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Ruben Rafkin: 2020 NHL Draft Prospect Profile; Well-Traveled Defender

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Ruben Rafkin is already a well-traveled defenseman as a prospect. Born in Finland, played in America through to the USHL, played with Windsor last season, and is heading back to Finland with TPS Turku next season. Learn more about this prospect with this post profiling him.

London Knights v Windsor Spitfires
Ruben Rafkin played for Windsor last season. He will head to TPS Turku. Before that, he was at Tri-City in the USHL. He’s been around.
Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images

One of the angles that fans and media write about draft prospects for any professional sport is a player’s pathway to the draft. Hockey has multiple avenues for a prospect to make it to the draft and professional hockey. Some go through major juniors. Some develop in Europe through their team’s system. Some play in non-major junior leagues and/or high school hockey with the intention to go to college (and depending on the player’s age, they get drafted from college). It is possible to mix this up, which makes for an interesting journey for a 16-18 year old player. The subject of today’s prospect profile is a young Finnish man who went to America before his draft eligible season, transferred to Canada for his draft eligible season, and will go back to Finland after that: defenseman Ruben Rafkin.

Who is Ruben Rafkin?

According to his Elite Prospects profile, Ruben Rafkin is a defenseman with a right-handed shot. His height is listed at six feet tall and he weighed 190 pounds. Rafkin was born on January 8, 2002 in Turku, Finland. However, his time as a hockey prospect really took place in America.

Rafkin was brought into the Selects Hockey Academy in 2016-17 and played for their Under-16 teams for two seasons. He signed a tender with the Tri-City Storm of the United States Hockey League for his 2017-18 season. He put up 10 points in 38 games for an incredible Tri-City team that season. However, Rafkin set his sights up north. He was drafted by Windsor in the 2019 Import Draft and signed with them for the 2019-20 season. Rafkin played in 59 games with the Spitfires and put up four goals and 27 assists for 31 points prior to the league cancelling their season. While it is currently unknown when the 2020-21 season will begin for the three Canadian major junior leagues, Rafkin will not be there. He signed a two-season contract with TPS Turku - his hometown team - on April 3. Rafkin will return home to hone his game further in the TPS system, if not the TPS squad in the Liiga.

While Rafkin was playing in North America, the decision makers for the Finnish youth national teams did not ignore him. When Rafkin was with Tri-City, he did represent Finland in 18 games with the Under-17 team, including the World Hockey Challenge. Last season, Rafkin represented the Blue and White in five games for their Under-18 team. It should not be a surprise if he is at least part of the discussions for Finland’s Under-20 team for this and/or next year.

Rafkin’s production did increase from his 2018-19 season in 2019-20 while playing in a whole new league with a whole different level of talent. That is a positive. However, the actual amounts do pale in comparison with the other defensemen prospects in this year’s draft class. According to Pick224, Rafkin’s 27 assists broke down to 15 at even strength and 12 from power play situations. Of those 15 at evens, only seven were primary assists. This means his primary point per game rate at even strength was just below 0.17. Of those 12 power play assists, only five were primary assists. This means his primary power play point per game rate was just above 0.1. These are rates well below other draft eligible defenders like Donovan Sebrango, Ryan O’Rourke, Jack Thompson, and Avery Winslow in the OHL alone. Nevermind the entire draft class. On top of this, Rafkin only had 67 shots on net in 59 games. That is a rather low amount of shots. I understand he was transitioning to a new league, but these stats do not really reflect someone who could be an offensive defenseman. Which is fine; not every prospect is offensive. But it should be kept in mind when considering what his upside may be. Pick224 does yield one positive among Rafkin’s stats. His estimated ice time per 60 minute rate was 18.42, so he was receiving significant minutes for most of his one and only season in Windsor.

Where is Ruben Rafkin Ranked?

Rafkin is not highly ranked by most. He does appear for those who rank prospects well beyond the first round. To that end, here are the lists that do include him at all.

