Teemu Kivihalme was born and raised in the southern suburbs of Minneapolis, but is also a dual-citizen of Finland,and the influence of that country on him is apparent, from his name, to style of play. His father Janne, who also served as Teemu's coach at Burnsville High School, is originally from Finland, but came over to the United States as an exchange student for high school and college, and ended up settling in the United States. Every summer, Teemu would return to visit Finland with his father, as well as train with Finnish hockey players, giving him the rare experience of learning the game in two distinctly unique places.
As a result, there's some very clear European influences on Kivihalme's game. He's an incredibly smooth, graceful skater, that moves laterally very well, with decent top end speed. The other asset that made him a bit of a darling with NHL Central Scouting this year is that he plays the type of European-style puck-possession game that is becoming more and more popular in the NHL. And while he's still prone to the occasional mental mistakes of youth, he generally seems to have a pretty good sense and understanding of the game, and sees the ice well.
Those assets provide some very nice upside to his game, but Kivihalme still has a lot of developing to do. He's grown from around 5'9" to a Combine-measured 5' 11.25" over the course of the past 18 months or so, and reportedly still has the potential to grow a little more. Remarkably, that quick growth didn't seem to effect his skating ability all that much. His strength still needs to catch up to his height, however, as he weighs in at around 160 lbs., so he's got the potential to add a lot more muscle to his frame. The biggest areas of his game that Kivihalme needs to work on--specifically defending in front of his own net, battling in the corners, and his shot from the point--are all related to that relative lack of strength, and should hopefully develop as he beings to physically mature.
Kivihalme, like most players drafted directly out of U.S. high school hockey, will be a long-term investment. The certitude he shows on the power play and while either leading or joining offensive rushes suggests he could fit on the next level. The major question is whether he will develop enough physically to be reliable in his own end.
"Obviously I need to work on my upper body," Kivihalme says. "The doctor said my growth plates are still open, which is great news."
The defenceman notes about half of the 13 teams who interviewed him during the recent NHL combine asked about him passing on Colorado to play major junior hockey. Kivihalme said he was approached over the past year by the eventual WHL champion Portland Winterhawks, whose title-winning squad included four players with Minnesota ties (overage goalie Mac Carruth, rookie wings Paul Bittner and Keegan Iverson and fellow draft prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand, a Dane who also has U.S. citizenship).
"I will definitely consider it if the team that drafts me wants me to go," Kivihalme says, who stresses his father and his mother, Shanda, are each big on education.
1. What factors prompted you to commit to Colorado College?
"Having a constant view of the mountains, that's something you don't see a lot of in Minnesota. Right when I walked in there, it just felt right, the campus and everything. I feel their style of play suits me because they are a good skating team, good puck-possession team, and their D loves to create offence from the back end, which I love doing."
2. In your mind, what areas of the game need the most improvement before you will be ready to turn pro?
"My defensive play and being a little more physical on the back end. That goes hand in hand with developing my strength a little more, that will make it a little bit easier. Improved strength will also help with my shot."
3. Whom in the NHL do you study because he or they play a style close to what you realistically aspire to do at that level?
"[The Ottawa Senators'] Erik Karlsson and [Chicago Blackhawks'] Duncan Keith. I like Keith's intensity in the D zone, but they're both great offensively. I like Karlsson's creativity, I like to be creative too. I see myself an offensive defenceman who can be responsible defensively too."
4. Your father and grandfather each played professional hockey, but I understand you participated in a variety of sports while growing up? How important was that mentally?
"For the mental side, it was definitely very important for me. It's nice, playing different sports, getting a break from hockey when you need it. I played soccer and lacrosse, which is kind of like hockey and soccer. I enjoyed playing all types of sports."