At the age of 16 last season, Alexander Barkov made his debut in SM-liiga, the top professional league in his native Finland. He had seven goals and nine assists in 32 games with Tappara, and his 16 points were fourth among the 64 skaters age 21 and under.
"It was big step [from the under-20 league], but there's a better game in SM-liiga," Barkov told NHL.com. "I tried to play my own game."
He excelled when he had the chance, but lost time when he was hit in the mouth with a puck and battled mononucleosis.
Healthy and ready for the 2012-13 season, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound center is expected to be among the top prospects for the 2013 NHL Draft. NHL Central Scouting listed him as an A player to watch on its preliminary list.
And he's living up to that ranking so far, with four goals, four assists and a plus-4 rating in his first four games.
"He's a skilled, mature center with good size," Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting, told NHL.com. "Cool, smart center with excellent vision -- very good playmaker and passer. Never panics. Good team player."
Some of that comes from Barkov's bloodlines. His father, Alexander, played professionally for 22 seasons in Russia, Italy, and for the final 10 seasons with Tappara. He helped Tappara win the SM-liiga title in 2002-03.
The elder Barkov retired when his son was 10 years old, so Alexander does remember a bit of his father in action, but said there's really only one similarity: "We are both slow players."
Barkov said he's happy playing in SM-liiga and won't be heading to Russia, where his father is an assistant coach with Ak Bars Kazan of the Kontinental Hockey League. Barkov said his father coached him on youth teams growing up in Finland, but now that he's older, he wants to have a relationship with his father that doesn't involve hockey so closely.
Barkov Sr. represented his native Russia three times at the World Championships, and his son is starting to make headlines for his play with Finland in international competition. Barkov had four points in seven games at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship and three points in seven games at the 2012 World Under-18 Championship.
He's expected to play a major role for Finland at the 2013 WJC, to be held Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, 2013 in Ufa, Russia. He had one assist in five games against the United States and Sweden in August at the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., and said that experience, combined with what he learned at last year's tournament, has him feeling ready to play a big role.
"He's a very smart player for us," Finland WJC coach Harri Rindell told NHL.com. "He's a very good team player. I just like him because he's a humble guy. He wants to learn more and more. Let's hope he can be healthy all the way. We have good expectations of him."
Others also have very high expectations for Barkov, and though he knows NHL scouts will be watching him closely this season, Barkov said he won't let the extra attention affect him.
"I don't think about them," he said. "I only play for the team and try to win the game. Sometimes I think about that [the draft], but I live in this moment."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK