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Barkov backed by former Flame Nieminen

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

If you want to score goals goal to the net. If you want pizza go to a pizzeria."
Aleksander Barkov

JERSEY CITY, NJ -- Over the course of his 20-year professional hockey career, few teammates have impressed Ville Nieminen as much as Aleksander Barkov.

Both on and off the ice.

Despite the fact that he's just 17-years-old, Nieminen feels Barkov is ready to make the jump to the National Hockey League.

"Absolutely he's ready to play," he said. "His biggest ability to play hockey is that he makes everyone else around him better, me included. He brought me back to the level where I always wanted to be and almost started to think I wish I could be eight more years younger."

The 2013 NHL Draft eligible forward served as Nieminen's linemate in Tappara, recording 48 points in 53 games, finishing just two behind the former Calgary Flames forward for eighth overall in SM liiga scoring.

Barkov, who won't turn 18 until September, sits atop Central Scouting's final ranking for European skaters.

According to Nieminen, Barkov's accolades aren't just because of what he can do on the ice. How he carries himself off it has been equally important to his development.

"I think every day, his character is going to come out more," said Nieminen, who made the trek to New Jersey alongside Barkov. "He has the ability to play from the phone booth, river or pond hockey. Any style, he can do it. I think the character is going to come out more. You can see it every day that he feels more comfortable."

Nieminen has helped Barkov feel more comfortable during the draft process. Taking on the role of mentor to Barkov, he's passed on many pieces of advice the veteran of 385 National Hockey League games has passed on to the potential first round pick.

In other words, he's given Barkov a few assists.

"He gave me a lot of advice and a lot of passes," the prospect said with a wry grin.

Perhaps none has stuck with Barkov as much as the advice he received from Nieminen through his father Alexander Barkov, a successful player in his own right with a career that spanned two decades.

As the story goes, Nieminen told the elder Barkov two years ago to relay a very important message to his son.

"If you want to score goals goal to the net," Barkov said. "If you want pizza go to a pizzeria."

The time spent together has proved priceless for both and as Barkov embarks on a budding NHL career, Nieminen has been there to guide him.

"We do the things we started doing -- NHL things -- last summer," Nieminen said. "He's representing the old school style of Finnish hockey player whose goal is playing in the NHL.

"He's so dedicated for training and making himself better as a hockey player and all kinds of those things. I'm so happy."

It hasn't been just a one-way street, either. Playing with Barkov, Nieminen admitted, made him feel younger.

Helping steer him through the draft process just turned back the clock to when Nieminen was plucked in the third round, 78th overall by the Colorado Avalanche in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft.

"For me, this whole NHL Draft and watching him, it's a second chance to live my hockey career again," he said. "It wasn't this kind of hype for third round players, but it's a pleasure to be working with him."

And watching him grow from teammate into a budding star in the draft.

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