Han­nikainen’s hard work earns him reg­u­lar role

The Columbus Dispatch - - Front Page - By Brian Hedger bhedger@dis­patch.com @Bri­anHedger

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.

Two-way street

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.”

[TYLER SCHANK/DIS­PATCH]

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