There has never been a Finnish-born player taken first overall in the NHL Draft, but that could all change come 2013 as Aleksander Barkov is an elite talent that has been garnering attention from scouts and fans alike over the past few months.
The 16-year-old, six-foot-two, 205-pound pivot has not looked out of place playing in Finland’s top league this season, putting up 16 points, on seven goals and nine assists in 32 games for the SM-liiga’s Tappara club. He also became the youngest player to score at the World Junior Championship this winter, scoring the winner in an 8-5 victory over Slovakia which broke Sidney Crosby’s mark set in 2004.
Barkov has been well-schooled in the game and has the bloodlines, as his father (Aleksander Barkov Sr.) was a highly skilled centre that played pro in both Russia and Finland for over 20-years, and currently is an assistant coach for Tappara’s Jr. B squad. Along with his hockey pedigree, Barkov Jr. has unbelievable vision and exceptional hockey IQ, and is that special type of player that seems to know what will transpire on the ice ahead of time.
He has Mario Lemiuex-like speed, in that he looks like a lumbering giant, but is deceptively fast, to go with tremendous hands, an accurate shot with a quick release, a high compete level, plays a solid two-way game, and consistently makes smart decisions with the puck. Barkov is mature beyond his years on the ice, and plays with the confidence and swagger of a savvy veteran. He is a hyprid of pure ability, skill, power and strength, and simply can create something out of nothing in an instant.
Your father was an outstanding pro for over 20-years, and now a coach in Tappara, how has he helped in developing your game?
He always tells me how to play better and smarter in various situations.
You are such a highly skilled player, that does everything well on the ice, what do you see being your best attributes?
I think that my main attributes on the ice are passing and stick handling.
Is there an NHLer you model your game after?
I follow (Evgeni) Malkin and (Pavel) Datsyuk because they are amazingly skillful players, and can dominate in every situation.
What was your ‘welcome moment’ to the SM-liiga?
I did not have anything special before my first game. After the game I had some interviews, and that was basically all.
You’ve scored a bunch of goals over your young career with your club teams in Tappara, and while playing internationally for Finland, do you have one that stands out as your biggest?
For me, every goal I score is important because hopefully it could help my team to win.
What is the highlight of your career thus far?
Perhaps the goal that I scored at last year`s Under-20 World Championships against Slovakia.
You’re highly regarded as a possible first round selection come the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, I know its over a year away, but do you ever feel any pressure to impress the scouts when your on the ice?
I try not to concentrate on external factors during my games. What I aim for is to play my best game, and give everything that I got in favour of my team.
I know it’s a huge honor just to be selected, but if you could pick the NHL team that selects you come next year, who would you choose?
I would very much like to play in NHL. The reasons for this are first of all, the amazingly high level of ice hockey in North America. Moreover, by playing with and against the best it allows you to improve your own game, and become a better ice hockey player. This being said, I’d be happy to go anywhere.
Are you planning on staying in Finland to develop, or would you like to come to North America and play a year or two in junior?
I have already signed a 3-year contract with my Tappara team, and planning to play and train here for now.
Who’s the best player you’ve ever played with and against?
It was a huge privilege for me to be apart of the Finnish National Team where I played with guys like the Granlund brothers (Mikael and Markus) and (Joel) Armia. In SM-liiga I play with very skillful players like (Jerry) Ahtola, who is very good at scoring goals, along with many other talented players as well.