BOSTON — When Boston University coach David Quinn looked at his roster last offseason and saw a gaping hole on the left wing, he knew the solution was to move offensive defenseman Ahti Oksanen up front.
“After coaching Ahti for a year, I thought all his strengths were going to be highlighted up front,” Quinn said. “The way he sees the ice, his shot, his hockey sense, his strength around the puck. I don’t know if anyone has got a stronger set of hands or a stronger stick in college hockey.”
His idea went over like the proverbial lead balloon with its subject.
“He didn’t react with a huge smile,” Quinn said. “I had to do some convincing and some arm twisting. I told him, ‘We’re not going to put you on the third or fourth line. We think you’re going to be one of the top six forwards.”
Oksanen still didn’t like the idea. He thought of himself as a defenseman. And when Quinn noted that Oksanen might get a chance to play with Jack Eichel, that selling point fell flat.
“Who’s that?” Oksanen said. “Never heard of him.”
Hockey players being nothing if not stubborn, Oksanen headed back to Finland, practiced on defense all summer, then told Quinn that was still the position he wanted to play.
“Ahti, you’re never going to play another second of defense at BU,” Quinn told him.
Reluctantly, Oksanen made the move up front.
Just 20 minutes into his collegiate career as a forward, he’d scored four goals. On a line with Eichel.
“Jack gave me four nice apples,” Oksanen said.
Oksanen didn’t stay on Eichel’s line, at least not at even strength, but his production continued.
“It was a huge change for me,” Oksanen said. “But now I feel great playing forward. I guess I have to say, ‘Thank you, coach.'”
He stands at 24 goals and counting, a total that has him tied for fifth in the country with a guy named … Jack Eichel.
Does Oksanen know now who Jack Eichel is?
“Yeah,” Oksanen said. “I know.”