A popular euphemism among fans and analysts who prefer skill over size is “Coke Machine”. It’s handed to players of a very specific sort of mould; tall, heavy, largely stationary, and most attractive to only the thirstiest of scouts. Toronto has drafted their fair share of coke machines over the years, and a recent wave of big, towering defencemen being selected has some worried that they might have a few more on their hands.

Make no mistake, though; Eemeli Rasanen may have the physical frame that these questionable picks often have, but there’s a skillset contained with him that leads one to believe he can be much more.

Age 18 (March 6, 1999) Birthplace Joensuu, Finland
Pos Defence (RH) Drafted 2017 (Rd 2, Pick 59)
Vitals 6’7, 209lbs Acquired Via Draft

Interestingly enough, the addition of this defenceman to the Leafs organization may have a lot to do with the departure of another. Rasanen’s most-frequent teammate this year was Stephen Desrocher, a 21-year-old drafted by the Leafs in 2015 in hopes that he’d find an extra, pro-quality gear. Ultimately, they decided that he didn’t (as did the Columbus Blue Jackets, who invited him to camp but chose to cut him).

But in watching him, they also had to watch the kid next to him. The one three years younger, scoring almost as much, shooting a rarer hand and carrying an even bigger frame. He wasn’t exactly a superstar before heading over, made by the fact that it took 113 picks in the CHL import draft for him to get selected by Kingston and the fact that he had just 19 games of Finnish Major Junior experience coming in.

 AGE SEASON TEAM LEAGUE GP G A TP NHLe PIM +/-
14  2013-14  Jokipojat U16  Jr. C SM-sarja 13 6 3 9 18
15  2014-15  Jokipojat U18  Jr. B Mestis 22 8 8 16 16
15  Jokipojat U20  Jr. A SM-liiga 15 1 3 4 5.7 10 -16
16  2015-16  Ässät U18  Jr. B Mestis 8 1 9 10 6
16  Ässät U18  Jr. B SM-sarja 13 0 3 3 4
16  Ässät U20  Jr. A SM-liiga 4 0 0 0 4 -3
17  2016-17  Kingston Frontenacs  OHL 66 6 33 39 14.5 41 -7

But he made the most of his time, in a year that’s very, very interesting to dissect. For one, most of his points came away from 5v5 play, getting just 9 at even strength and four of those were secondary assists. But outside of Desrocher, none of Kingston’s defencemen really contributed at evens, and Rasanen was an absolute beast on the powerplay. His 26 powerplay points ranked him third in the OHL among defencemen and were considerably (9) ahead of Ryan Merkley for the most as an Under-18 defenceman.

Obviously, for Rasanen to become a top-end offensive contributor in the pros, Toronto will want to see him contribute at 5-on-5 as well this year. But to have even a niche form of dominance as a first-year North American is a good sign, especially considering that his production didn’t quite pick up until January.

pGPSn pGPSs Exp. Success % Exp. P/82 Exp. Value
22 (25/31) 14 (T14/31) 66.1 (4/31) 26.8 (20/31) 17.7 (5/31)

The above numbers are products of the Prospect Graduation Probabilities System (pGPS), created by Canucks Army to project a prospect’s odds of becoming an NHL regular. For a run-down on what each of these stats mean, head back to the introduction.

pGPS really, really likes Rasanen. So much so that it’s placed him as one of Toronto’s top prospects. It’s not hard to see why; gigantic defencemen who step into Major Junior and don’t just physically control their opponents but put up solid point production for their age are rare beasts and almost always guaranteed to get a look in the show.

Now, some of his comparables are “just” NHLers. Players who were serviceable for a number of years, or were great for a time that’s passed. But there are some high profile names on here too, and I’m sure you’re most excited about the fact that Rasanen’s closest parallel is Brent Burns. In Burns’ draft year, which was also his first OHL season, he scored 40 points in 68 games (vs. Rasanen’s 39 in 66), he was 6’5 to Rasanen’s 6’7, and was a near-identical age; Burns’ birthday is March 9th, while Rasanen’s is on the 6th.

You shouldn’t take this as “Eemeli Rasanen is the Finnish Brent Burns”. Hell, it took Brent Burns a full decade after being drafted to become the next Brent Burns. But that’s a very, very fun comparable.

Rasanen has compared himself to Rasmus Ristolainen, which is terrifying to those who see the Buffalo Sabres defenceman as a shot attempt vacuum and not a young offensive defenceman that’s being over-deployed by his team. Besides, from a trait perspective, it’s not terribly off; they’re both tall, right-handed Finns who are very good at moving the puck in the offensive zone.

Rasanen also has the physical tenacity and long reach that you’d expect out of a 6’7 defenceman, along with some of the clunkiness in skating ability. The hope is that the latter is refinable, to the point where he doesn’t look out of place on a team that excels in mobility.

The Upcoming Year

Rasanen returns to Kingston this year, and with a season of OHL experience under his belt, you have to think that his team’s trust in him will only grow further, be it in the amount of ice time he gets or in the responsibilities he has when playing in them. One would hope to see him plenty involved on both sides of special teams and, ideally, playing against top competition so he’s got a firm idea of what to expect when he goes pro, whenever that may be.

So far, he’s looked pretty solid, scoring 5 points in his first 3 games, four of which game just the other night.

Long-Term Outlook

Rasanen is going to take some time to make his way up; in a previous NHL, he might get rushed up solely on size, but on a team where speed and agility is valued like gold and where a strong development program has been established, there will be zero rush to force him into the NHL

I’d expect at least two years of junior and one in the AHL before we can even begin to have the conversation about his odds of making the Leafs roster. We’ll know then what the expectation should be; whether we need to start talking about the next giant defensive superstar, or, perhaps more likely, a sheltered big man who can help you out on special teams as a super-6.

To see the other profiles in this year’s series, please reference the full list.

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