A fourth round draft choice of the Rangers in 2016, Tarmo Reunanen is in the midst of a coming-of-age season in the Finnish Liiga, playing for Lukko Rauma. As of December 21st, among defensemen younger than 21 years old in Liiga, Reunanen ranked first in goals, was tied for first in points, and ranked third in assists.
"I feel I've taken big steps since last year," says Reunanen. "I've gained confidence and I play with more poise now. My skating has improved, and that gives me more opportunities with and without the puck."
A puck-moving, offensive defenseman, Reunanen realizes there is still room for improvement, too. "I have to be better in defensive play. I try to play aggressive, hit hard, and be strong with the stick. But more consistency is what I need."
Reunanen comes from the west-coast seaside town of Naantali, just a short drive from the city of Turku. In the 1990's, TPS Turku featured future NHL players like Saku Koivu and Petteri Nummelin. A young Tarmo was impressed, to say the least. "My dream was to have a role, any role, in the TPS junior organization. So at age nine, I became a goalie! My goalie career lasted for 18 months or so. I spent some time with another local team, TuTo, before joining TPS again in the U16's." To this day, Reunanen wears jersey #11, just like Koivu.
Reunanen joined Lukko Rauma in January 2018. Rauma, also on the West Coast, is a proud hockey community of some 40,000 people: the city's beloved Lukko won the Finnish national championship in 1963. "I really enjoy the city, I have no regrets. This town lives and breathes hockey. Total strangers greet you and want to talk about hockey."
In a country known for its reserved people, that's a big statement.
"I spend most of my days practicing and playing, but there's still time for things like badminton and squash. In the summer, I enjoy tennis and golf as well. I also have a dog with my girlfriend. I walk the dog for two hours a day, so during the hockey season especially, there really is no time to kill!"
Tarmo Reunanen Q&A
You attended the Rangers development camp in 2017. How was the experience?
It was an interesting one. I had the chance to compare myself to other players of the same age. I received a lot of good tips and had good discussions with coaches and management. Plus, I got to visit New York City. For an everyday Finn like me, it was a jaw-dropping experience. And visiting Madison Square Garden… it really boosted my hopes and dreams.
Surely, you follow the Rangers closely now? Any favorite players?
Since I was drafted, I don't think I've missed a video highlight! And not just the Rangers, I also follow the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack.
He's much bigger than me, but I respect the defensive play of Marc Staal. Kevin Shattenkirk is good, too. Somebody I really like is Neal Pionk. Like me, he's not the biggest guy. But it's been great to watch him play, and deliver on the power play, too.
At 20, you still have plenty of time - how do you feel about your NHL future?
I've always thought about playing in the NHL someday. This season in the Liiga I've proven - to myself and others - that I've taken major steps…What once was a dream has now become a realistic goal for me.