On June 1st, the Toronto Maple Leafs lost the rights to 22-year-old Finnish defenseman Eemeli Rasanen. The team had selected him 59th overall in 2017.
I love making big deals out of seemingly insignificant prospects… Eemeli Rasanen is not one of those prospects.
Who is Eemeli Rasanen?
I just want to make this clear. This article is about Eemeli Rasanen the hockey player. I do not want to read about how many orphaned puppies Rasanen rescued from a fire or something. All that matters to me is his on-ice play, nothing against him personally.
Over the course of his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs, assistant GM and noted draft specialist Mark Hunter displayed an affinity for oversized defensemen. Eemeli Rasanen can be considered the prime example of this.
Coming out of Kingston of the OHL, Rasanen was a hulking young defenseman, one that could deliver crushing blows and that possessed a damaging shot.
Now, four years later… he’s pretty much the same. For some players, that’s a good thing. For Eemeli Rasanen, when I say he’s the same player, I mean that I don’t think he has improved by much.
One mould of player that I do not want my team to draft would be players whose biggest strengths are being tall. The Mark Hunter-era Leafs disagreed, and most of the players they selected in that mould aren’t Leafs prospects anymore.
However, most of those prospects made decisions that make sense for them.
After going unsigned by the Leafs, Keaton Middleton signed in San Jose with the Barracuda, and now he’s a depth defenseman for the Colorado Avalanche.
Fedor Gordeev took his overage year in the OHL after being traded to the Minnesota Wild, and now he’s a prospect in their organization.
JD Greenway, whose rights are set to expire in August, took the riskiest decision of all, taking a year in the USHL after things weren’t working out at the University of Wisconsin. He served as one of the University of Maine’s top-pairing defensemen this season.
Overall, these guys made decisions that were best for their futures.
Eemeli Rasanen, on the other hand… not so much.
After spending one more year with the Kingston Frontenacs, Rasanen signed in the KHL with Jokerit. A top Finnish prospect heading to the only KHL team in Finland probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. However, Rasanen wasn’t KHL ready and likely would’ve been more suited for the Finnish Liiga for development.
In two years with Jokerit, Rasanen only played a combined 29 KHL games. He spent most of them getting extremely limited minutes and frequently found himself healthy scratched.
In the end, Rasanen averaged less than 10 minutes a night on Jokerit. He played 17 games in two years with Jokerit’s farm team, Kiekko-Vantaa, who play in the Finnish 2nd tier league.
At the end of his first season in the KHL, Rasanen inked a PTO with the Toronto Marlies. Rasanen didn’t look awful, and he was able to appear in 5 games for the team.
Rasanen attended the Leafs Development Camp in 2019, and that was the last time we saw him in Toronto.
He rejoined Jokerit for the second year of his contract, and it went… very similarly to the first. He once again saw very limited minutes in the games that he did play in the KHL, he played much of the season with their farm team in Mestis, and, this time, he joined Jokerit’s U20 team for a game in the playoffs.
However, things really came to a head when he was assigned to the Frederikshavn White Hawks of the Danish league, Metal Ligaen.
Metal Ligaen isn’t even a bad league. However, it’s never a great sign when your 20-year-old former 2nd rounder has gone from playing in the KHL, to the Finnish 2nd tier league, to Denmark over the course of a year.
Unfortunately, Rasanen wasn’t able to join the Marlies on another PTO, as the AHL season had been suspended and subsequently cancelled due to COVID-19. However, he was finally a free agent again. After two years of messing with his development, Eemeli Rasanen finally had the opportunity to join the Leafs organization in an effort to develop and maybe even rise up from the ECHL.
Of course, that didn’t happen. The Growlers didn’t end up playing the 2020-21 season… but we didn’t know that when Eemeli Rasanen made the decision to sign with HPK of the Finnish Liiga. He put pen to paper just 11 days after professional leagues across North America opted to suspend their season due to COVID-19.
