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NHL draft tracker: Teemu Kivihalme, Burnsville Blaze

Kivihalme is committed to Colorado College (Fargo Force photo)

Teemu Kivihalme has a hockey story that could only happen in America, by way of Finland.

One who did not know better would presume from the name that the puck-moving defenceman hails from someplace such as Hämeenlinna or Helsinki. Kivihalme, who is ranked 64th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, is actually dual Finnish-American citizen. His father and coach at Burnsville (Minn.) High School, Janne Kivihalme, immigrated to the U.S. midwest as an exchange student and ended up settling there. A generation later, Teemu Kivihalme, while being a Karlssonish slight 5-foot-11¼ and 161 pounds, has impressed scouts with his speed, skill and son-of-a-coach smarts.

"I try to treat it as no different," Kivihalme, who also played for the USHL's Fargo Force last season, says of playing for his dad in the Minnesota high school ranks. "He's really on me. He tries to tell the team that he treats me no differently than any other player. He's on me constantly, on and off the ice. It's good for me. He definitely helped me as a player growing up.

"It's great having my American side and my Finnish side," adds the Colorado College recruit, whom in case you're wondering, is named after future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne. "The family on the Finnish side is really proud of me. I try to visit every summer. It's unique, not every kid has that."

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."

5. What do you consider your proudest hockey achievement?

"Making the U.S. team for the Ivan Hlinka [under-18] tournament last summer was pretty big. Just making it to the [NHL scouting] combine stands out, too. Not every kid who's in my position gets this opportunity."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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