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The highest mark for Rafkin among those who rate prospects well beyond the first round is Future Considerations tabbing him as a mid-to-late second rounder. Tony Ferrari’s March rankings has him as an early third rounder, and the remainder has him in the late third to early fourth round range. CSS’ ranking suggests something similar if not even deeper. Perhaps that is where most would regard Rafkin among the draft class as a whole. It is something that Kournianos dropped him from his Top 125 from his March rankings entirely after finishing 125th in his midseason rankings. Ashley Glover, who writes at Adrian Dater’s Colorado Hockey Now and contributes to Dobber Prospects, has him at 124 - which is right at the end of the fourth round. The fine people at FinnProspects, who focus on Finnish prospects, rated him 12th in the draft class and state he could be a late third, early fourth round selection. While this may not yield any hype for the prospect, it does mean New Jersey’s staff should pay some attention to him as they have two fourth round picks in 2020. He could very well be there.

What Others Say About Ruben Rafkin (And What Ruben Rafkin Has to Say)

As Rafkin is not a highly touted prospect, there is not a slew of information about him. However, there is more content than the usual mid-round pick. Let us go over it to get a sense of what Rafkin is all about.

First, Glover’s rankings come with a short evaluation for each player. Per his Google spreadsheet, which is linked in the Tweet that I linked in the previous sentence, this is his evaluation of Rafkin from this past season:

Rafkin is a clean skating defenseman who sees the ice well. He’s an accomplished passer and makes great plays coming out of his own end. He’s got a good shot and combined with his skating, works his way into good areas giving himself the best chance to score. Rafkin plays well for his size. He isn’t afraid to step up off of his line and deliver a hit, get into the corners or stick up for a team-mate. He’s very athletic and skilled, but I question his hockey smarts at times. Sometimes he can be at sea positionally and for such a good passer, when pressured doesn’t show the same skill.

For a player rated for the fourth round, this is not bad of an evaluation. Not bad at all. Rafkin is by no means small. He is not big, but he is not a small defender at all. Reading that he moves well and uses his body effectively are pluses. It is a bigger plus that Glover noted his passing as an asset. That is such a key part to a defenseman’s game whether it is in making an exit or keeping an attack going. That said, the concerns seem to be big enough to not rank him highly at all. How a player reads and reacts to a situation is crucial for any player looking to make it to the next level. That seems to be an issue with Rafkin. As does playing under pressure and not being where he needs to be at times. Those could substantial issues that limits his upside. Few prospects are flawless. Yet, players ranked or expected to go well beyond the first round, there tend to be questions about their upside and whether they can meet it. In reading in between the lines of Glover’s evaluation, I suspect that is a part of the concern for Rafkin as well.

Second, Rafkin did get a profile written about him at The Hockey Writers by Dave Jewell on March 29, 2020. Jewell noted the following about his defensive game:

Defensively, it’s been a steady improvement. Despite his size, he’s physical along the boards, using his strength to create turnovers and cause chaos. He’s also been willing to step in to help a teammate. It’s a trait you can’t teach and is a valuable tool for the club.

While his physical play was solid, it took him time to get used to the speed of the OHL. Forwards came on him quicker than in the USHL and adjustment was necessary. Fortunately, as the season progressed, so did his speed and defensive positioning. It’s a work-in-progress, but he will get there.

Jewell did note that positioning was an area of improvement for Rafkin, which is in line with what Glover found. Jewell curiously noted that one-on-one defending could also use improvement. Perhaps it goes hand in hand with defensive positioning; not quite being where he needs to be or what he needs to do in the situation? In any case, Jewell concluded that Rafkin could end up being a “jack-of-all-trades” defenseman. That is he can do multiple things well but he is not going to be particularly good at one aspect of the game. Jewell thinks his upside does include making it to the NHL and so he considers him to be worthy of the third round.

Third, Dominic Tiano of OHL Writers put up a profile about Rafkin on the same day where Rafkin announced he was moving to TPS Turku next season. Tiano has plenty of positive things to say about Rafkin’s performance with Windsor. Such as his physical play, which Tiano stated is good for his size - which I do not really see as an issue. This part of the profile stuck out to me:

Rafkin is a very smooth skater with excellent agility. He’s not a burner but he’s not slow. He uses his edges very well and he’s quick enough to step up on opponents and deliver a check. He’s strong along the walls, but needs to work on his net front coverage both in terms of positioning and strength.

Rafkin also has some very good vision, and when combined with the superb passing abilities he has, he is a threat at creating offense. He has the ability to quarterback the powerplay with those skills, but we didn’t always see those opportunities granted to him in Windsor.

