Kiviranta making strong case for jump from Finland to Stars
The 23-year-old shows he has potential to make the opening night roster with a hat trick in Traverse Cityby Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Maybe the best thing about the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City is the diversity of the players and the opportunity that sits out there for each of them.
Ty Dellandrea, the 19-year-old from Ontario, is trying to make a statement that he deserves a chance to stay in the NHL and not return to junior hockey. Riley Tufte, the 21-year-old from Minnesota, is hoping to make the transition from college hockey and get his chance at the NHL level. And Joel Kiviranta, the 23-year-old from Finland, believes he can jump right in at the NHL level and be a key member of the Dallas Stars from opening night.
[RELATED: Dellandrea not looking ahead in quest to make Stars' roster | Complete tournament coverage]
On Saturday, Kiviranta made a strong argument for his case.
Dallas' prospects lost a 7-4 game to the New York Rangers prospects, but Kiviranta tallied three goals and looked a step ahead of his teammates. That shouldn't be a surprise for a player that helped Finland win a gold medal at the World Championships last spring, but the transition from the European game to the smaller ice of the NHL still is challenging -- and Kiviranta still has to prove a lot to a team that just signed him as an unrestricted free agent in May.
"I thought he showed his experience and his age, and for his second North American game, I thought he advanced pretty well in his play," said Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal, who is coaching the Stars' prospects.
"We talked about propelling yourself into the Dallas training camp, he's one of those guys who can take these four games and propel himself moving into Dallas. It's a good chance for him to build on the next game Monday."
And that's all that Kiviranta wants. Asked if he hopes to play in the NHL, he simply said, "Of course."
Kiviranta has played five seasons in Finland's top league, so he has been pushed by mature competition for much of his career. He also played nine games in the IIHF World Championship and tallied two goals and one assist. Finland beat a Russian team in the semifinals that included Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Malkin. They beat a Canadian team in the finals that had Mark Stone, Kyle Turris and Sean Couturier.
"That gave me a lot of self-confidence," Kiviranta said. "It was a lot of NHL guys, and I know I can play against them."
Now, it's a matter of making the Stars believe.
Kiviranta signed a two-way deal, so he could either start in the AHL or the NHL. With 11 forward spots pretty much taken, Dallas still has three possible positions waiting for players on the opening night roster. Kiviranta will be in a real battle with players like Dellandrea, Denis Gurianov, Jason Robertson or tryout player Stefan Noesen.
He is expected to be ready and expected to be playing a North American-style game quickly. Kiviranta is a good skater who gets in and out of tight places and moves the puck quickly. He also has a knack for finding the open spots where you can score goals.
"I think his style of play fits into the North American game very well from I've seen in the first two games," Laxdal said. "I think he will fit in a lot quicker than a guy who is more of a puck possession guy, I think he's going to adapt quicker to the North American style."
Laxdal could get a chance to coach Kiviranta in the AHL this year, and there's nothing wrong with that. But the young Finn said there is extra motivation in possibly playing with Esa Lindell, Roope Hintz and Miro Heiskanen in Dallas. Kiviranta has played with Lindell and Hintz in the past, and said he liked his interactions with them in the Stars dressing room in Frisco before the prospects headed to Michigan.
"Last week when they came, I almost screamed hallelujah," Kiviranta said with a smile. "With Finnish players, I could have communication."
Right now, he's simply speaking the language of hockey.
"This tournament is high octane, guys who can wheel and skate in small spaces, and I think he's adjusted very well," Laxdal said. "Not only that, he's handled the physical play well. He's got everything check-marked to become an NHL player."
Game 3: Dallas Stars (1-1) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (2-0)
Monday, 1 p.m. CT
Where: Centre ICE Arena, Traverse City, Mich.
Live stream: FOX Sports GO and DallasStars.com
Photos by Dave Reginek, Detroit Red Wings
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.