International Ice Hockey Federation

Rasanen making strides

Rasanen making strides

Finn hopes to make impact at World Juniors

Published 20.12.2017 10:58 GMT-5 | Author Dhiren Mahiban
Rasanen making strides
Eemeli Rasanen was on the Finnish team that won silver last year at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. Photo: Steve Kingsman / HHOF-IIHF Images
It’s not hard to spot Eemeli Rasanen on the ice. At six-foot-seven and 225-pounds the hulking Finnish blue liner already has NHL size.

Now, as he looks to represent Finland at the upcoming IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect is trying to round out his skating in an effort to take his game to the next level.

After a summer of working with Maple Leafs skating development consultant, Barb Underhill, Rasanen has already seen an improvement in his footwork.

“For sure. It’s a way easier game now,” he said. “Probably the most important thing is getting on one leg.”

The 18-year-old’s work with Underhill is not complete – the Maple Leafs have sent the former world champion figure skater out to Kingston, where Rasanen plays with the Ontario Hockey League’s Frontenacs, in an effort to get more work in.

Kingston coach Jay Varady has already seen an improvement in Rasanen through the first two months of the regular season.

“I think skating and his defending (have improved),” Varady said. “I think he’s made a big step that way. He’s able to play against every team’s top line every night. We ask him to do that night-in, night-out. That’s hard for a big guy. The other thing he’s able to do is just eat more minutes.”

Through the first 28 games of the season Rasanen has three goals and 22 points – leading his team’s defencemen in scoring. He’s also amongst the top 20 in league scoring for blue liners.

The native of Joensuu represented his country at the 2017 Hlinka Memorial Tournament registering one assist in four games. Earlier he was part of the silver medal-winning Finnish team at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship last spring where he had one goal in six games.

Over the summer he also suited up for Finland at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Michigan. The Maple Leafs’ 2017 second-round pick is now hoping to wear his country’s colours again in Buffalo in December.

“Of course (World Juniors is) the goal,” Rasanen said. “(Summer showcase) was fun, it was really nice skating there and it’s always nice representing my country.”

At summer showcase Rasanen was able to learn from legendary Finnish defenceman Sami Salo, who is now an assistant coach with the junior national team.

“He helped me getting my shot through (from the point) and with the little things too so he really helped me,” said Rasanen. “Of course I’ve been watching his highlights, he has a nice shot.”

Rasanen, who tries to model his game after Buffalo Sabre Rasmus Ristolainen, admittedly needed time last season to adjust to the North American style of play after spending time playing in the top junior league in Finland.

“Last year he came over, first time in North America, different size rink, the level of play (was different),” said Varady. “Probably took him a little while getting used to it. I think that’s probably why you saw his growth last year. Now his comfort level coming back, was at the world junior camp with Finland – just confidence for a young kid that he builds on.”

Kingston has liked the growth they’ve seen in the blue liner thus far. He’s played both the right and left side this season and was named to the club’s leadership group as an alternate captain.

“I’m getting more confidence on the blue line,” Rasanen said. “When I have the spot to be physical, I want to be physical. It’s nice to be a leader. That’s what I’ve always wanted to be. Stephen Desrocher last year was our captain, he was really good and (Juuso) Valimaki was good too.”

As Rasanen looks to take the next step in his career, and earn a contract from the Maple Leafs, he’ll need to continue to work on his speed and skating, according to Varady.

“When you look at big players a lot of times it’s just their skating,” Varady said. “It takes a player of that size a little longer to develop, to get his legs under him and his skating. For me, just his decisions with the puck (needs to improve), but I think right here in the OHL is a great place to do all those things.

“I think it’s just a little bit of everything. It’s a big body to move around the ice. His speed, his agility, his transition skating – all things that I think every player at this level needs to improve on to play at the next level ‘cause the game’s so fast.”

 

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