TORONTO -- Aleksander Barkov of Tappara and Artturi Lehkonen of KalPa are opponents on the ice in SM-liiga, the top Finnish professional league. They're also NHL Central Scouting's top two Finnish-born forwards in their final ranking of European skaters. Off the ice, however, the two are close friends from their time as teammates on various Finnish national teams and were roommates at the NHL Scouting Combine this week.
"We have been friends for four years," Lehkonen told NHL.com. "Since we started with the national team. We've been roommates, like, seven times. We're close to each other."
That relationship gives Lehkonen a unique viewpoint on Barkov's game, and what makes the 6-foot-3, 209-pound center Central Scouting's top-rated European skater.
"He's an amazing player," Lehkonen said. "I think he sees the game well. When I watch his game, it's like art. He does many things that he doesn't even have to think about. He doesn't have to hurry any situation. He always finds the space to pass and shoot."
Barkov had 48 points in 53 regular-season games with Tappara this season, and three goals and four assists in six games for Finland at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship. Some of those assists at the World Juniors went to Lehkonen, who had three goals in six games.
"In my age group I think he's the best player I've played with," Lehkonen said. "It's amazing to play with him. I'm a goal-scorer, so he finds me. I just need to go to the doorstep and he passes to me and I put it in."
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