ST. PAUL -- To say Oskari Halme's transition to North American hockey went well would be quite the understatement.
A defenseman from Tampere, Finland, Halme played his entire career in his home country until an opportunity to suit up for the Minnesota Blue Ox last season. The Blue Ox are, of course, owned by Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, and the chance to play for a team owned by an NHL coach was simply too much to pass up.
"It was pretty fun, and everything [with the team] is amazing," Halme said. "Everything was us for amazing; the food, our own locker room. It's a good organization with Bruce."
After a difficult season in Finland, one where he scored one goal and five points in 29 games with his junior team in Tappara, Halme was ready for something different.
First, he tried Boston, but nothing came of his visit there. Then he talked to Blue Ox coach and general manager Jay Witta. Immediately, it felt right.
"It was an amazing organization," Halme said. "I liked to be [in Minnesota] a lot. I love being there."
Halme's offensive flair immediately caught the attention of many, including Boudreau, who became one of Halme's biggest supporters.
"When I watched him play for our team, his skating was excellent," Boudreau said. "He was the best player on our team."
In 35 games with the Blue Ox, Halme's offensive numbers were staggering; he scored 26 goals and added 36 assists, averaging more than 1.7 points per game.
Those numbers come in part from his experience as a forward. He didn't become a defenseman until his was 14 years old.
"I like to be with the puck and stickhandling and scoring goals," Halme said.
Not only was he the best player on the Blue Ox, he was arguably the best player in the entire USPHL. Despite playing nine fewer games, Halme scored 11 more points than the next best defenseman in the league, finishing 19th in the USPHL in overall scoring.
Opponents took notice, as well, often trying to take issue. Despite his slight frame -- Halme is listed at 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds -- he never backed down, piling up a couple fighting majors among his 54 penalty minutes.
"Maybe sometimes, they tried to get me [out of my game] on the ice," Halme said. "I played a lot last year, so they tried to get me off the ice."
In the second half of the season, Halme transitioned to the National Collegiate Development Conference -- a part of the same USPHL as the Blux Ox but one level higher.
In 13 games with the P.A.L. Islanders in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts, Halme chipped in six assists and played top-4 minutes on a club that won the league championship.
"It was a little bit harder," Halme said. "It was a little bit faster. The hardest part was going to a new team because they had been together and I was new. It took one or two weeks to know everybody.
"But we won the championship. It was a very good team."
Despite leaving in the middle of the season, Halme had remained on Boudreau's radar and the coach helped get the Wild to extend him an invite to its development camp last week. Halme, who said his goal is to play Division I college hockey next season, remains without a home. But he but didn't look out of place against drafted players and chosen invitees.
Noticeably nervous at the beginning of the camp, Halme calmed down and was back to his normal play-making ways by the end of the week.
Boudreau wasn't surprised in the slightest.
"I hope somebody would notice him and say, 'You know what? That kid could be a good addition to our team,'" Boudreau said. "You let him grow for a couple years, I think he'd be a really good player.
"He's one of those guys that, if he played at high levels and had that kind of coaching, he'd become a really good player."