CALGARY, AB -- Aleksander Barkov is no stranger to Calgary.
The 2013 NHL Draft eligible forward spent time in the Stampede City as part of Finland's fourth-place finish at the 2012 World Junior Championship.
His first taste of international action in Canada, it's an event the 17-year-old won't soon forget.
At the tournament, Barkov eclipsed a mark set by Sidney Crosby and became the second-youngest player ever to score at the World Juniors. Barkov was 16 years and four months old when he beat Slovak goaltender Dominik Riecicky on January 2nd. Crosby was 24 days older when he found the back of the net for the first time in the 2004 tournament.
"It was my first experience of playing hockey in Canada," Barkov said. "I will always remember the 2012 World Juniors.
"The goal I scored against Slovakia wasn't main goal of my life, but it felt nice."
Barkov's come a long way in the 18 months that have followed the event.
"My two-way game developed very much for this season, because of my physique," he said. "I did a lot of work at summer."
His evolution -- and continued development -- has come thanks in part to another Calgary connection.
Skating alongside former Calgary Flames forward Ville Nieminen with Tappara Tampere, Barkov credited the 36-year-old with helping him round into a better forward.
"Ville helped me a lot," the 6-foot-3 center said. "We practiced together with him and Henrik Haapala. So we had good exercises. When season started, we played together."
As part of that trio, Barkov was one of the most dynamic forwards in the SM-liiga in Finalnd, recording 21 goals and 48 points in 57 games and finishing ninth in league scoring.
It's no small accomplishment for the Finn, who doesn't turn 18 until September. Those totals came in his second season skating against players up to 20 years his senior.
"I do not ever think that someone is older than me on the ice," he said. "I try to play my own game and help my team to win games. It's good achievement for me but its not enough. I have my goal in NHL.
"I am better player now. I can play now well two-way game. I have developed in everything. But I have to do a lot of work if I want some day play there in NHL."
A shoulder injury in the playoffs might slow that chase.
Barkov underwent surgery eight weeks ago to repair the injury, which forced him to miss the fitness testing portion of the NHL Draft Combine but is expected to be fine by the time the puck drops next year.
"I don't know how long it takes, but I think I am in full condition at beginning of the next season," he declared.
Which team he suits up for come September remains to be seen. He's Central Scouting's top-ranked European prospect and shouldn't have to wait long to be called to the draft floor on June 30th in New Jersey.
But that doesn't mean he'll be an NHL player next season.
Barkov said he wasn't ready to make the decision to come to North America or return for another season with Tappara.
"I don't want now speak about that," he said. "I have now this shoulder injury. I try to rehabilitate it and we will see it then, where I will play next season."
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