He’s named after hall of famer Teemu Selanne, and grew up admiring the way all-stars Erik Karlsson and Duncan Keith play defence.
But Teemu Kivihalme forged his own unique path to the NHL. It’s a journey that included leaving college early, playing two seasons in Finland and then signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs this past week.
The Leafs were among about a dozen teams after the 23-year-old Finnish league all-star, a standout in the playoffs with league champion Karpat.
“(The Leafs) are an incredible organization,” said Kivihalme. “They’re a young team with a lot of upside. Their team is very good now. It just felt right, talking to management and everything. There’s opportunity, and it’s up to me to execute that.”
Change is coming to the Leafs blue line with Jake Gardiner, Ron Hainsey and Martin Marincin heading toward unrestricted free agency and Igor Ozhiganov returning to the KHL. As well, Travis Dermott may miss the start of the season after shoulder surgery on Friday.
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“I consider myself a two-way player,” said Kivihalme. “I can take care of my own end, but I like to be involved offensively. I like having the puck. I like supporting offence.
“I enjoy watching Erik Karlsson and Duncan Keith. I don’t know if I can play like them, because they’re different players, but I enjoy watching them play.”
Kivihalme said he doesn’t know any of his new teammates, though he did attend a summer camp with Trevor Moore as a teenager. The Leafs have offered no guarantees about playing time.
“They said there’s opportunity, but they can’t promise anything,” said Kivihalme. “I have to come into camp and show what I’ve got and prove myself, just like everyone else.”
The blue-liner was drafted 140th overall by the Nashville Predators in 2013, but things didn’t work out. He played for the Fargo Force of the USHL, followed by three years in the NCAA at Colorado College.
Then he chose to go to Finland — even though he doesn’t speak more than a few words of Finnish — because he believed Karpat would be the right place to develop. It worked out. Karpat won the league championship and Kivihalme earned praise for his leadership.
“It felt like it was the right next step at the time,” said Kivihalme. “It felt like the best situation, the best way to develop my game.”
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His father is Finnish, and a Selanne fan. Kivihalme, who was born in Minnesota, spent some summers in Finland growing up, but said the last two winters were something else.
“You don’t realize how cold and dark it gets until you live there,” he said.
Kevin McGran is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @kevin_mcgran
Published at Sat, 11 May 2019 17:52:12 +0000