Better Know A Prospect: Toni Rajala

Jonathan Willis
August 08 2009 06:00AM

Toni Rajala slid to the fourth round of the 2009 draft, dropping just out of the Top-100 before Edmonton snagged him with the 101st overall pick. Why would a player who slid so far be of interest to fans?

For starters, Rajala’s performance at the World Under-18 makes a case for legitimate excitement. Rajala was named the best forward at the tournament after leading it in goals, points and plus/minus (6GP – 10G – 9A – 19PTS, +10). Even the critical Kyle Woodlief of Red Line Report was impressed:

Toni Rajala may be both tiny and mostly a perimeter player, but in the last several major international tourneys, he has managed (with a huge assist from Mikael Granlund) to waltz in off the perimeter often enough to score about three different ways every game. His ultra-high skill level and goal scoring prowess simply can't be ignored.

Then there’s the fact that Rajala was rated much higher by independent observers; RLR had him at 43rd overall, ISS had him 31st, McKeens ranked him 45th overall and Bob McKenzie slotted him 50th. McKenzie’s bio included this quote from ISS:

Rajala has been the focus of a lot of hype from a very young age. He has dominated every level he has played at in Finland and shown very well during international competitions. He had the most eyes looking his way at World U18 Championship he didn’t shy away but rather further pushed the spot light his way. Rajala needed to have a big tournament and do that he did, finishing with 19 pts in 6 games, eclipsing the previous U18 scoring record set by some kid named Ovechkin. He is said to be too small, but he is feisty and didn’t back down when challenged. He had a tremendous second half of the bronze game against Canada and was easily the best player on the ice for either team.

He was a point-per-game player in Finnish junior hockey and managed a cameo with Ilves in the SM-Liiga (21GP – 2G – 3A – 5PTS), but he isn’t going to stay in Finland to develop: his Finnish contract had an NHL out clause, and with Edmonton signing him to an entry-level deal he’s all but certain to play with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL this coming season.

Despite his size (roughly 5’9”, 160lbs) Rajala’s a first rate scorer and has shown a desire to play the North American game as soon as possible. He’s a prospect of the boom/bust variety, but he’s promising all the same.

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#1 Garett
August 08 2009, 06:33AM
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We have so many small players...

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#2 Darren
August 08 2009, 07:08AM
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I LOVE this pick!! Pavel Datsyuk type of pick, maybe. Way to go, Oilers, you did an awesome job of getting this guy - he was rated MUCH higher!

I'd say this is like a Detroit pick, actually. Sure he is a smaller guy, but he fell in the draft, and where we got him there is no question in my mind he was a great pick.

The Oilers had a curious draft this time. A great, no-brainer pick of the best player available in the first round with MPS, then a few curious selections. However, getting Tony Rajala, and then getting Olivier Roy later in the draft...I don't know how the Oilers managed to do it (get them that late) but you have to give them credit for actually going out and picking them at that point when every team had passed them by, including the Oilers beforehand.

The funny thing is if they would have drafted Rajala and Roy earlier and then gotten some of the guys they took before them - later, I would have said they did a great job. But even nabbing some of those guys much higher than they were supposed to get picked they still were able to get great quality picks later on in the draft... so I say congrats to the drafting team this year. I am definitely looking forward to seeing those 2 guys, as well as MPS, develop and am curious at seeing some of the guys who were picked before, just to see what the Oilers knew about them that prompted them to pick them at those spots.

Even though Rajala is definitely a tiny player by NHL standards this was a great pick. You still have to go out there and get bigger, heavier, more nasty players to go witih these types of players and that is the other job the Oilers need to do. But picking up these types of skilled players the Oilers simply cannot afford to boycott because by the time this kid is ready to play it could be 4 or 5 years from now (hopefully less) and the Oilers a)should look totally different at that time, and b)have the time needed to fix our problems of size if they commit to it.

Just my two cents. (I love talking draft!:)

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#3 Godzilla
August 08 2009, 07:57AM
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Rajala, Anton Lander, Olivier Roy and MPS will make this our best draft in years!

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#4 Antony Ta
August 08 2009, 08:21AM
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Wow... he's fast.

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#5 Archaeologuy
August 08 2009, 09:15AM
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I dont care if he's small as long as at some time he can produce.

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#6 JRyanMac
August 08 2009, 09:45AM
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Looks like the little guy can snipe.

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#7 Cam
August 08 2009, 11:08AM
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for a 101st pick, he's pretty awesome. His knock is his size, but it only takes one guy that blows the doors off to totally change the team. You never know what they will turn into... he's bigger than Fleury, anyways. :-P

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#8 DizzyD
August 08 2009, 11:38AM
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Can't wait to see him play in North American Hockey! Looks impressive......who's this Ovechkin kid the article speaks of?....anyway his record is broke... :D

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#9 Hemmertime
August 08 2009, 11:42AM
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I can't believe he slid to 100. I cant believe we took an enforcer in the third round before him. He is Boom/Bust (Tony Salmelainen or Martin St.Louis) but his Boom potential is even greater than Eberle or MPS.

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#10 Calamus
August 08 2009, 12:09PM
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Didn't he just injure himself?

Has anyone mentioned that?

http://hfboards.com/showthread.php?t=670527

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#11 mercs
August 08 2009, 12:14PM
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Was reading on HF Boards he hurt his knee any word on that???? I think the reason oiler fans are so high on this player that makes you want to root for him is his size and his work ethic.

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#12 Chris
August 08 2009, 12:47PM
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Nice pick at 101, however, Rajala is along shot at best. There is a zero sum competition at work here: with guys like Gags and Cogs already with the big club; and Omark, Eberle, and Schremp in the system: opportunity for Rajala will come at the expense of another. I don't think any NHL roster can absorb more than three small skilled guys into the top six. That said; I like this kid. His willingness to take advice from the Oilers and come play in Brandon is encouraging... Omark should take note.

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#13 Chris
August 08 2009, 12:51PM
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Ouch. Just went to Lowetide... Apparently Rajala just suffered a "signifigant injury" at the U20. This is the absolute last thing a player like this needs given that if healthy, he will be given a chance to play in the Memorial Cup.

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#14 oil fan
August 08 2009, 07:14PM
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does anyone know how bad he got hurt?

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#15 oilFan
August 08 2009, 07:17PM
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Time will tell looks good on paper but so did Steven Rice

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#16 viss.99
August 09 2009, 01:13AM
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I hope he doesn't become a Rita or Rob Schremp experiment that failed, mind you this was when Mac T was running the show, I hope the new coaching staff will let these kids show their stuff and hopefully make the team.

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#17 Boris
August 09 2009, 09:09AM
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This is great, I finally have a computer at home that can view videos etc.... Kid looks good!! does anyone know if he will be in camp this year?

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#18 Eric 89
August 25 2009, 04:22AM
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Toni Rajal was the steal of the 2009 draft for Edmonton. Rajala could turn out to be the next Paul Kariya, and could be a future 50-goal scorer. I am very excited about this kid and can't wait to see how his season in Brandon goes - esspecially with the Mem Cup being held there this year. Just think how could good the Oilers will by the 2013-14 season, when they have Gagner, Hemsky, Cogliano, Oamrk, Paajarvi, and Rajala making for one of the top offensive squads in the NHL. Glory Days!

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