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Tencer's Blog: Sixth round steal?

by Dan Tencer / Edmonton Oilers
Sixth-round selection Teemu Hartikainen recorded his first NHL point in his first NHL game last night. (Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club)
The Edmonton Oilers want to become the Detroit Red Wings. Actually, scratch that: every team in the NHL wants to become the Detroit Red Wings. From rock-solid ownership at the top, to a diverse and well-structured management group, to one of the best coaches in the league and one of the best groups of players, they're a model for elite consistency.

One of the many hallmarks of the "Detroit model" is an ability to sustain a constant pipeline of new talent that have been drafted, developed and, ultimately, made to be Red Wings-ready. Always finishing at or near the top of the standings, the Wings have relied heavily on picks from later rounds to eventually make an impact. Johan Franzen was a third rounder, Pavel Datsyuk was a sixth rounder and Henrik Zetterberg was a seventh-round choice.

Where am I going with this? Teemu Hartikainen is where I'm going with this.  Drafted in the middle of the sixth round in 2008, Hartikainen was impressive in last night's NHL debut. One game doesn't make a career by any stretch, but he showed signs of being able to carry over the success he's had in the American Hockey League.

His coach in Oklahoma City, Todd Nelson, told me earlier this week that Hartikainen is anything but the typical European player and compared his game to that of a current Detroit Red Wing: Tomas Holmstrom. Holmstrom, if you must know, was a 10th round draft pick. They don't even have 10 rounds any more.

Hartikainen has size, grit, and a pretty good knack around the net. He was the AHL Rookie of the Month in January and has 42 points in 66 AHL games this year. He's also fought a few times, a product of throwing his weight around to the chagrin of his opponents, something that he was able to do loudly on a couple of occasions last night. His big body presence is something that the Oilers lineup has lacked very much of for the last number of years, and Hartikainen's development is a small part of the organizations mandate to change that trend to include some more beef.

It's my belief that Hartikainen is a slam dunk NHL player, at least a third or fourth liner, with a potential to play higher than that. I suspect a lot of his value will come in doing exactly what Tomas Holmstrom does: creating havoc around the net on the team's power play. Based on what we saw of him last night, my bet is that Hartikainen will become a mainstay on the special teams unit for the remainder of the season, getting a chance to showcase his wares in those situations.

With so much made of the arrival of Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi, Gagner and other high first round picks, we must still remember that the depth picks like Hartikainen, Omark, Peckham etc. will be a big part of what could put this organization over the top. If your scouting staff can find NHL players in later rounds, that's a huge bonus as it relates to everything from on-ice success to assett management when it comes to making trades.

Hartikainen, by the way, earned his first NHL point last night as he assisted on Magnus Paajarvi's powerplay goal.


In the final 11 games of the year, I've identified four that I'm keenly looking forward to:

Tuesday, March 22nd versus Nashville - The Predators are currently one point back of the eighth spot in the West and will be very desperate for two points. Classic attempt at being Sp-Oilers.

Saturday, March 26th versus Calgary - The Flames are hunkered down in eighth place right now, but everybody around them has games in hand. This one is like the Nashville game, but 100x more important for true blue Oilers fans. Don't let them have those points!

Tuesday, March 29th versus Los Angeles - Rod Phillips' last game. To say I'm "looking forward" to this happening would be totally false, but I wouldn't miss this night for anything.

Wednesday, April 6th versus Calgary - Sp-Oilers again! This is Game 81/82 for the Flames, who could easily be in mathematical "must win" territory by this point.
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