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Barkov looks to shine for Finland at World Juniors

by Mike G. Morreale

The pressure of being the youngest Finnish forward to represent his country at the 2012 World Junior Championship never seemed to get the best of forward Aleksander "Sasha" Barkov.

In fact, Barkov, who was one of only four 1995-born players participating at the 2012 WJC, became the youngest Finnish player to score a goal at the Under-20 tournament. At 16 years and four months, the 6-foot-2, 209-pound center made history when he connected for the decisive goal in an 8-5 victory against Slovakia in the tournament's quarterfinal round.

"It was a great experience and it was nice to score a goal against Slovakia," Barkov told "The best hockey experience ever was that tournament."

Watch WJC on NHL Network-US

NHL Network-US is the home of the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship with coverage of more than 15 games as well as highlights and analysis.

In his second tour of duty for Finland at the 2013 WJC in Ufa, Russia, Barkov will certainly be a marked man. After all, he's considered the top European prospect available in the 2013 NHL Draft.

It seems as if all the attention may have made him even stronger. In his final tuneup against the United States on Saturday, Barkov struck for a goal and two assists in a 5-1 win.

"Barkov is big, strong and a hard worker in all areas of the ice," NHL Central Scouting's Goran Stubb told "He's a sniper who can also set up scoring chances for teammates. I like the fact that he's a two-way center with a good understanding of his defensive duties."

Despite hailing from a country that has groomed its share of world-class hockey talent, Barkov told his idol growing up was Eric Lindros. A surprising choice, considering the longtime Flyers great retired when Barkov was 11 years old.

"I'm a playmaking center and my strengths are passing the puck and game understanding," he said.

Barkov finished with one goal and four points in seven games for fourth-place Finland at the 2012 WJC in Edmonton and Calgary. He's looking forward to getting another shot this year.

"It has been my goal beginning this season to play [in Russia] and have a big role on the team," Barkov said. "Of course, because the tournament is being held in my other homeland, it charges me up even more."

Barkov's father, Alexander Barkov, is of Russian descent and played many years for his country. The elder Barkov played in Russia for Spartak Moscow and in Italy before moving to Finland to play for Tappara in the Elite League. He's currently an assistant coach for Ak Bars Kazan in the Koninental Hockey League. Aleksander Barkov's mother, Olga, played on the Russian national basketball team.

Aleksander, born in Tampere, Finland, has 14 goals and 28 points in 31 games for Tappara this season.

"My parents' meaning to me is very great," Barkov said. "They both taught me to skate and spent time with me and they drove me to team practices."

Barkov, who can speak Finnish, Russian and English, is one of eight returning players from last year's team that included forwards Markus Granlund and Joel Armia. Barkov said he just wants to continue to improve and impress at this year's tournament and let the chips fall where they may come draft day.

"It has been my goal beginning this season to play [in Russia] and have a big role on the team. Of course, because the tournament is being held in my other homeland, it charges me up even more."
-- Finnish prospect Aleksander Barkov

"I won't put any pressure on myself about the draft," he said. "My main goal is playing so well that some team will draft me as high as possible. I don't think about [the draft] anymore."

Central Scouting lists Barkov as the top-rated Finnish skater in its preliminary rankings. The top-rated skater in Sweden, center Elias Lindholm, should play a big role for the defending gold medal-winners at the 2013 WJC. At this stage, Barkov and Lindholm are the top two European draft-eligible prospects.

"Both are great prospects and outstanding young players," Stubb told "Their style of play is a bit different. Lindholm is the better skater, but Barkov is more of a complete package. It's impossible to say who is better."

Barkov does recall matching up against Lindholm in the past.

"I have played against [Lindholm] a few times," Barkov said. "He is clever and skillful. He skates well and is very dangerous with the puck."

For Stubb, the WJC will determine which of the two he has atop Central Scouting's midterm European rankings, which will be released next month.

"The World Junior Championship in Ufa [Russia] will decide who will be No. 1, and who will be No. 2 on our mid-season rankings," he said. "Both are just excellent."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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