Jari Kykkanen: Ready To Take The Reins
When Jari Kykkanen joined the Kelowna Rockets following the holiday break in December 2021, a lot of fans were confused about where the 6’3″, 185-pound goaltender came from.
With a name like that, most fans were convinced he was an import pick from Finland. However they were wrong, a product of Lloydminster, Alta., Kykkanen’s dad happens to be a big Edmonton Oiler and Jari Kurri fan.
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2019 WHL Prospects Draft, Kykkanen elected to go the Junior A route to start the 2021-22 season, he appeared in seven games with the AJHL’s Drayton Valley Thunder before deciding to make the move to the WHL and sign with the Rockets.
Packing up and moving to a new city can always be tough, but for Kykkanen, he also had the added fear of walking into a dressing room that had been together for four months.
“It was kind of scary,” recalled Kykkanen in a telephone interview. “These guys had been getting to know each other for half of the season already and I was just coming in at that point like, ‘Hey, I’m on the team now’. It’s a bit worrisome because you hope they like you and are nice to you. But the guys were awesome, they welcomed me with open arms and it felt like home instantly. Them welcoming me in like that helped take off some of the nerves.”
He would make his first WHL start on January 26, 2022 against the Victoria Royals, making 21 saves on 24 shots to pick up his first win.
Kykkanen credited fellow goaltender Talyn Boyko with helping him ease into his role with the Rockets.
“We didn’t know each other before I came to the Rockets, so it was a new friendship. I think we gelled really good over the half-year we spent together.”
By the end of the regular season, Kykkanen had appeared in 13 games (12 starts) for the Rockets posting an 8-3-0-0 record with a 2.75 goals-against average, .897 save percentage and one shutout. During the playoffs, the rookie netminder replaced starter Boyko in net during game one against the Seattle Thunderbirds and started game three.
He went undrafted in his first year of eligibility for the NHL Draft, but his work was enough for him to earn an invite to the Florida Panthers development camp in July and their rookie camp in the fall.
Heading into this past season, there was uncertainty regarding where 20-year-old Boyko, a New York Rangers prospect, would be assigned. With Boyko still away within the Rangers system, Kykkanen was thrust into the starting role. He would go on to start seven of the Rockets first eight regular season games before Boyko was returned to Kelowna on October 17th.
“I was kind of hoping I could be the starter this year and work my way through and figure out things myself. But it was a little bit of a relief when Talyn came back that I could get that extra bit of mentorship so this upcoming year I can be lights out.”
During his sophomore season, Kykkanen took on much more of a workload in net, nearly splitting the playing time. He was 14-12-3-0 with a 3.85 goals-against average, .896 save percentage with one shutout in 33 games (29 starts).
Heading into the playoffs, he was handed the starting job as the Rockets faced the number one-seeded Seattle Thunderbirds in the opening round. He started three of the Rockets four games in the postseason, posting a respectable 3.04 goals-against average and .924 save percentage while facing one of the most offensively talented teams the WHL has ever seen.
— Kelowna Rockets (@Kelowna_Rockets) April 5, 2023
Kykkanen said that this year was a big year for his development and has helped him prepare to take over the starting role this upcoming season.
“This past season was a bit of a learning experience, but I still had a lot of fun. I think it was good having Boyks back, it was kind of a huge help. It was good to get another year of mentorship from him under my belt. I’ve learned a lot from him, it was just awesome to experience another year with him, he was such a great goalie partner and an even better friend.
“Also kind of learning stuff on my own, like getting the starting role near the end of the year for the playoffs. Learning what it takes day in and day out, and being prepared for a game every night.”
In addition to learning on the fly, Kykkanen was busy in net, facing 40 or more shots in 14 different games this past season. We asked him how a goaltender deals with facing a barrage of shots.
“It takes its toll on your body, it’s a mental grind, you need to tell yourself that you’re not that tired and keep battling through every shot you face. In a sense though, it’s kind of nice because you’re not too bored in the net.”
Unranked for the 2023 NHL Draft, Kykkanen went undrafted but received an invitation to attend the Calgary Flames development camp. Heading into his second NHL development camp, Kykkanen said the two were totally different experiences for him.
“I would say they were different. Last year in Florida I didn’t really know what to expect, I went in and was a sponge and learned everything I could. This year in Calgary, I came in with the confidence of I knew what I was doing, I know my game and how I perform. I felt super confident and I left their camp really confident, it was just a really big boost of confidence.
“I also learned a lot throughout the week of training with their coaches. One of the biggest takeaways is that a lot of it is nutrition and how you take care of yourself. Making sure you’re getting enough food and water, with enough sleep. You need to look after your body and your mind, the rest will come.”
For Kykkanen he knows that there are big shoes to fill with the departure of Boyko, asked how he’s preparing for his 19-year-old season he gave us an honest answer.
“I try not to put too much pressure on myself, at the end of the day you’re supposed to have fun. So I don’t really want to overburden and overwork myself to the point where I can’t perform. I’m coming in this season light-headed and I’m going to have some fun, when the work seriously gets down to it, then I’ll focus in and put in the work.”
In addition to on-ice training, Kykkanen is also preparing for one more thing this upcoming season. Earlier this year, he made a visit to his billet mom’s school where he was eliminated in the first round of the game four corners first round every single game.
“I can say that I’ve been practicing quite a bit, I really hope I get a redemption game this season when we go back for our visit.”