ANAHEIM – Teemu Selanne wanted to do something nice for Sami Vatanen. His fellow Finn, 21 years his junior, had just arrived in Anaheim and was hoping to stick with the Ducks.
The way Selanne saw it, if Vatanen was going to make it in southern California, he needed to have his own wheels. So the future Hall of Famer, an avid car collector, decided to lend Vatanen, a smooth-skating defenceman, one of his. A Mercedes CLK to be precise.
"I haven't seen it in a year-and-a-half," Selanne said with a chuckle.
"I don't know if I like that car actually," Vatanen said with a big smile, "but it's free."
Selanne and Saku Koivu, another Finnish veteran, have mentored Vatanen, Anaheim's fourth round pick in 2009, over the last couple of years. Koivu and his wife Hanna, for example, helped Vatanen get his apartment set up.
"You can tell that both of them have taken Sami under their wing," said Ducks defenceman Ben Lovejoy. "He's not even their little brother, he's sort of their son."
Told of that statement, the 43-year-old Selanne doesn't miss a beat noting, "He could be."
The groundwork laid by Selanne and Koivu paid dividends in the regular season as Vatanen was the third leading scorer among Ducks defencemen picking up 21 points in just 48 games.
"It's a big thing," said Vatanen. "I've been watching those guys for a while. It was fun to get a chance to play with them and it's more fun even in the playoffs."
Vatanen played in just nine of Anaheim's final 32 regular-season games and started the playoffs in the minors with Norfolk in the American Hockey League. He was recalled in time for Game 3 of the series with the Los Angeles Kings making an immediate impact. Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau even went so far as to label the youngster the best player on the ice on either team on Thursday night.
Vatanen didn't slow down in his second career NHL playoff game on Saturday night, picking up his first post-season point, an assist on Ryan Getzlaf's power play goal. He was also on the ice for Devante Smith-Pelly's goal earlier in the period.
"Just some confidence on the back end," said Lovejoy when asked what Vatanen brings to the table. "Getting offence against the Kings is difficult and having another smart puck mover back there is only going to put our forwards in better position to create offence."
It is the 5-foot-10, 183-pound Vatanen's gutsy play, which impresses Selanne the most.
"He's a warrior out there," said Selanne. "He's not the biggest guy out there, but he doesn't avoid the traffic. He's putting himself in a situation where he's going to get hit and give hits. It's fun to watch when young guys and small guys can do that. And obviously the way he can see the game and pass. He can make a huge difference."
Selanne is nearing the end of his decorated career and takes great pride in being able to help an up-and-coming Finnish player find his way. After all, it was Teppo Numminen who helped a young Selanne navigate some early-career growing pains in Winnipeg.
"I remember how much he helped me and that's why I want to do my job as well. And it's fun and you see how much they appreciate it and how life is easier when you have help here and there," Selanne said.
"That's what we have done for years. It's so much easier for a young guy when there's a countryman who wants to help and makes things easier and gets you settled down. That's a very important part of our job."
In a way, Selanne's career has come full circle as he passes the torch to the next rising Finnish star on the Ducks.
So, did Numminen lend Selanne a car back in the day?
"Actually, I let him drive my car," Selanne said with a grin.
Some things never change.