clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Amazing Toni Rajala and OKC's Round Two Preview

Candace Riley

The Oklahoma City Barons won their best-of-five first round series over Charlotte in the maximum five games. Despite the close score in number of games won, the individual games themselves were often blowouts, with just one game being decided by a margin of less than three goals. As you might expect, that meant some pretty gaudy scoring totals for some of the players involved, and indeed, the Barons currently have four of the top ten playoff scorers in Josh Green, Teemu Hartikainen, Mark Arcobello, and Toni Rajala.

It's an interesting group of players. Green has played 341 NHL games, and that's a number I'm sure the other three would be thrilled to hit. Hartikainen probably has the best chance of getting there, given that he's likely to start next season with the Oilers. Arcobello got his first taste of the NHL this season, and has played well enough to expect another shot as a call-up further down the line. Then there's Toni Rajala.

After spending the last two seasons posting good-but-certainly-not-overwhelming totals in Finland, Rajala has had an absolutely amazing first pro season in North America. After bossing around the ECHL -- he had 38 points in 29 games -- Rajala joined the Barons full-time after the NHL lockout ended, and he now has 53 points in 51 regular season and playoff games. Unlike Philippe Cornet's breakout season in 2011-12, questions about the sustainability of those totals have surprisingly pleasant answers, as Rajala has a high but not outlandish 11.2% shooting percentage on 170 shots in those 51 games. He's an older rookie, so it's probably unwise to expect an offensive explosion in the NHL next season, but safely clearing three shots per game is still very impressive.

But Rajala's season isn't over yet, although Toni and the Barons do have a difficult opponent in the second round in the form of the Texas Stars. The Stars had the most points and second-best goal differential in the Western Conference this year. Unfortunately for the Barons, they didn't do it with smoke and mirrors.

Texas had a formidable shot differential this season, outshooting opponents by an average of 5.6 shots per game (32.9 to 27.3), and demonstrating similar outshooting proficiency against the best teams in the Conference, outshooting Toronto, Grand Rapids, Charlotte, and Oklahoma City by an average of 3.9 shots per game over twenty-six games. On the bright side (for the Barons), Texas's regulation record against those top teams was just 8-12-6 and their regulation goal differential a rather pedestrian -3 (+69 -72), both of which are inferior to what the Barons were able to accomplish during the regular season. Goaltender Cristopher Nilstorp was excellent in the first round (Sv % of .963 over four games), but wasn't anything special during the regular season (.907 in thrity-nine games). Yann Danis didn't have a great season, but his regular season numbers are better, and his long-term track record is encouraging. It'll be a tough series, and that's for sure, but I think the Barons are about even odds to come out on top.