The Maple Leafs are scheduled to pick between 23rd and 25th in the coming draft, and while we have no idea who will be available, Bob McKenzie’s latest draft ranking provides us with a good idea of what to expect. Most of the players I profile will be taken before the Leafs pick, but someone is bound to fall, and we can begin to look at players who could end up in this range.
Rasmus Kupari is falling in draft rankings. McKenzie placed him 13th on his list back in January, but he’s now fallen outside of his top 16. He was one of the leading scorers at the Ivan Hlinka tournament with seven points in just four games, and he just won a gold medal at the most recent U-18 tournament. He’s a quick and skilled forward with a chance to stick at centre, but he will need to get stronger before he’s NHL ready.
Kupari is a 6’0” forward who spent this season playing for Karpat in Liiga, posting 14 points in 39 games in this pro league. His scoring output fell short of fellow first round talent Jesperi Kotkaniemi by 0.15 points per game, but Kupari’s been just as noticeable on the international stage. Those with Kupari’s scoring production have carried an impressive success rate in recent years:
U-18 Liiga Single Season Production
Stats retrieved from Eliteprospects.com
A Glimpse of Kupari in Action
He is effective in the transition game, as he’s quick enough to beat defenders out wide and skilled enough as a carrier to make defenders miss. His crafty style of play is on full display here:
Once again, Kupari is effective in the transition game. This GIF is here in case you didn’t believe me the first time:
Kupari could start his career at right wing, but as the GIF below shows, he can be a valuable contributor even if he does not stick up the middle. He’s quick enough to push defenders back coming down on the rush, and he’s more than capable of pulling off a decent toe-drag:
Kupari shows off a bit of grit here, driving the puck to the net for a goal. I expect this part of his game to continue to improve as he puts on weight:
Kupari is “slippery” in the offensive zone, and is elusive enough to make a defender miss in open space. He doesn’t score here, but his ability to slip away from a defender is a repeatable skill:
Kupari holds plenty of moves in his bag of tricks. He makes the most of his breakaway opportunities, and can be a regular shootout option:
He’s big enough to protect the puck moderately well, and once again, he proves that he’s a tough player to match up against. He drives the puck into the slot, and comes close to a highlight reel goal:
Kupari uses his speed and tenaciousness to generate a key takeaway. This showcases his ability to play off the puck, as well as his playmaking skill:
Kupari makes a defender miss with a quick lateral move, then drives into the slot to unload a wrist shot:
He doesn’t have to go through defenders in order to beat them. In the GIF below, Kupari uses his speed to gain the zone, drive the puck behind the defenders, then set up his teammate for a goal:
Good teams tend to carry depth at centre, and Kupari is a strong enough puck carrier to develop into a secondary scoring option. While he may start his career at right wing, the Leafs should be solely focused on finding future NHL contributors, rather than focusing on position.
Kupari’s a good enough carrier and playmaker to run a second powerplay unit, but he’s also a respectable scoring threat in the middle of the 1-3-1 set up. He stood out as Finland’s best player while playing against a tough Canadian team at the Hlinka, as he was of the only players who could consistently set up shop in the offensive zone. His most recent showing at the U18 tournament was a bit of a mixed bag, but he did notch two points in a gold medal win over the United States.
Ultimately, Kupari would be a strong selection if he’s around by the time the Leafs pick. He belongs in the middle of the first round, and could be a small steal in the #23-25 range. He is bound to be a top performer for Finland at the World Juniors down the road, and should develop into a solid secondary scoring threat at the NHL level.