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Pihlstrom Making Mark in North America

Thursday, 05.15.2008 / 12:26 PM CT / Features
Nashville Predators
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Pihlstrom Making Mark in North America
by Liz Mundo | Milwaukee Admirals

For a player who hoped for a ten-goal season, Antti Pihlstrom has done alright for himself. The 23-year-old left wing signed with the Predators as a free agent last June and entered his first professional season in North America intending to concentrate on adjusting to the United States on and off the ice. In the process, Pihlstrom became a leader within the ranks of the organization's AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals.

In the 78 games for Milwaukee, Pihlstrom notched 27 goals and 18 assists with a +7 rating. At the same time he developed into a player the Admirals coaching staff could rely on in tight situations.

“He brings us energy every night,” said Admirals head coach Lane Lambert. “He’s a tremendous skater with presence and speed. His speed alone creates offensive opportunities.”

Pihlstrom’s offensive style has become a staple of his game, building on speed and creativity with the puck. While many European players have struggled adjusting to the “dump and check” style of play in the U.S., Pihlstrom has been able to integrate the finesse he developed in Finland with the aggression and speed necessary for success in the AHL.

“This style of play isn’t easy. Sometimes we play three games a week and at the start of the season it was pretty hard,” he said of adapting. “Everything comes so fast here with the smaller rink. I wasn’t used to that. But now that I’m more comfortable with the game, I can go hard every time.”

Although his adjustment to playing in the U.S. took some time, Pihlstrom’s game didn't falter. In four separate games this season he netted two goals, including December 18 against Grand Rapids when he scored twice in just 14 second. He also put up at least one goal and one assist in five other games.

Off the ice, Pihlstrom has taken the adjustment in stride, joking that the hardest part was finding an apartment and good food. Having countryman Janne Niskala to share the experiences with was helpful, but both were thankful for teammate, and fellow Finn Pekka Rinne, who showed them the ropes in Milwaukee.

Pihlstrom began playing at the age of five in his hometown of Vantaa. Located in southern Finland, he grew up in a region responsible for some pretty heady competition: Niklas Backstrom, Mikko and Saku Koivu to name just a few. Most notable, however, is the fact that Pihlstrom shares his heritage with NHL phenom Teemu Selanne who hails from just down the road in Helsinki. Noting his ability on the ice, Pihlstrom marks Selanne as the player who most influenced him to pursue professional hockey.

“He’s a good scorer and a fast skater. Selanne was the player. He was the big guy,” said Pihlstrom.

Pihlstrom began his pursuit of a career in hockey by playing in Finland’s SM-liiga, generally regarded as one of the best leagues in Europe. In four seasons, Pihlstrom skated in 212 games while posting 58 goals and 40 assists. In his 2006-2007 campaign with HPK Hameelinna, he was ranked third in goals and fifth overall in points, and during their playoff run he notched eight points, good for third on the team.

It that Pihlstrom’s dedication and perseverance has already begun to pay off. On December 14, Pihlstrom received the call that some players wait a lifetime for. The next night, he suited up in a Predators’ sweater in for his NHL debut in a 3-1 Nashville loss to Colorado. Despite the loss, Pihlstrom still managed to get a hit and a shot on goal while he was on the ice.

Even though he found himself back in Milwaukee shortly after, it’s safe to say that the taste of hockey at its highest level has him hungry for more, but like every player looking to move up to the big show, Pihlstrom recognizes there are aspects of his game he needs to improve to achieve his goal. One thing’s for sure, his attitude and determination will only help him to excel.

“It’s always been my goal to play here. I work hard every shift and I try to be a team player and just do good things. “

His style of play and performances, both with Admirals and currently at the World Championships, have not been lost on the Predators scouts and coaching staff. Despite a full roster returning at the forward spot (12 forwards who finished the 2007-08 season with the Predators are already signed for next season), several within the organization expect Pihlstrom to compete for a NHL roster spot out of training camp this fall.





1 z - DAL 82 50 23 9 267 230 109
2 x - STL 82 49 24 9 224 201 107
3 x - CHI 82 47 26 9 235 209 103
4 y - ANA 82 46 25 11 218 192 103
5 x - LAK 82 48 28 6 225 195 102
6 x - SJS 82 46 30 6 241 210 98
7 x - NSH 82 41 27 14 228 215 96
8 x - MIN 82 38 33 11 216 206 87
9 COL 82 39 39 4 216 240 82
10 ARI 82 35 39 8 209 245 78
11 WPG 82 35 39 8 215 239 78
12 CGY 82 35 40 7 231 260 77
13 VAN 82 31 38 13 191 243 75
14 EDM 82 31 43 8 203 245 70


F. Forsberg 82 33 31 1 64
R. Josi 81 14 47 -3 61
J. Neal 82 31 27 27 58
S. Weber 78 20 31 -7 51
M. Ribeiro 81 7 43 11 50
C. Smith 82 21 16 4 37
M. Ekholm 82 8 27 14 35
R. Johansen 42 8 26 10 34
R. Ellis 79 10 22 13 32
C. Jarnkrok 81 16 14 1 30
P. Rinne 34 21 10 .908 2.48
C. Hutton 7 5 4 .918 2.33