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.