These two paragraphs are in alignment with what Glover and Jewell found about Rafkin from their work. Rafkin can move well and pass the puck well. Rafkin’s positioning needs improvement. Tiano does note that he could also stand to work on his strength, which is always an area for improvement for the majority of prospects as they are 17-19 years old. Tiano concludes the post by stating that he thinks his defensive abilities - while still needing work - will get him to the NHL and playing with TPS can only help with that. However, Tiano notes that his progress as a player will be driven will by whatever offense he can grow in his game and how well he could transition to North American professional hockey. Where he gets picked will depend on how much teams value this kind of player, which I agree with.

Fourth, as Rafkin played in the OHL, it is customary to see what is written about him at OHL Prospects by Brock Otten. His final rankings of OHL-based prospects are not up yet and Rafkin did not make the top ten in the midseason scout/media poll he runs. Rafkin did appear in Otten’s list of the Top 50 OHL Prospects for the 2020 draft at midseason. If nothing else, it is a snapshot as to how Otten regarded the player back in January 2020. He ranked him 23rd, right below Donovan Sebrango. This is worth noting because Otten’s evaluation of Rafkin refers to Sebrango quite a bit. Here is a notable part of what Otten wrote:

While I think Rafkin plays a bit safer of a game with the puck, I think Sebrango is the slightly more impressive player with the puck. As such, I’m a little more concerned that there isn’t a lot of room for him to grow into a premier offensive player. And with his average size, will he be as effective in his own end at the next level? Not like it is his first year playing in North America. Even if it may not seem like I like Rafkin with that write up, I do. But I have him ranked accordingly as someone whose pro upside may be rather limited.

While this was written up months before Glover, Jewell, and Tiano wrote their posts about Rafkin, it does provide a similar perspective in some respects. This is a short summary, so Otten just notes that he thinks Rafkin (and Sebrango) are fine defenders at this point of their lives and project to be defensemen at the next level. However, Otten does note that Rafkin’s upside is limited and a part of that includes concerns about his offense. I am curious as to what Otten will write about Rafkin when his final Top 50 OHL prospect list comes out. Maybe he will be ranked higher, which would indicate some improvement (at least in Otten’s opinion of his game) in the following months. Maybe he will be ranked lower, which could mean others were more impressive. We shall see.

Lastly, FinnProspect’s recent list of rankings comes with a few quotes from the team. He fell three spots to twelfth in their May 22, 2020 ranking. This quote by Lassi Alanen is a good summary of how Rafkin is perceived:

“Started the year hot in the OHL but cooled off as the season progressed. Sound skater who flashes very nice speed going forwards. Physically mature and not afraid to punish forwards along the boards. Needs to become a lot more consistent at both ends of the ice.” – Lassi Alanen

That consistency is an issue furthers the thought that he could be available in the middle of the draft. It is acknoweldged that he has some nice tools, which were covered in the other bits in this post. But if he (or any prospect) is not able to do it consistently and it is not perceived they have a lot of upside, then that will greatly impact where they are selected. The other two quotes in the list are a bit more positive, but I think Alanen’s quote is telling.

The five bits I found summarize Rafkin as a player. However, what does Rafkin himself think? On April 19, 2020, Jokke Nevalainen posted a very good and detailed interview with Rafkin himself at Dobber Prospects. Rafkin’s answers are informative. He provides good insight to Nevalainen as to how he ended up in America as a teenager, why he went to the OHL, and why he is now going to TPS Turku among many other questions. Nevalainen asked Rafkin to assess his own game. This is how he responded.

Q: How would you describe yourself as a player to someone who hasn’t had a chance to watch you play yet?

A: A good two-way defenseman. Lots of offensive skill and craftiness, and a good shot. Defensively solid, good in front of the net and in box-out play, and good physical game. Good, simple breakout passes.

Q: If you had to choose, would you say you’re more of an offensive defenseman or a defensive defenseman?

A: I’d say I’m more offensive. But that’s a really tough question. I’m more of a 50/50 type but leaning a bit more towards offense. I don’t see myself ever being just an offensive defenseman or just a defensive defenseman.

