Despite starting the year in the ECHL, Toni Rajala is the first consensus member of the Copper & Blue top 25 under 25 list.
Toni Rajala, the second new entry in the top 25, was one of the big fallers in the 2009 NHL entry draft. He was projected as high as the first round in some pre-draft projections, but ended up falling to the 4th round. He came over to the WHL after his draft year and put up rather pedestrian numbers for a draft + 1 player and ended up heading back to Finland where he found some time in the top 6 for Ilves Tampere in the SM-liiga (including leading the team in goals during the 2011-12 season.
|Rank||Player||DOB||Drafted||Year||Alan ||Ben ||Bruce ||DB ||Derek ||Jon||Michael||Ryan||Scott|
Rajala was touted as a future NHLer back in his early teens, where the name Teemu Selanne was brought up as a comparable. At the U-18 world championships, he amassed an amazing 19 points in 6 games which is a tournament record. He’s an excellent skater with a good shot and has excellent instincts with the puck. His biggest drawback is the fact that he’s listed at 160 lbs, but that’s probably in full equipment and dipped in gravy. He’s a tiny player and it doesn’t take much to push him off stride.
Rajala started the year in Stockton in the ECHL, but proved to be a step above that league when he notched 38 points in 29 games. His transition to the AHL has been decent as he’s notched 14 points (including 6 goals) in 19 AHL games. When you compare those numbers to the 2 other young Finns in the Oilers system (Magnus Paajarvi and Teemu Hartikainen), he stacks up quite well. Unfortunately for Rajala, that’s where the comparison ends. Hartikainen has shown that he can play the cycle game at the NHL level and Paajarvi has shown that he can help drive possession. Both can play bottom 6 roles in the NHL right now. Rajala, with his size (or lack thereof), and this organizations fascination with mass in the bottom six (regardless of actual hockey ability) makes the hill a tough climb for the small Finn.
Bruce McCurdy has him at #24, and basically has the same things to say about Rajala:
I probably like Toni Rajala about as much as my colleagues do. We all had him in a pack between 19-24, with me at the low end because I squeezed in a couple goalies (Roy, Bunz) and a couple bigger wingers with higher draft pedigree (Pitlick, Moroz) just above him. Still, to think that last time I was bang on the group average ranking of 39th for this guy, bumped him 15 spots and am now at the low end of the spectrum, is proof positive that we’ve all been sufficiently impressed by his North American professional debut to give him some strongly north-bound arrows.
The kid’s got some offensive chops, there’s no doubt; despite his diminutive stature he quickly proved too big for the ECHL and has continued to perform pretty well against tougher competition in OKC. That said, his Desjardins NHL scoring equivalency is holding fast at around 25 points per 82, just as it was in Brandon and Ilves over the three previous seasons. That’s not a compelling figure when considered in light of a defensive game that reportedly needs considerable refinement. That is at least possible, though he needs to get on that horse sooner than later.
Less likely to change at soon-turning-22 is his physical dimensions, rather dubiously listed 5’10, 163. Guy’s tiny. In an organization that’s already stacked with way more skill than size on the wings, Rajala is in tough.
In other words... a little small, not even production and not diverse enough as a player. He's not a write off, but something definitely has to change in his game.