|Will Toni Rajala play in Brandon or Finland next season?
Finnish right wing Toni Rajala
has emerged as the enigma of the 2009 Entry Draft.
The left-handed native of Parkano, Finland, moved from NHL Central Scouting's No. 14-ranked European skater at midseason to No. 11 in the final rankings. That was before he went wild at the World Under-18 Championship in Fargo, N.D., and broke Alexander Ovechkin's scoring record with 19 points in six games.
Internet mock drafts had Rajala going anywhere from sixth overall to the third round. Imagine Edmonton's surprise when he was still available in the fourth round. The Oilers scooped him up and so far, with a very solid performance at last week's Development Camp in Sherwood Park, he hasn't let them down.
The big knock against Rajala was he was too small and a perimeter player who wouldn't go into the tough areas of the rink. Well, he went everywhere he wanted at the U-18s, especially to the net, which was partly how he was able to score a tournament-best 10 goals. And then he surprised everyone at the Combine when he measured 5-foot-10 and 163 pounds. That's a two-inch increase in height and at least 10 pounds heavier than thought. Better still, he had the lowest percentage of body fat of the 104 18-year-olds in attendance.
|"Rajala is kind of a slippery player. He loves to score and he can score. He loves to shoot. He shoots like 20 times a game. He's a good player. He's a different player. He's an amazing goal scorer." |
-- Joonas Nattinen
He didn't test as highly in the strength categories, but he knew that going in and was ready to discuss his summer plans.
"I have to get stronger and get more power," Rajala said. "This summer I have to do a lot of work. It is the biggest weakness now and I have to work on it. I am a good skater and I am smart. I have good hockey sense and good stickhandling, but maybe I must work on my shooting. It's good, but I must do better."
Rajala is coming off a season split between four teams. He came up through the Ilves Tampere system, playing at three junior levels. After finishing with 2 goals and 3 points in six games for Finland at the World Junior Championship in Ottawa, he was promoted to Ilves' in SM-Liga, the top Finnish league.
Rajala endured some criticism for WJC performance, when he was faulted for playing too much of a perimeter game as Finland finished a disappointing seventh.
"The World Juniors tournament went well, but I must and can do better next year," Rajala said. "We'll have a good team next year and I think that we'll take some medal and that is our goal. I am anticipating it."
Rajala seemed to have mixed feelings about the impact of playing for so many teams in one season.
"I first played 31 games in junior and then played 24 games in the senior men's league," said Rajala. "Of course, it was a little bit tough playing in the senior men's league because they're a little bit stronger. But I'm smart and a good skater, so I survived."
He had 14 goals and 31 points in 31 games for Ilves' Under-20 team, and 2 goals and 3 assists in 21 SM-Liga games.
Then he exploded at the World Under-18s. Playing on a line with Mikael Granlund and Teemu Pulkkinen, Rajala's 19 points was one more than Ovechkin scored at the 2002 tournament.
Rajala also finished a tournament-best plus-10, and his shootout goal in a 5-4 win against Canada clinched the bronze medal for Finland.
|"He's a smaller guy, but that doesn't work against his game because his game isn't really physical. He's a small, shifty guy with a lot of skill." |
-- Canada defenceman Stefan Elliott, on Toni Rajala
"It was my best tournament ever and it was very good winning the bronze medal," Rajala said. "I liked it."
Canada defenceman Stefan Elliott, Central Scouting's No. 17-ranked North American skater, was on the losing end of that game and remembered Rajala well.
"He was definitely noticeable on the ice," Elliott said. "He's a smaller guy, but that doesn't work against his game because his game isn't really physical. He's a small, shifty guy with a lot of skill. I think that he helped their team rally to a win with a scrappy, light motion. He's definitely feisty. Feisty is a good word to use."
Espoo Blues center Joonas Nattinen plays against Rajala in Finland and was glad to be his teammate in Fargo.
"Rajala is kind of a slippery player," Nattinen said. "He loves to score and he can score. He loves to shoot. He shoots like 20 times a game. He's a good player. He's a different player. He's an amazing goal scorer. I would like to play with him again."- With files from Marc Ciampa