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2017 Top 25 Under 25 #23: Eemeli Rasanen

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The towering Leafs’ second-rounder makes his T25 debut.

2017 NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7 Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Under Assistant GM Mark Hunter, the Leafs have drafted a number of very tall defencemen. And they picked the tallest of them at 59th overall this year.

Eemeli Rasanen is our #23.

Background

In some ways, Rasanen fits in with the rest of the large defencemen Mark Hunter has taken to drafting in recent years, a group I called the Large Adult Sons. His height is the first thing that jumps out at you about him, although it’s not matched by weight—the kid is built like a reed at the moment—and in this he is very much in keeping with the trend. But unlike many of the other picks that have caused such consternation in recent years, Rasanen was a point producer after arriving in the OHL (he’s originally from Finland, as you might guess.) Rasanen racked up 6G-33A-39P in 66 games for the Kingston Frontenacs, driven largely by powerplay points. In doing so, he spent some time playing alongside 2015 Leafs draftee Stephen Desrocher, whom the organization gave up on this year. Sunrise, sunset.

Back to Rasanen: here’s where I should point out that Pension Plan Puppets has already published a deep analysis of Eemeli. Our boss Katya Knappe gave him a long look at the end of June, and if you don’t mind me saying so, it’s damn good. It’s very much worth reading the full article, but the Coles’ Notes for right now:

  • As noted above, Rasanen is lean, and is still growing into his lanky frame. He can and likely will pack more muscle on, as with so many young prospects.
  • The weak point most observers agree on is his skating, and it’s going to need to improve. By most accounts it has been improving, which is good; how far it goes is likely to determine Rasanen’s ultimate ceiling.
  • Rasanen is a power-play producer with a nice shot, and his fitness is impressive. He’s a physical player and, once he can add mass and acceleration to the volume he already has, he could be a devastating hitter.
  • As per Mark Hunter, Rasanen is still learning to operate in his body. For a kid coming out of an enormous growth spurt and still only 18, there’s obviously a lot of development ahead.

That last point is the real bottom line. Rasanen has some genuinely exciting tools: obviously he’s big, he’s fit, he can shoot, and his defensive instincts are improving all the time. Prospects as new and raw as Rasanen are mostly about dreaming of what could happen, so let’s dream a little: the best case scenario has Rasanen as an absolute terror of a shutdown defenceman. And not for nothing, but remember—he shoots right.

Looking outside a bit, OHL prospect writer Brock Otten offered his thoughts on Rasanen:

Rasanen, the Leafs 2nd rounder in 2017, is the very definition of a project. He's an absolutely hulking defender at 6'6 and he has some real intriguing qualities (big point shot, projection as a puck rusher, great reach defensively, great open ice hitter). But there are also some areas of his game that need a lot of work (decision making under pressure, physical intensity in high traffic areas, overall mobility). Good news is that Rasanen hasn't been playing at a high level of hockey for very long and he's a kid who is very moldable. He'll have a few years to really gain confidence in his puck skill and his ability to defend. An adjustment to having to make quicker decisions on the small ice is also likely. We could start seeing a big improvement as early as next year when Kingston will once again be a solid team in the Eastern Conference. Rasanen will be a top 3 defender for them and a big part of their powerplay (someone has to replace Desrocher). As such, I really see him getting close to that 10 goal mark and over 45 points. But more importantly, I think we need to see a step forward at the defensive end. Really want to see him become a physical beast in his own end.

Me too, Brock. Me too.

One other look, from our newest writer, Janik Beichler. Janik wasn’t on staff early enough to participate in the voting, but he did watch Rasanen in the U18s. Here are his thoughts:

Really tough one. Obviously stands out with his frame and uses it extremely well in board play. Doesn’t really hit or play physically but pins opponents against the boards all the time and won’t let them go until someone gets the puck out. His skating scares the crap out of me. Slow transitions, really awkward stride, not much speed. Can’t accelerate backwards and just gets caught standing at the defensive blue line if attackers start a quick rush. His reach is obviously crazy which makes up for some of it. If an attacker is too fast for him, he just puts out his stick and knocks the puck loose. Doesn’t always work though. Just looks like he has terrible body coordination; often fumbles the puck between his feet and takes ages to recover it. Plays some solid outlet passes but equally many bad ones. Has a dangerous shot and good passing ability offensively that give him solid offensive upside. Long-term project who is exciting because of his size, but he wouldn’t crack my top 100. Probably a fourth-round guy at best in my opinion. I just can’t see him improving his skating as much as he’d have to, and he looks like a purely defensive player who’s mediocre on the breakout and can only contribute a heavy shot offensively. If he can get his skating together, though, he could make it big-time.

