It has been an up-and-down season for Joni Ikonen after the Montreal Canadiens drafted him in the second round at 58th overall during the 2017 Draft. He left Gothenburg and Sweden for Kuopio in Finland, the SHL for Liiga, at a time when many in Frölunda thought he would get his breakthrough playing in Sweden.
The adjustment from a few games in the SHL in a very small role to a bigger role in Liiga has meant a lot of change, not only on the ice but off it too.
“I think I was prepared [for the pros],” said Ikonen, “but here, in Finland, I get to play much more.”
The change to the pros hasn’t been easy, and it has taken a lot of work in the gym to get where Ikonen is today,
“One of the biggest things I need to improve is my strength, and just working out in the gym, so that helps me a lot because there are bigger and stronger guys in Liiga. I really needed to build up some muscle,” he explained.
The confidence from weight training and workouts has resulted in an increased responsibility from coach Sami Kapanen, and having a former pro behind the bench who gives good advice because he has been there himself is something that Ikonen feels he is benefitting from.
Montreal is looking after their centre prospect. On a question about how much contact Montreal has with him during the season, Ikonen explained the procedure.
“I have spoken with the Finnish scout a lot, and then two times guys from Montreal have come to visit me and I have also had one strengthening coach come to see me.”
It is clear that the Canadiens value their prospect with that kind of attention.
After the abysmal start KalPa had, Coach Kapanen has found the way, and KalPa has now climbed steadily through the table.
”This is the best time to play hockey, during the playoffs,” the young Finn says, clearly looking forward to the playoffs coming up in just a few weeks'' time. KalPa looks poised to grab the last direct spot into the playoffs, skipping the wild-card draw.
It seems like it is the prospects, like Nordic players Ikonen and Lukas Vejdemo, that Canadiens fans have to follow through the playoffs this year, as neither the main club nor the AHL affiliate seems likely to make it into the deciding end-of-season games.
You can listen to the interview in full right here: