August 18 2014 09:12AM
Toni Rajala was this close to being a success story.
The 2009 fourth round draft pick passed hurdle after hurdle, and then left before even really challenging the final one.
The key number here is the “NHL82”, which is the expected offence over 82 games based on historical averages (I’ve split the difference between Gabriel Desjardins’ older equivalencies and Rob Vollman’s newer ones).
The 2009 Draft was an up-and-down one for Edmonton. The Oilers made two picks out of Sweden to start the draft, with Magnus Paajarvi and Anton Lander still the only players to appear in an NHL game.
A big chunk of the explanation for that was the Oilers decision to chase toughness over skill with their next three picks. High school defenceman Troy Hesketh flamed out at the USHL level, enforcer Cameron Abney couldn’t beat Central Leaguer Erick Lizon for AHL minutes, and overage BCHL’er Kyle Bigos is currently playing in the ECHL.
After the walkabout, Edmonton drafted pure skill in Rajala. Rajala was a point-per-game guy in Finland’s under-20 league, but really stood out for a ridiculous performance at the U-18’s, posting 10 goals and 19 points in just six games.
Rajala came to North America after the draft, and had a pretty decent debut with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings. But it was only for one season, and then he went back to Finland, posted okay but unspectacular numbers and generally looked like a swing and a miss.
And then he came back to North America. Expectations were pretty close to nonexistent; it was a lockout year and Rajala found himself in the ECHL.
He was dominant at the lower level. In 29 games he scored 18 goals and added 20 assists. He got a five-game cameo in the AHL during the lockout, then made the jump full-time once Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and the rest left OKC.
He was great there, too. Once the stars left for the majors, nobody was a more effective scorer on the farm. Mark Arcobello and Teemu Hartikainen were close; highly-touted guys like Tyler Pitlick and Curtis Hamilton weren’t even in the range.
And then he was gone
The #Oilers have placed Toni Rajala on unconditional waivers— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) August 23, 2013
A clarification. When a player goes on unconditional waivers like Rajala...usually it means a mutual termination of a contract not buy-out— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) August 23, 2013
There’s never been any real explanation of Rajala’s departure from the organization. Stauffer’s second tweet is highly suggestive, and from context (the Oilers’ signing of Andrew Miller, their re-signing of Mark Arcobello) it isn’t hard to guess that Rajala was the one pushing the breakup.
I’d argue that the drafting here was pretty good. I think the development system worked too, getting the player to the cusp of the NHL in a single year on the farm. But sometimes it doesn’t matter; despite the best efforts of an organization
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