Ikonen Gets Head Start with Syracuse

By Jeremy Houghtaling

After his first practice with the Syracuse Crunch Tuesday, Henri Ikonen spent some extra time on the ice working with fellow rookies.

Ikonen, who signed an entry level contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning Sunday and will finish the season on an amateur tryout with Syracuse, liked the brisk, energetic pace at practice. The 2013 sixth-round draft pick admits he may not be the most skilled player, but prides himself on the effort he puts in.

“I’m a good skater, so I bring some speed,” the 5-11, 184-pound winger said. “I can battle in the corners, win battles and take the puck to the net, and hopefully score some goals from there.”

Crunch coach Rob Zettler’s first impression was consistent with Ikonen’s self-assessment.

“He really handles the puck well,” Zettler said. “He is persistent on the puck, which I like. He’s a physical player for not being a big guy. He can win a lot of 50-50 puck battles, which is good.”

With six games left Syracuse’s season, Ikonen is focused on getting acclimated to the professional game, with the hope of hitting the ground running next season. He is expected to make his Crunch debut this weekend.

“The reason I came here was to get ready for next season,” Ikonen said. “See what it’s like to play in the AHL and get motivation for summer training too.”

After developing in the junior ranks in Finland, Ikonen recorded one assist over his first eight professional games with KalPa of SM-liiga in 2011-2012.

Ikonen was selected by the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League in the CHL import draft and by Donbass Donetsk of the Kontinental Hockey League in 2012, but made the decision to come to North America.

“My goal is over here, to play in the NHL someday,” Ikonen said. “So I thought it would be the best way to reach that, that’s why I came over.”

In his first season with the Frontenacs, Ikonen led the team with 52 points in 65 games and was selected by the Lightning in the NHL Entry Draft last June. This season, Ikonen registered 26 goals and 50 assists over over 61 games and won the gold with Finland at the World Junior Championships.

“I wanted to show everyone I was worth a draft pick,” Ikonen said. “I did and now I think I showed Tampa Bay I was worth signing ... Next year, hopefully, I can make the next goal in playing my first NHL game.”

But Ikonen knows there is more work to put in before he is ready to make another jump to the NHL.

“Now it’s just getting used to -- like anybody coming in -- the pace of the play and the strength of the players,” Zettler said. “I always tell guys ‘You’ve got to remember, this is the second best league in the world and there’s a lot of guys that are going to be playing in the NHL. So if you want to succeed at the NHL level, you have to succeed here first.”