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Rasanen hopes to make 6-foot-7 presence felt with Maple Leafs

Physical style comes naturally to defenseman prospect

by Dave McCarthy / Correspondent

TORONTO -- Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman prospect Eemeli Rasanen is cordial enough off the ice. But once he gets on the ice, he says his personality tends to change.

"Yeah," Rasanen said when asked if he has a mean streak. "I really don't know [where it comes from]. I'm not mean all the time. Usually just on the ice."

Selected by the Maple Leafs in the second round (No. 59) of the 2017 NHL Draft, the right-handed shooting defenseman has the size and strength to play a physical style. He began playing hockey around age 10, late compared to most players who become top prospects, but always has been a defenseman who has embraced the physical side of the game.

At 6-foot-7, 208 pounds, Rasanen, 18, joked he's "too big to be a forward," but said feels his physicality helps give him the time and space to contribute offensively.

"I like to play a two-way game, definitely the offensive side of the game but maybe more focus on the defensive," Rasanen said.

He moved to North America last season from his native Finland, and had 39 points (six goals, 33 assists) with 41 penalty minutes in 66 games with Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League, and had five points (one goal, four assists) in 11 OHL playoff games. Rasanen said last season also showed him that the North American ice surface, which allows him to use his size and physicality to a greater advantage, is better for him.

During the first day of Maple Leafs development camp earlier this month, Rasanen spent time working with Barb Underhill, a former world champion figure skater who is a skating consultant for Toronto. At 4-foot-11, Underhill stood about two feet shorter than Rasanen.

"It was fun and she gave me already some good tips," Rasanen said. "Every part of the game, but mostly my skating [needs improvement]."

At the NHL Scouting Combine in June, Rasanen's combination of offensive ability, impressive size and strength, and affinity for a rugged type of game made him an intriguing prospect, and he said he was interviewed by 16 NHL teams, including the Maple Leafs.

"I felt like they were more interested than other teams," he said. "I really don't even know how to say it, I felt great [to be drafted]. It's always been a dream."

Rasanen said he expects to play one or two more seasons with Kingston before being ready to jump to the professional ranks.

Growing up, Rasanen was unable to see a lot of NHL games because of the seven-hour time difference between his home in Joensuu, Finland, and the Eastern Time Zone, but he's making up for that now. He mentioned fellow Finland-born defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen of the Buffalo Sabres as a player he watches closely. At 6-4, 203 pounds, Ristolainen, also a right-shot defenseman, plays a style Rasanen hopes to emulate.

"His all-around game," Rasanen said, when asked what he finds impressive about Ristolainen. "He's good at every part of the game and he's tough to play against."

Words Rasanen's future opponents may one day say about him.

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