Riihimski, Finland is a long way away from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Calgary, Alberta, however is not far from the city of “Proud Heritage, Bold Destiny”.
Although newly acquired prospect Aki Seitsonen may call Finland home, Prince Albert is where he will reside for now. Seitsonen, who left his native Finland around this time last summer, embarked on a much larger journey then just the flight would indicate. Seitsonen was selected 23rd overall in the 2003 CHL Import Draft by the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League, a selection that brought him to North America for the 2003-04 season.
Seitsonen, who spent his 2002-03 season playing for HPK Hameenlinna Finland, put up an impressive 38 points, on the strength of 20 assists, in 40 games. Despite putting up excellent numbers, he felt his chances at being selected in Raleigh, North Carolina at the 2004 NHL Entry Draft would increase with his notoriety, and decided the best place to be noticed would be with Prince Albert.
“I was playing at HPK Hameenlinna,” explained Seitsonen at the 2004 Entry Draft. “My agent told me I had a good chance to play in the WHL.”
Play would be an understatement. As a rookie in the Western Hockey League, Seitsonen made a regular contribution to both the offense and defense of the Prince Albert Raiders. After finishing seventh on the Raiders in points, leading all rookies, he became a regular stop for many of the NHL’s amateur scouts looking for eligible talent for the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. The 6’3, 206lb center drew a lot of attention after finishing the season ninth in scoring among WHL rookies, with 16 goals and 40 points. Even more impressive was that, among the top 20 rookie scorers, Seitsonen finished with the seventh best plus/minus.
“I think I had a good season, yeah,” said the young Finn. “It’s good hockey in the Western Hockey League. Lots of hitting, lots of good players, lots of guys who will get drafted play there.”
The Calgary Flames made Seitsonen one of their selections, in the fourth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. He was ranked 30th among North American skaters in their final rankings, and was selected 118th overall. Described as a gritty, two-way player with size and respectable hands, Seitsonen fits the mold from which the Flames, and Head Coach and General Manager Darryl Sutter are reforming the Calgary organization.
The Calgary Flames already boast a Finnish flavor, with such players as Miikka Kiprusoff, Toni Lydman, and Ville Nieminen. The addition of Seitsonen to the Calgary roster in the future will give Sutter another Finn to rely upon. He is excited at the thought of playing alongside so many of his countrymen.
“It’s nice that there are good players there already,” Seitsonen commented on his fellow Finns in the organization. “I never met them personally, but I want to sometime.”
The youngster may find himself meeting them sooner than later. Seitsonen, already aware of the work ethic required to succeed, has overcome great obstacles already in his career. The effort, the hard work and the risk involved with leaving everything he had previously known had paid off for number 18 of the black, red and gold.
“The first year was hard,” said the Prince Albert Raider forward, when asked about his ability to adapt to not only the North American style of play, but the culture and language as well. Certainly next season with the Prince Albert Raiders will go a lot smoother for Seitsonen, who will undoubtedly see more ice time after being trapped down the depth chart behind 2004 first round selection and Montreal Canadiens prospect Kyle Chipchura and New York Islanders prospect Jeremy Colliton, who may find himself signing a professional contract in the near future.
While Seitsonen may spend his nights dreaming of a Stanley Cup run with the Calgary Flames, he’ll be taking things one day at a time with the Prince Albert Raiders, in hope of Canadian Junior hockey’s greatest prize, the Memorial Cup.
Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.