PENTICTON, B.C. – Eetu Laurikainen sits in his visitor locker room stall at the South Okanagan Events Centre, surrounded by some teammates he’s not too familiar with. But in a few hours, those teammates will be the ones playing in front of him when he starts in goal against the Vancouver Canucks Rookies in the Oilers first game of the 2015 Young Stars Tournament.
Laurikainen is an intriguing, and relatively unknown, prospect.
He doesn’t come to Edmonton with the same fanfare as Connor McDavid, Darnell Nurse or Leon Draisaitl. He wasn’t drafted by the Oilers and he spent all last season overseas. But the 22-year-old netminder is eager to show he can compete and push for a job somewhere in the Oilers pro system this season.
“Just play my game,” the Finnish goalie said of tonight’s task. “Play my own game and show them I can play at this level.”
|Photo provided |
While he’s still young in his own right, Laurikainen has a slight edge over some of the other goaltenders on the Oilers Rookie Camp roster and in this tournament. He played a season in Finland’s Liiga where he posted a 2.10 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in 37 games. Prior to last season, Laurikainen spent two years in the Western Hockey League with the Swift Current Broncos. That is when the Oilers first scouted him.
“I saw a lot of him in the WHL when he played in Swift Current,” said Oilers Director of Player Personnel Bob Green. “He was always tough to play against. He doesn’t have a complicated game but he makes saves and always gives his team a chance to win the game, keeps them in the game and is just a really solid goalie.
“He went back to Finland last year, played a year of pro there and we talked to him a bit last year. He wanted to go him for a year so we talked to him again this year and we got him signed and he gives us a lot of depth and a guy that has a chance to play.”
Green, given his past history as general manager of the Edmonton Oil Kings, had as good of a look at Laurikainen as anybody in the Oilers organization.
“You hated playing against Swift in those days because he’d make saves and they could score. They were a tough team to play against. He was a big part of that,” Green said.
The Oilers interest in Laurikainen culminated in him signing his two-year entry level contract on May 12.
“I kind of knew they were watching me when I was playing in the WHL,” said Laurikainen. “I heard that, and it was nice to get signed.”
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It’s likely the Oilers are getting a more polished product this year than the WHL version of Laurikainen. His time in his home country this past season helped him grow.
“It’s a different game in Europe,” said Laurikainen. “Guys don’t come to the net as fast. There are more passes and tricky plays more than here. I had to read the game knowing there can be that back-door pass and not always the shot. I think it was good to play a different game one year and then come back now.”
Laurikainen wanted to return to North America this season. He enjoyed the hockey while with Swift Current and was ready to return.
The goaltender has even more confidence in his abilities as he joins the Oilers system.
“I’m calm, but fast,” he said. He adds that he relies on his athleticism and how he reads the game to carry him to success between the pipes.
Whether he begins the year in the ECHL or perhaps the AHL will be decided by competition in camp. But Laurikainen will try and make a good first impression tonight.
“He’s got the ability to play at the AHL level (this season),” said Green. “We’ll see how everything unfolds. He’s got to have a good camp and we’ll just find out where he fits in the whole scheme of things at the end of it.”
UPDATE: Laurikainen stopped all 17 shots he faced in 33:13 of action against the Canucks.