Finnish forward Lauri Pajuniemi, a fifth-round draft choice of the Rangers in 2018, is enjoying an upward trend with TPS Turku of the Finnish Liiga.
Pajuniemi, 19, finished the regular season with five goals and 13 points in 44 games played. In late February, he clocked his career-high time-on-ice and later got some chances in the top six.
"I was able to do better and better as the season progressed," says Pajuniemi. "I started relatively slowly and was struggling a bit with self-confidence. But later things started working out and the coaches gave me more responsibility. As the playoffs started, I felt it was the best time of the year."
A skilled right-hand shot with some penalty killing chops, Pajuniemi is hoping to become a key player for TPS in the playoffs. He won't take anything for granted, though.
"I've improved my all-round game. Consequently, I've seen more time on ice on the penalty kill. I've gained more trust, but on the other hand, I wish I had scored more points during the regular season."
"There will always be times when you're out of the lineup, due to injury or whatever. What I've learned is during that time you just have to practice harder and harder. The odds are you're even better when you come back."
The Rangers picked Pajuniemi 132nd overall last summer. Naturally, the Finn was delighted.
Video: Lauri Pajuniemi on joining the Rangers
"Ever since the Rangers drafted me, I have watched the game highlights every morning. It's kind of a daily routine for me," Pajuniemi says.
"The Rangers drafted me, so they must think I have some potential. There's still a lot of work to do in order to be ready for the world's best league someday. I have to do well in the Liiga. If I keep working hard every day, there's a chance I'm an NHL player sooner or later."
Last June Lauri attended the Rangers Development Camp. First impressions were positive.
"It was a five-day stint, and I liked it a lot. I got to know a lot of people and was able to make some friends, too. The visit to New York City was great. We did some sightseeing and I had the chance to experience just how crowded the city is. It's a little bigger than Turku, not bad at all!"
In junior years, current Rangers goalie Alexandar Georgiev and Pajuniemi played together for TPS Turku for a while. Another fun fact is, former Ranger Lauri Korpikoski, who skated with the Blueshirts in 68 NHL games ten years ago, now dons the famous black-and-white colors of TPS.
"With Georgiev we played on the same team in Turku, so I've followed closely how he's doing in New York. I also like Mika Zibanejad a lot. An excellent forward. And a right-hand shot, just like me."
"Right after I had returned from the Development Camp, Korpikoski asked me about the experience. We agreed the Rangers have fantastic practice facilities, probably the best in the world."
Back home in the west-coast city of Turku, the sea is ever present. During the coldest time of the year, the sea freezes. In Finland, that's no excuse to not go swimming. Just drill a hole in the ice and go--what a great way to spend your leisure time.
"I often go to a local villa with a bunch of teammates for some traditional sauna and ice swimming. Lately that's been my absolute favorite pastime," Pajuniemi quips.
"At home, I think me and my girlfriend lead a pretty normal day-to-day life. Life is smiling! In my free time, I try to not think about hockey. But when I'm at the rink, I always give 100 per cent."
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