When players reported to Barons training camp last September, Teemu Hartikainen was viewed as a bubble player to make the Edmonton Oilers' roster after the NHL lockout ended.
The Oilers' brass instructed the Finland native to provide a physical presence around the net, both five-on-five and on the power play. As the four months the lockout dragged on, Hartikainen prospered in his defined role.
When the NHL finally returned in early January, it was a no brainer that Hartikainen would head north with young Oilers stars Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Hartikainen spent the bulk of the final two months with Edmonton in a limited role. A should injury halted his momentum.
He has returned to Oklahoma City for the AHL playoffs, which provide another opportunity to solidify his spot on Edmonton's roster next season.
“He's been a beast in the playoffs,” said team captain Josh Green. “Last year, he arguably was one of our best players down the stretch. If you get him the puck down low it's hard to take it away from him. He's going to make it hard on their D. He can be very taxing on a defense.”
Taxing the defense is Hartikainen's primary role in a best-of-7 Western Conference semifinal series against the Texas Stars, which continues with Game 2 Saturday night in Cedar Park, Texas.
Hartikainen, a 23-year-old center, has scored nine points in the playoffs, including an assist on Anton Lander's overtime game winner in Game 1, a goal just 88 seconds into the extra period that gave the Barons a 2-1 win.
Texas goaltender Cristopher Nilstorp was near unbeatable in a first-round series against Milwaukee. Nilstorp was stingy again in Game 1. In a lower scoring series, Hartikainen could be a difference-maker around the crease.
“If you watch the NHL playoffs, most of the goals basically are scored off rebounds or fighting around the net,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “Guys like Hartikainen, Green and (Philippe) Cornet, that's their specialty.
“A guy like Harty, we want him to screen the goalie and if there's any garbage laying around bang it in. You're not going to beat a goalie too often from the wall or 20 feet. A big key in this series is getting traffic in front to make it tough for (Nilstorp) to see shots.”