If there is one NHL Draft cliche that I hate, it is comparing players to whichever NHL player is en vogue at the moment. That said, the one comparison I've heard made with Finnish forward Aapeli Rasanen is that of San Jose Sharks sniper Joe Pavelski, and the more I watched him play, I really, really thought that was a good comparison.
That's of course no guarantee that Rasanen will turn into a consistent 35+ goal scorer in the NHL--Pavelski himself had to overcome long odds to do so--but it makes Rasanen a very intriguing player in the latter parts of the Draft.
Player: Aapeli Rasanen
Team: Tappara U20
Height: 6'0" Weight: 196 lbs.
Stats: 50 games, 19 goals, 19 assists, 38 points, +17
Final NHL Central Scouting rank: 21st among European skaters
What I Like:
-Gets to the right areas
Rasanen isn't a player that immediately stands out because he does some of his best work away from the puck. But he's a player that understands how to get to the right spots on the ice at the right time to be an effective player. He's a player that keeps working even when he doesn't have the puck. A good example came in his game-winning goal in Finland's huge upset of the US in the World U18 semifinals.
Rasanen enters the zone, and times his rush up the middle of the ice perfectly, first putting himself in position to take a pass in the high slot, then keeping his feet moving to be in the right position to jam home the rebound.
-Smooth and poised
Rasanen is very calm and poised when he holds the puck. He's a confident handler of the puck and is willing to wait the extra bit for the play to develop in front of him rather than panicking with the puck.
I like Rasanen's ability to shoot the puck from distance and also his quick, strong hands to win puck battles in traffic.
What I Don't Like:
Rasanen lacks the footspeed to be a really elite skater. He works better in tight areas than in the open ice. That might make it difficult for him to continue to play up the middle when he progresses to the pro level.
-Lack of physical tools
Rasanen isn't exactly undersized at 6'0" 196 lbs., though that feels a little inflated based on the eyeball test. But the combination of average size and average skating might scare a lot of teams away from drafting him.
Central Scouting isn't overly positive on Rasanen, placing him at 21st, which equates to late-ish round territory. But he was good at the World U18s, which means his stock has probably risen since then. The Pavelski comparison makes it pretty clear that I like Rasanen quite a bit. He's not a sure bet, but once you get past the first 45 picks, I think there's another big drop-off in talent, and Rasanen has as good a chance of hitting as anybody. I'd start thinking about him in the late-second/early-third round, though I can see him going closer to 3rd/4th round in the actual Draft.
I think we've already covered the best case scenario, but even if Rasanen doesn't meet those lofty expectations, I think he's capable of playing center on a lower line at the NHL level and being a smart, effective two-way center. Rasanen will come over to North American to play in the USHL next season and then presumably will pick up a scholarship offer to play NCAA hockey, meaning the team that drafts him will get ample time to let him develop.