With the departure of Tim Taylor, who signed a four-year, $5.8 million deal with the Rangers in July as an unrestricted free agent, Coach Pat Burns had an interesting training camp finding a new combination to match the gritty play of last season’s checking-line. Fighting for Taylor’s checking line position were Sean Pronger, Joel Prpic, Andre Savage, Shawn Bates and Mikko Eloranta. Entering his first professional season…Drafted by the Bruins as their ninth pick, 247th overall, in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft…Eloranta siezed the opportunity and will center Rob DiMaio and Scandinavian counterpart P.J. Axelsson. “Mikko is a solid, two-way player, a forward with skill and grit,” said Bruins Vice President of Hockey Operations and Assistant General Manager Mike O’Connell. “He’s a versatile forward in that he can play left wing or center and he was used in all situations with his club in Finland.”
The possibility of a less-gritty, more-finesse style checking line reflects the different talents Eloranta brings to the Bruins. With impressive speed and experience in the Finnish Elite League, don’t expect to see more of the same from the third line. The more-skilled Eloranta should give the checking line a stronger offensive dimension. “Eloranta’s a lot like Axelsson,” said DiMaio. “He’s a good passer. You get the puck. A lot of times last year we didn’t get it. Timmy was a very conservative player. If he had the puck on his stick, it was either chipped out or chipped in. Mikko has the ability to make people miss him and get the puck to you. I think in that respect we’re going to be a little bit better on the offense and create a little bit more for ourselves.” When Pat Burns was asked what element of Eloranta’s game surpasses Taylor’s, he quickly replied; “His speed….on that part, he has it all over Timmy. This guy is not a kid, and that comes into play quite a bit, the age of the player and the maturity of the player.”
The biggest adjustments for Eloranta in the NHL remain smaller rinks and larger players. The 6-foot, 185-pound Eloranta must tame his freewheeling style on the smaller ice surfaces and realize that, even at 27, he has a lot to learn in his new league. Fortunately, Axelsson, who made a similar jump to the NHL two years ago, can give advice. Eloranta does not think the NHL presents a huge step up from TPS Turku or the Finnish national team. Playing his fourth season in the Finnish Elite League, he led the club in goals and finished second in scoring with 19 goals and 21 assists in 52 games. “My big dream has come true now,” said Eloranta. “It happened so late, but I can’t explain that. I’m here now and I’ll try to play good. I don’t want to just play in the NHL. I want to play well in the NHL. That’s my big dream.”
With Allison struggling with a wrist injury, Pat Burns doesn’t have many places to turn when it comes to taking faceoffs. Mikko Eloranta clearly was uncomfortable in the circle on opening night against Carolina. “He was nervous,” said Burns. “He was real nervous, which is normal. He’s not a real centerman; he’s a left winger. We tried this to see what happened, but he’s never played center ice before. Eloranta is right now something we don’t know, we feel maybe he can fill in that spot.” In training camp, the coaches thought the Finn’s quickness, knowledge of the game, and age would be assets. Also, two top offensive lines give Burns some luxury with the makeup of his third line. Burns spoke about throwing the checking line out against an opponent’s top line for half a shift, then inserting a stronger offensive line that would catch an opponent’s top line tired.