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NHL Draft

Kupari getting education competing against men

Center learning from playing in Finland's top professional league during draft eligible season

by Joe Yerdon / NHL.com Correspondent

Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2018 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.

Rasmus Kupari is getting a fully-loaded experience during his 2018 NHL Draft eligible season.

The 17-year-old center and native of Kotka, Finland, is No. 6 in NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of international skaters. He has spent most of this season playing for Karpat in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, where has 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 33 games.

At that age, playing against men is difficult, but the experience has proven valuable.

 

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"I didn't get too much ice time (in Liiga), so it was a little bit smaller role," Kupari said during the IIHF World Junior Championship in January. "But they're tight games and pretty big guys, so it's hard to play there. It's important to get ice time so sometimes I play with juniors or in the second-highest league in Finland."

Competing against veterans also gave Kupari the opportunity to work to his strengths and find other ways of managing the game when his size (6-foot-1, 183 pounds) may not help him.

"They're stronger than me so I have to be bigger inside the goal or something like that," Kupari said. "It's a good challenge for me every game. I'm a fast skater so I can challenge big guys with my skating."

Kupari also played with Karpat's Under-20 team and for Hermes in Mestis this season, and was a member of Finland's World Juniors team that finished sixth in Buffalo. He's enjoyed what he's done while competing to improve his standing in the eyes of scouts.

"I was pretty excited that I already get games in Liiga," Kupari said. "I'm not thinking draft too much. I'm just hard working with my home team and that's it."

When it comes to Kupari's abilities, Karpat coach Mikko Manner said he's a mix of two Finnish players: Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi, the No. 4 pick in the 2016 draft, and Carolina Hurricanes wing Sebastian Aho, a second-round pick (No. 35) in 2015.

"For being only 17 he plays a mature game," NHL Director of International Scouting Goran Stubb said. "He plays both center and wing; strong mobile skater with very good understanding of the game. He has the ability to make plays even at high-speed. Good nose for the net, has fine offensive instincts, but does also understand his defensive duties. He creates scoring chances with smart passes and surprising moves."

Kupari's ability to make those passes and use his agility to his benefit are things he's aware he can do already and he views his skating as his biggest strength. There are also a few NHL players he looks to for inspiration.

"I'm watching Patrick Kane or Nathan MacKinnon or that kind of player." Kupari said. "When I was younger, Teemu Selanne was a big idol for me… [Kane's] speed and skills and he's so good with the puck. I want to be that kind of player that loves to play with the puck."

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