Hannikainen’s hard work earns him regular role
He has talent, confidence and quick wit, but don’t expect Markus Hannikainen to begin pulling rabbits out of his hockey helmet.
The 25-year old Finnish forward has made one of his teammates disappear from the Blue Jackets’ roster, laying claim to the lineup spot that Sonny Milano once had, but Hannikainen hasn’t started eight straight games by smoke and mirrors. He is just grinding out shifts, logging effective minutes and contributing positively on a checking line that has enough skill to be a threat.
“To be honest, there is no magic trick,” said Hannikainen, who is averaging almost two minutes more per game (10:28) than he did in 47 NHL games combined the past three seasons. “There is no switch that I’ve flipped or anything like that. I just keep working hard, doing the things that I’ve been doing and now that I’ve got the chance, I’ve been able to play my game — do what I can do.”
It hasn’t been that simple in past opportunities.
Hannikainen has previously struggled with the balance between impressing coaches with limited ice time and just playing the role of hard-nosed forward who usually starts shifts in the defensive or neutral zones.
“It is hard to be that guy,” said Hannikainen, who had been more of an offensive-minded Blue Jackets center Boone Jenner battles for the puck with the Rangers’ Vladislav Namestnikov, left, and Mika Zibanejad in the first period.
player in Finland and the American Hockey League. “When you get your chance, you know, minutes are limited and you’ve got to make an impact. It’s hard.”
He is figuring out now when to use his offensive skills while playing on a line with Riley Nash and center
Brandon Dubinsky. Hannikainen is also adding “agitator” to his job description — as shown by what happened in a 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings a week ago at the Staples Center.
Hannikainen had two big hits on the same shift, both clean, but Kings star defenseman Drew Doughty took exception. He gave an earful to the stoic Hannikainen before the next face-off.
“Oh yeah, he liked me,” Hannikainen said, laughing. “That was funny. That’s good. When you’re getting under his skin, it’s great. It makes it more fun.”
Playing does too.
Anthony Duclair is an interesting case study.
After scoring his fourth power-play goal on Friday at Washington — the winner in the Blue Jackets’ 2-1 victory at Capital One Arena — Duclair tied Josh Anderson for the team lead in goals with seven. According to the NHL, he also joined Thomas Vanek (2017-18), Sam Gagner (2016-17) and Antoine Vermette (2008-09) as the only players to score seven-plus goals in their first 16 games as Blue Jackets.
The flip side was his minuscule 9:30 of ice time, which coach John Tortorella said was tied to his 5-on-5 play without the puck.
“These players can check when they want to,” Tortorella said. “It’s just, ‘Are they determined enough?’ That’s the question with (Duclair), and it certainly hasn’t been answered (for) me. We think the upside here is worth it, so we’re going to give it a try here
… but it’s a two-way street.”