Julius Honka has taken the Western Hockey League by storm in his rookie season with the Swift Current Broncos.
It all started in exhibition action. The Finnish blueliner dazzled spectators with his smooth, quick skating abilities and offensive pizzazz while notching four goals and seven points in seven games. His first impression on the league was impressive, but it has only gotten better. He has asserted himself as a star in the regular-season while tying Calgary Flames prospect Coda Gordon for his team’s lead in points with five goals and 12 assists in 15 contests.
Honka’s hot start and high-end talent has made a major impression on Broncos head coach-GM Mark Lamb.
"He's got the most skill on our team," Lamb told NHL.com. "You watch him in practice, his 1-on-1 moves, how he scores in practice on breakaways. We do the shootout, we practice the shootout, and he was our go-to guy. He didn't score on it, but he's our most skilled guy."
Honka, who turns 18 in December, didn’t know what to expect in terms of how smooth his transition to major junior hockey would be. He just knew he was taking a big jump in competition from the Jr. A SM-liiga.
“It was hard to say how I’d play here,” said Honka. “I just know I have to play my own game. I try to help my team win and that’s what I’ve tried to do here. I’ve scored some goals and that’s good because it helps my team win.”
Honka’s decision to move over to North America from Finland boiled down to opportunity. He felt the Broncos offered him the best chance to help get him to the next level.
“There was the (CHL import) draft and they picked me,” said Honka, who was selected 34th overall in the 2013 CHL import draft. “I was thinking about it a lot and thought I want a chance to play in the NHL. I think this was my best chance to get drafted (into the NHL).”
The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder’s connection to Broncos goaltender Eetu Laurikainen made his decision to move to Swift Current easier. Since the Finnish natives both hail from Jyväskylä, Honka was able to get a hold of Laurikainen and pick his brain about the Broncos and the Dub.
“I asked him what it’s like here,” said Honka. “I found out what the league is like. It’s good to have someone here from Finland – that makes it easier.”
Taking into account NHL Central Scouting Service's preliminary ranking pegged him as an A-list prospect and he shinned for Finland at the U-18 tournament last year, all signs point to Honka representing his country at the 2014 World Junior Championship in Sweden this year. For Honka, it would practically be a dream come true and another opportunity to show NHL scouts what he brings to the table.
“It would be a great experience,” said Honka, who is regarded as a top-60 2014 NHL draft prospect. “I’ve played at other tournaments (U-18) for Finland and want to play in that one. I've always wanted to play in that tournament. It's a good opportunity to play for my country and get noticed by (NHL) teams."
1. How would you describe yourself as a player?
“I try to play like an offensive defenceman. I like to move the puck up the ice and play good in my own end.”
2. Do you try to model your game after a player in the NHL?
“I like how (Ottawa Senators defenceman) Erik Karlsson plays. He’s very talented and is a great player.”
3. Who is your favourite NHL team?
“I like the New York Rangers. I don’t know why – I’ve always liked them. They are a popular team.”
4. What has been the biggest difference between living in Finland and Saskatchewan?
“The food and a lot of stuff are different. They eat different meals here and have a different schedule for everything. And in hockey there is way more practice and games. The schedule is longer and there is lots of training.”
5. What do you think of the music and movies in North America? Is it a lot different from what you are used to in Finland?
“It is different. It is a different culture here with music and movies. I listen to some music and watch some movies that I like, but it’s different. I’m still getting used to it.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen