The Devils are fortunate to have the #1 overall pick. As good a thing as that is, it does pop open another hole in our rebuild, though. The Nico vs. Nolan debate is really fun, but lost a bit in that is the fact that—barring some trade—we are going to need to wait another year to get a blue-chip blueline prospect. The lack of a purebred prospect though does not imply that the draft is barren. If Shero decides he needs to find an elite defender, he will need to take shots at raw talents that project as potential top-pairing guys, but are either risky, or will take a while. The full-sized Frontenac from Finland could fit the bill.
Who is Eemeli Räsänen?
Eemeli Räsänen is a Finnish defencemen who was chosen with the 113th pick in the CHL Import Draft by the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL. Räsänen is a giant at 6’7’’ but very slender at only 205 lbs. That puts him at the 2nd lowest BMI (9.01) of all OHL defenders and the lowest of the U18 players. His stats are shown below
He didn’t come over as a really highly touted prospect. He proved his worth over time though. He struggled early on to adjust to the North American game, but it seems that, when the calendar turned to 2017, Räsänen flipped a switch as shown by the moving sum charts shown below, compiled using data from the OHL official website.
From January 13th on, Räsänen was killing it, averaging 0.85 points per game which — over a full season — would rank him 3rd in the OHL among U18 defenders.
This is where the evidence of his early-season struggles seems relevant. He improved his plus-minus, but really that is more a function of how much he toiled in mediocrity early — bottoming out averaging a minus per game.
Räsänen really found his offensive game late in the season — going from 1 shot in five games in early January all the way to 14 shots in five games in mid-February.
When all was said and done, he ranked 7th among U18 defencemen in the OHL in points and primary points. That ranking is buoyed by his 26 powerplay points, highest by far of any U18 defender — though even that number is inflated by the 14 secondary assists. This means that he had only 9 even strength points, good for 28th among 72 OHL U18 defenders.
Kingston relied on him a lot. His eTOI of 25 minutes per game is 3rd in the league among U18 blueliners and 2nd highest on his team.
This all supports the scouting you’ll read in a bit that book him as a potential shut-down defender with a big shot from the point, but little playmaking ability.
Where is Eemeli Räsänen ranked?
Räsänen shot up the ranks as his performance improved. His rank rocketed from 57th among North American skaters (The Finn qualifies because he played in the CHL) at the midterms to 32nd in the Final according to NHL Central Scouting. Bob McKenzie of TSN had him at 64th overall in January. However, not all are convinced — Corey Pronman of ESPN has him at 87th as recently as May 19th. Those are probably the most credible sources and his rankings are all over the place from other people and since his value has been volatile and I’m not sure when all the rankings were updated, I’ll let you all peruse the rest of crop for yourselves. The longshot of it is that it appears to be consensus that he is a 2nd to 3rd round prospect. Though literally anywhere in either round could happen.
What Others Say About Eemeli Räsänen
“Makes quick decisions with the puck…on reception, he never hesitates, instead immediately turns to transition up ice and avoid staying stationary…protects it well, very calm under duress, no stress…hard, accurate outlets…massive guy who brings physicality and nastiness to the back end…unfortunately the trade off to his physical advantage is a little bit of a slower step which leaves him vulnerable if plays are out of his lengthy reach…does an excellent job controlling gaps…is a gifted, towering defensemen who can contribute offensively in a way most 6’6 defenders can’t…has some immense upside as a pro two-way defender.” — Future Considerations
“Big body whose size at this juncture can work against him when he is not moving his feet or read the ensuing attack. capable of nice plays with his d to D passes, but his vision and hockey IQ still is not where it should be. ... Needs to work on his turns, agility and improving in all phases, but does project as an interesting prospect long term.” — Bill Placzek of DraftSite
“Rasanen has showed a steady improvement offensively. He has four goals and seventeen assists through forty-four games this season but is getting more involved as of late. He has a hard-booming shot from the point but has a difficult time finding the space to get it away. Rasanen projects to be a shut-down defenceman who can put up a little offence but patience will be required as he is a project.” — Dominic Tiano of OHL Writers
“Rasanen has a heavy shot but really needs time and space to let it go. His skating is not pretty, he looks clumsy and awkward often and that may just be him growing into his body. He has shown the ability to rush the puck up the ice or join the rush and has lots of raw talent. A work in progress, but one with considerable potential.” - Peter Harling of DobberProspects
There’s not much video on him and you will probably not find a good one to show his defensive chops. But, if you just want to see what a 6’7’’ shot looks like then here’s a peak. The second shot in particular really displays his reach. The pass was not a good one, but the radius he controls is massive and his shot is as advertised.
An Opinion of Sorts
I’m personally conflicted on this guy. I looked through some of his game film and other than being big, there’s not a whole lot that impresses me. That said — there’s something to said for being big. He doesn’t use his size all that aggressively, but he does use it strategically. He’s a tough guy to get around or get a pass through because he has very good control over his space — and his space is massive.
I don’t think that I would draft this guy for my team — but the Devils may need a player like Eemeli. We need a stud defender, and they are very tough to come by. Räsänen is a perfect example of a player that you can get late in the draft that has a shot at becoming a first pairing guy down the line if he develops well. He seems to have a long way to go from the eye test, but it took him less than a year to figure out the OHL so it’s possible I’m not giving the kid enough credit for his effort and character.
Even generously though, I probably wouldn’t go for him with either 2nd round pick. We also have two 3rd rounders (63rd and 81st overall) and I’d say that I’m looking at him at 63rd, and pulling the trigger at 81st.
What do you guys think of Eemeli Räsänen? Do you think the Devils should take a shot on a guy like him — if so when? Do you think his size alone is worth a pick? Does the fact that he appears to still be improving excite you? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.