by Bob Crawford || AHL On The Beat Archive
Hartford Wolf Pack forward Lauri Korpikoski, now in his second full North American pro season, does not sport scoring numbers that would make you immediately notice him when you pick up the stat sheet.
One thing that is always noticeable about Korpikoski, though, the second he steps on the ice, is his blazing foot speed.
One of the top speed merchants in the AHL, Korpikoski is still in the process of catching up his hand skills and scoring touch to his great wheels. On a number of occasions during this 2007-08 Wolf Pack season, however, Korpikoski has shown off offensive skill plays that have elicited a significant “wow” from anyone who saw them.
“When you have some success and get to ‘dangle’ a little bit you get more confidence,” Korpikoski says, “and I think I’ve been more confident with the puck this year. I think I can improve a lot more from where I am now, too, and add more offense.”
Korpikoski hails from Turku, Finland, and is only 21 years old. Many European players find the transition to North American play, and life off the ice, to be difficult and trying, but Korpikoski has thoroughly enjoyed his experience thus far.
“I think I like it more here than playing in Finland,” he says. “There have been a few guys who have come here from Finland and they have gone home already. Some players don’t like it here so much, but it’s been good for me, and I’m looking forward to playing here a long time.”
When asked what in particular he prefers about the North American game, Korpikoski responds, “It’s more up and down. In Finland it’s so defensive, it’s hard to play any offense. And I get to play a lot more here than I did back home, so I like that.”
Korpikoski contributed 11 goals and 38 points to the Wolf Pack attack in 78 games last year, and was on a slightly better pace through the first half of this season. Those numbers are not going to launch him toward the league scoring lead any time soon, but his dynamic speed and ability to play with the puck make him a threat that the opposition has to be aware of any time he is on the ice. One thing the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder acknowledges is that he would have more points and be even more of a force on the ice if he would shoot more.
“That’s still a little bit too European,” Korpikoski says with a chuckle. “I don’t like to shoot, I’m always looking for back-door plays. That’s one thing I have to improve, I have to shoot the puck more, for sure. I need to get rid of that trying to make too fancy plays, so maybe I should just shoot. But like I said, I like the style here more. It’s up and down, and I think that’s good for me.”
Korpikoski has found himself this year often slotted onto a line with another up-and-down-the-wing guy in Hugh Jessiman, who, like Korpikoski, is a former New York Rangers first-round selection. Jessiman’s size (6-6, 231) meshes well with Korpikoski’s speed and creativity, and Korpikoski has enjoyed playing with his Connecticut-born often-linemate.
“He’s a big guy and he creates a lot of room, which helps for my speed,” Korpikoski analyzes. “He can make the room and I can come with speed, so I think it’s been good. We’ve gotten some time on the power play lately and we’ve been scoring a little bit, so that’s good.
“I can definitely use my speed more and get those one-on-ones where I can stickhandle,” he continues. “Hugh’s been doing a great job, and he’s been scoring, too.”
Korpikoski played mostly on the wing when he joined the Wolf Pack for the end of the 2005-06 season, but has also spent significant time at center throughout last season and the first half of this year. The different positions definitely put different demands on a player, but Korpikoski has not been the least bit fazed by going back and forth.
“I don’t really care, I like both,” is Korpikoski’s reply when he is asked which he prefers. “It’s a little different, I think at center I get to use my speed a little bit more, to try to get the puck from our end, but I like being a winger too, to get in on the forecheck. So I don’t really care, I think I’ve been doing OK in both roles.”
Sometimes scoring bucketloads of points makes it easier to make an impression on those who might give a player a shot at the NHL. That versatility that Korpikoski has shown in handling the pivot and the wing equally well is a more subtle attribute, but certainly aids his NHL potential.
“I think it’s only a good thing,” he agrees. “I’ve been playing left wing, right wing and center this year. To be able to handle all those spots, I think that’s a good thing for the future.”
When he arrived in Hartford two springs ago, Korpikoski was just about the youngest guy in the Wolf Pack locker room, still not yet 20 years old. As a 21-year-old second year pro this year, though, he has as much, or more, AHL experience as the bulk of the Pack roster. With that experience level comes more responsibility to help lead the team.
“I think my style has always been more trying to do the right things on the ice,” Korpikoski says about setting the tone for the team. “But we do have a young team here, and every young player can be a leader on this team.
“I think it’s better to play good on the ice,” he hastens to add, “than to be good in the locker room.”
The Rangers selected Korpikoski with the 19th pick of the first round in 2004, out of the Finnish Junior ranks. Most of the time, forwards drafted in the first round are expected to be premier offensive players, but Korpikoski says he has not felt any pressure from the Rangers to turn himself into a point-producing machine.
“As a player, I’m not a big goal-scorer and I never have been, and they knew that when they drafted me,” Korpikoski says. “They expect me to play good two-way hockey and of course create some offense also, but I’m not really feeling any pressure about scoring big numbers. Of course, it’s nice to put up some points and hopefully I can do more of that.”