The Video

This highlight package focuses, naturally enough, on Rasanen’s shot from the point, which is a great powerplay weapon. If you’ve ever wanted to see an albatross absolutely rip a slapshot goal, this is where it’s at.

The Stats

Eemeli Rasanen via Elite Prospects

Season Team League GP G A TP PIM Playoffs GP G A TP PIM
Season Team League GP G A TP PIM Playoffs GP G A TP PIM
2013-2014 Jokipojat U16 Jr. C SM-sarja Q 7 1 0 1 2
Jokipojat U16 Jr. C Mestis 11 0 9 9 6
Jokipojat U16 Jr. C SM-sarja 13 6 3 9 18
Jokipojat U18 Jr. B SM-sarja 4 0 1 1 0
2014-2015 Jokipojat U16 Jr. C SM-sarja Q 4 1 4 5 12
Jokipojat U18 Jr. B Mestis 22 8 8 16 16 Playoffs 1 0 0 0 0
Jokipojat U20 Jr. A SM-liiga 15 1 3 4 10 Relegation 3 0 2 2 0
Finland U16 (all) International-Jr 8 0 2 2 4
2015-2016 Ässät U18 Jr. B Mestis Q 7 1 7 8 2
Ässät U18 Jr. B Mestis 8 1 9 10 6
Ässät U18 Jr. B SM-sarja 13 0 3 3 4
Ässät U20 Jr. A SM-liiga 4 0 0 0 4
Finland U17 WHC-17 5 0 0 0 2
2016-2017 Kingston Frontenacs OHL 66 6 33 39 41 Playoffs 11 1 4 5 4
Finland U18 Hlinka Memorial 4 0 1 1 2
Finland U18 WJC-18 6 1 0 1 2
Finland U18 (all) International-Jr 4 0 1 1 2

The Voters

Our former chieftain Scott Wheeler was the highest on Rasanen, and he explained why:

Part of the reason you'll find Rasanen so high on my list at No. 18 versus a consensus ranking that some him at No. 23 is the emphasis I have placed this year on the Leafs' D prospects (readers will notice later in the ranking that I have also ranked [redacted] and [censored] considerably higher than they finished). If there's one position that ought to be owed more credence in this year's ranking, it's the backend. The Leafs have been bereft of high-end prospects on defence for years and that made ranking the T25U25 a simpler task in that it was built predominantly on a "who will score better than who" game. This year, things have changed. The Leafs now have more than just Travis Dermott to speak of as potential options on the backend and Rasanen showed promise in a wasteland of talent as a rookie in Kingston. His size and ability with the puck at a young age are really, really exciting.

Katya, who looked deeply into Rasanen in the above link, had him 22nd, but also offers reasons for caution:

He’s a big ball of potential. What has he actually accomplished? Played top pair on on a bad OHL team with a junior veteran with good basic skills. Good enough to make the Finnish U17 team, but will he make the WJC? Spoiler: no.

He is a bomb that might never go off. But if he does, big boom.

And the lowest person on Rasanen was...me. I left him off my list entirely, although he would certainly have made it if we’d been doing a Top 30. That might sound as if I don’t like the prospect or the pick, and that’s very much not true.

Eemeli Rasanen has a bunch of raw abilities that I am very happy spending a late second on. If he’s an absolute freak of development, you can dream of a top-shelf shutdown defender coming out of Eemeli Rasanen. If the ball of potential is never molded all the way, well, usually that’s what happens with second-round picks.

There’s a compromise scenario where, as Arvind puts it, “Rasanen becomes the guy FAN 590 callers overrate”, with his booming shot and his heavy hits. But there are some exciting things with Rasanen, even with the long road ahead. So if you’re going to pick a prospect to dream on, well, why not dream on him?