The other posts written about his game as well as his production in the OHL belies the idea of his offensive game. Granted, a self-assessment by an 18-year old draft eligible player should be taken with a grain of salt. But if Rafkin produced or even shot the puck more, then I think there would be more praise for his offensive game. Maybe it blossoms with TPS? I do not know. That stated, I do appreciate the last statement to the second question. Much of the pro hockey game today is about being able to contribute in both directions. At the least, Rafkin’s answer suggests he understands this. It will help him as he enters his pro career. Which could be next season as Rafkin makes it clear in the interview he wants to play for TPS Turku in the Liiga and not in the junior league.

I recommend reading the whole interview just as I recommend you read the entire posts linked in this and other prospect profiles on this site. Rafkin clearly has thought about his future, he states he is willing to go to the AHL as needed, and he has a healthy perspective about the draft. As he puts it at the end of the interview when Nevalainen asks if there will be any competition between him and future TPS teammate and draft eligible player Emil Viro:

There will be first round picks who flop and there will be late round picks who surprise. I’m hoping to get into a good organization and have people who trust me there. The draft number isn’t everything, that’s only where the work starts towards the dream of playing in the NHL. It doesn’t matter if I’m picked 55th or 105th or whatever it may be, it doesn’t define me. Of course it’s nice to be drafted high but it’s not the end of the world.

You cannot say it much better than that.

A Little Video

Given that Rafkin is not a highly touted prospect and not a massive offensive contributor, clips of Rafkin available as of this writing are few and far between. I do not want to leave you empty handed, so here is a short video of Rafkin’s first goal with Windsor.

He is wide open, he has plenty of time and space, and he fired a rocket past Sarnia’s goaltender. As far as first goals in a league go, it is a lovely highlight. It does not really show much about what Rafkin does on the ice or how he plays defense. But it is better than absolutely nothing.

An Opinion of Sorts

Rafkin strikes me as a prospect that will get drafted but definitely in the middle rounds. The lack of considerable upside combined with some real concerns about how he plays defense on the ice are the main causes. I would like to think he can sort those issues out. If he can, a team will have a fine defenseman in their system. There is nothing wrong with a six-foot defender who can play aggressive, skate well, and move the puck well. If he can make better decisions off the puck and better handle pressure when he does have the puck, then that would really help his cause out for the future. I am skeptical about how much he can contribute on offense given how little he produced with Tri-City and Windsor. While not every defenseman prospect needs to be a big scorer in their draft season, it really helps for anyone projected to be an offensive defenseman. I am inclined to think Rafkin would be a defender who can do a decent job and chip in here and there, but that’s it. Which is why he would be a mid-round draft pick unless a team really, really liked what they saw out of him at Windsor.

I will point out that Rafkin at least stands out for what the variety of experiences to build off of. Going from Finland to America as a young teen through to the USHL was a big move. As was making a transfer to a major junior league in his draft eligible season. As is going back to Finland to play for TPS Turku. He explained each move in his interview with Nevalainen and I think it can help him quite a bit. At TPS, he’ll have a number of NHL veterans he can speak to about what it would take to make it at the next level as well as getting into pro hockey. Whoever picks him will have to wait a bit, but if/when he comes back to North America, the acclimation process may not be so rough since he’s played quite a bit here already. That is a nice plus, especially if the team who picks him could use some defenders to support their system.

This brings me to the Devils. After last year’s draft class, the Devils have plenty of defensemen in the system with who do not have much of an offensive upside and they are not at all guaranteed to make it to the next level. Rafkin would be a continuation of that. However, the general idea of the NHL Draft is to pick players who will help at the NHL level in the future. If they think Rafkin can do that and he is available in the fourth round, then I can understand it if the team selects him. As Nevalainen recently pointed out at Dobber Prospects, it is unlikely for most prospects to make it to the NHL beyond the first round and the likeliness is lower with each passing round. Finding a potential NHL player at that point of the draft is always something to celebrate regardless of what kind of player they become. That said, I would rather see the Devils swing for someone with more upside in the fourth round - presuming Rafkin is even available by then.

Your Take

Rafkin is already a well-traveled defenseman and I do wish him the best at TPS Turku for the next two seasons. I would like to know your take on Rafkin as a prospect. Do you think his move to TPS Turku will help him out in the long run? What do you think of his game? What about him impresses you the most? If you have seen him play, what did you observe? Where do you think he will go in this year’s draft? If he is available in the fourth round, would you want the Devils to take him? Leave your answers and other thoughts about Ruben Rafkin in the comments. Thank you for reading.