikainen took lessons away from his latest NHL stint that he hopes leads into a full-time spot with Edmonton next season.
“I'm really confident at that level now,” he said. “But I've got to work on my skating. Last year, it was in the (defensive) zone and this year I worked really hard on that. In my last 12 games, I was a plus-5. This time, it's skating, creating more scoring chances and getting better in the first few steps.”
The Barons squeaked into the American Hockey League postseason a year ago. Oklahoma City coaches hoped the addition of Hartikainen, Chris VandeVelde, Ryan O'Marra, Linus Omark and Jeff Petry after the end of Edmonton's regular season would provide a spark.