has waited patiently for his opportunity to play in the National Hockey League. Now in his fourth professional season, that opportunity is coming very soon.
Rissanen earned his first NHL call-up on Monday morning, and he joined the Hurricanes on the ice for practice on Wednesday in Raleigh.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “This is my fourth year and first call up, so I’m excited.”
The 23-year-old defenseman joins a swath of familiar faces in the Canes dressing room, and his “Rissanan 62” nameplate is sandwiched between Checkers alumni Justin Faulk and Ryan Murphy. Fellow defenseman Michal Jordan was the first teammate to text him after news of the call-up spread.
“A lot of friends from a couple years in Charlotte,” Rissanen said. “It’s pretty easy to come here. A lot of familiar faces. I feel pretty comfortable.”
Rissanen, 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, had a strong showing in this year’s training camp and exhibition season, but with the glut of NHL defensemen already on the Hurricanes’ roster, he did not make the initial cut.
“Him and Michal Jordan have both been steady. They’re older guys on the back-end, relatively speaking when you talk about a guy like Haydn Fleury. They’re kind of forgotten about to a certain degree, but they’ve been good,” head coach Bill Peters said during the preseason. “Rissanen plays real hard.”
“I had a good camp, and I had a lot of positive things,” Rissanen said on Wednesday. “They just told me to keep playing my game, play hard and keep it simple. That’s what I did.”
In what has been a challenging year for a young team in Charlotte, Rissanen has already set career highs this season in assists (10) and points (11). With Murphy and Jordan each having played more than 20 games with the Canes this season, Rissanen shouldered a larger role on the Checkers’ blueline.
“It’s been tough for the team. I was trying to be a focus there and do my thing,” he said. “I think I had a lot of good games down there, and I think I’m ready to play here.”
A native of Kuopio, Finland, Rissanen was drafted by the Canes in the sixth round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He then played two seasons of junior hockey with the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League (WHL) before signing an entry-level contract with the Hurricanes in 2011. The team described him then as a “big, physical defenseman who skates very well and plays a consistently reliable game.”
When asked to describe his style of play on Wednesday, he echoed that characterization and noted he has worked to improve his offensive game.
“I’m hard to play against in the D-zone,” he said. “I try to join the rush as much as possible, but I think my strength is in the D-zone.”
Peters said he is yet unsure if Rissanen will dress Friday night against Minnesota, but he plans to use him by Sunday against Edmonton at the latest.
“We want to get him in right away, but we want to make sure we put him in a situation to be successful,” Peters said.
Whenever his debut happens, Rissanen said his parents will likely be in attendance to witness.
“I think it’s going to be special, a dream come true,” he said. “I’m really excited.”