This year’s rankings find Eemeli Räsänen in a slightly different position than at the start of the 2017-18 season; rather than gearing up as an OHL sophomore, now he’s headed to the KHL after signing a two-year deal with Jokerit. And instead of our number 10, he’s number 17–although that’s probably due more to the quality of new prospects than Räsänen’s own shortcomings. Overall, we were pretty much in agreement that Räsänen belonged in the mid-late teens among current Leafs prospects, with his best vote coming in at #11 and 3 counts of “not ranked”–with a whole host of perspectives in between. In the range of his rankings (11-20), the only number Eemeli didn’t see this year was 12. I thought that was interesting. You can skip this bit if you like.
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Eemeli Räsänen was drafted 59th by Toronto in 2017, and he remains unsigned, at least by the Leafs. A gigantic (6’7”, 209lbs) right-handed defenceman, Räsänen is the dream of many an NHL GM…providing he can deliver. He spent the last two years with the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL before deciding to try his luck as a teenager in the KHL. A great thing about that decision for the Leafs is the chance to see how he does against much older and tougher competition, even though it takes him a little further out of sight (and reach) than many would prefer.
With his consistent history of representing Finland at his age level, it was surprising that Räsänen didn’t make the Finns’ final roster for the 2018 World Junior Championships.
In his two seasons with the Kingston Frontenacs, Räsänen has had excellent numbers on the powerplay, and he’s had the benefits of playing for one of the OHL’s better teams. However, that’s not to discount his own talent. While not always ahead of the game, Räsänen has shown he has the ability to make quick decisions, with or without the puck, and he is always looking to transition (making him an eye-catching blueliner, at the very least).
Räsänen shared with Sportsnet that he decided back in December to leave North America, although he didn’t actually sign with Jokerit until May, after the Fronts had been eliminated from the OHL playoffs.
Has his progression been as expected?
Räsänen is obviously not without skill, but his skating leaves something to be desired, and he can be outmaneuvered by smaller players. However, he has continued to improve after 2 years in the OHL, and time competing at a higher level in the KHL can only do him good, assuming he’s able to stick on Jokerit’s regular roster.
His development last year was well within expectations–his point total dropped just a little bit, but his awareness in his own zone seems to be consistently improving. His omission from Finland’s 2018 WJC roster is a little concerning, but definitely not a career-ender (as USA’s Alex DeBrincat could tell you).
As Seen on TV
This one is an older reel, but still gives you an idea what to expect from Räsänen:
When considering Räsänen’s size, Victor Hedman is the first NHLer who comes to mind, but the talent comparison is a bit of a stretch. His extended reach and long stride are definitely advantages, but he’s still a ways off from being an exemplary modern defenceman. Räsänen likens himself to Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen, which could be close to accurate, assuming he puts in the work on his skating and decision-making over the next year or two in the KHL. Ristolainen is a little overrated (in my opinion), but he is a legitimate NHLer, and a reasonable goal for Räsänen to have in his sights.
Räsänen may not end up as a top-four blueliner for the Leafs, but his size, ceiling, and innate skill indicate that, with some more development, he definitely still has NHL potential. It seems like the Leafs are on the right track, letting him develop at his own pace and hopefully get some crucial pro experience in the KHL before a possible return to North America.
Räsänen definitely has the potential to make the Jokerit’s roster full-time, but whether he lives up to that potential isn’t quite clear yet. My expectation would be that he bounces around for a month or two before he can finally buckle down and stick with the main squad. It also wouldn’t surprise me to see him in a similar situation with Toronto a few years down the road.