This wasn’t a bad decision, but after two seasons of stagnated development, it was a little surprising to see Rasanen make the decision to stick around in Finland. Maybe he would do better with more consistent playing time with HPK!
He did not.
Overall, in three seasons since being drafted, Rasanen has struggled to make almost any progress at all.
Eemeli Rasanen Progress Report
In the OHL, Rasanen was a HUGE defenseman in a league of young players. He didn’t really need to be a good skater to defend.
It’s unfair not to give him credit, though. Rasanen displayed good defensive prowess, knowing how and when to use his body and large reach to disrupt and defend.
Offensively, Rasanen had an absolute cannon. His blistering shot made him a shooting threat from the blue line, but he also knew how and when to shoot for a tip or rebound.
Rasanen’s biggest weakness has always involved his skating. However, after sitting down to watch Rasanen play this past season, I would argue… What isn’t his weakness?
Eemeli Rasanen continues to display good raw defensive skill, but he still has development there to go.
He isn’t able to use his body effectively at all. I would expect someone who makes a living off of being tall to be more physical, and I honestly think that Rasanen tries to be physical. In the end, he’s simply not fast enough to even catch up to players in the open ice of Liiga.
He also always looks lost. Whenever the puck is anywhere near him, he looks like a kid that lost his mom at the mall. He just looks like a really tall guy that they grabbed from the Finnish basketball team sometimes. Even though he shows some sign of defensive IQ, his body really just isn’t quick enough.
Rasanen’s also just not mobile enough to have any sort of deceptiveness on his point shot. He doesn’t really try to get away from defenders when he does try the shot. He doesn’t shoot nearly as much as he did in the OHL, but when he does, it’s just “chuck it and Inshallah.”
HPK even played him on the wing later in the season… it wasn’t pretty. In the least disrespectful way possible, he’s not the next Wendel Clark.
Rasanen did have an option for a second year, but it’s unclear exactly which party had the option. Either way, he’s not returning to HPK.
Eemeli Rasanen has signed back with the Frederikshavn White Hawks of Metal Ligaen, where Jokerit loaned him two seasons ago.
I’m a little shocked that his size and age didn’t at least get him one more deal closer to home in Finland, but either way, it’s safe to say any NHL potential here is minimal at this point.
I don’t like dunking all over Rasanen, I’m sure he’s a good guy. However, he is a prime example of what happens when a prospect’s development isn’t a priority. While Rasanen likely wasn’t going to be a star, the decisions made throughout his short professional career took pretty much any hope for an NHL career away from him.
It’s not like the Leafs weren’t interested either. When Rasanen left for the KHL, CapFriendly reported that if Toronto gave him a Bonafide Offer, they would hold his rights until 2021. A Bonafide Offer in this case is just an offer of an ELC available to the player.
As the Leafs have only now lost his rights, we know that it is very likely that an offer was tendered to Rasanen. If there was an offer available for Rasanen to join the Leafs after his KHL contract expired in 2020, I can’t help but ask… why not sign in Toronto?
Either way, Eemeli Rasanen is no longer the Toronto Maple Leafs’ problem. It’s sad to see that this might be the end of the line for his shot at the NHL, but I wish him the best either way.
Somewhat surprisingly, there isn’t a clear-cut gem that was drafted behind Rasanen. Unlike the Yegor Korshkov pick, there isn’t a full-time NHLer picked close behind Rasanen yet.
Potential middle-six forward Morgan Geekie played as a part-time forward for the Carolina Hurricanes this season, and he’s the only player within 10 picks of Rasanen to get consistent NHL games so far.
Vancouver Canucks prospect Michael DiPietro also comes to mind, as the goalie prospect has shown promise to become an NHL starter one day.
Still, what I’m trying to say is, there’s no Alex DeBrincat here. Rasanen was one of very few Mark Hunter-era big defensemen left in the organization, and the Leafs have moved on to drafting more promising prospects.
In the end, this news has absolutely no impact on the Leafs’ future or their plans for this offseason. However, it’s a reminder of how far this organization has come in only the last four years.
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