Los Angeles Kings 2004 first round draft pick Lauri Tukonen is used to be one of the youngest players in his league. As a 15- and 16-year-old he played for Ahmat in the Finnish First Division. In 2003-04, as a 17-year-old, he was the youngest player in the Finnish Elite League (SM-Liiga), scoring three goals and three assists in 35 games for the Espoo Blues. In 2005-06, the 19-year-old right winger is the second youngest player in the American Hockey League and becoming a prince in the Kings organization.
After two seasons of SM-Liiga action with Espoo, Tukonen is plying his trade with the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL. With seven goals and 16 assists in 35 games, the two-way winger is acclimating himself well in his rookie season of North American professional hockey. Nicklas Bergfors (NJ) of the Albany River Rats is the only player younger than Tukonen in the AHL this season.
The Finn used his season of AHL hockey to his advantage at the 2006 World Junior Championships in Vancouver. His three goals and seven assists placed him behind only Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin in tournament scoring. His effort also helped Finland earn a bronze medal, defeating Team USA 4-2 for a medal viewed as unlikely entering the tournament.
The 2006 tournament marked Tukonen’s third World Junior Championship, as he played for Finland at the 2004 tournament in Helsinki and the 2005 tournament in Grand Forks. No stranger to the Suomi jersey, Tukonen is no stranger to bronze either. His five goals and six assists playing with linemates Petteri Nokelainen and Lauri Korpikoski helped lead Finland to bronze at the 2004 IIHF U18 World Championships. His 11 points tied for first in tournament scoring with his two Finnish linemates and Russia’s Roman Voloshenko.
Hockey’s Future recently caught up with the young Monarch and discussed his transition to the North American game, his Finnish exploits, and his efforts to become a King.
HF: How does the AHL compare to the SM-Liiga?
LT: I think the biggest difference is the smaller ice. So, it’s a little bit more quick and physical here.
HF: How were Espoo and the SM-Liiga last year with so many NHLers, do you feel that helped or hurt your development?
LT: Sometimes it’s good to take example from guys, but I didn’t get so much ice time last year, so it was a little bit hard.
HF: What are some of the adjustments you’ve had to make to your game this season?
LT: Just learning the North American game. It’s been a good experience for me, a good learning time for me.
HF: What do you feel your strengths are?
LT: Strength with the puck? I don’t know.
HF: What are the areas you’re trying to improve on so that you can play in Los Angeles one day?
LT: I have to improve my skating. Everything.
HF: You led Finland in scoring at the World Junior Championships and won a bronze, how much of an advantage was it to play in the AHL going into the WJC’s?
LT: I think it was a big help for me, because these are pro games and many guys are playing juniors. So, I have a little bit more confidence to play juniors.
HF: Was winning the bronze an accomplishment or disappointment?
LT: It was almost like gold to us. (laughing).
HF: You’ve had considerable success with Petteri Nokelainen and Lauri Korpikoski in the team, but Nokelainen was out for Vancouver, was it strange not having him with you at the World Junior Championships?
LT: Of course it was, but injury happens, and what can you do about that?
HF: Your AHL experience proved helpful at the World Juniors, how valuable was attending Kings training camp to you?
LT: It was good learning to see how those NHL players train and how they work and try to take example from them.
HF: Lastly, what are your goals for the rest of the season?
LT: To go all the way in the playoffs and try to play my best game.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.