When we’re making a list of prospects who will/would benefit from a lockout ending, Toni Rajala might be near the top of the list. The young man from Finland is putting together an impressive run in northern California.
Playing in front of a big crowd last night in San Jose, Rajala scored three goals and led his Stockton Thunder to victory. The story along with some nice quotes is here. Rajala is now 19, 16-12-28 in the ECHL and 5, 1-1-2 in OKC. The linked-to article suggests he would have been with the Barons now save for injury.
- Ironically, Rajala would not have been in San Jose at all if not for a recent wrist injury that caused him to miss three consecutive games last week. Thomas said Rajala would have been recalled by the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League before Monday’s game if not for the injury.
In my recent prospect review, I had Rajala at #26, and posted:
- #26 L Toni Rajala 18, 13-12-25 (ECHL) and 5, 1-1-2 (AHL) has made an impression and one gets the feeling the small forward will get a push if and when the stars return to the NHL. I don’t think the Oilers will let him go back to Europe without a full AHL season.
I’m not certain where Rajala would slot in OKC when the stars head north. The club has Phil Cornet, Rajala, Curtis Hamilton, Tyler Pitlick and Kristians Pelss available among AHL prospects, plus veterans like Dane Byers and of course Magnus Paajarvi or Teemu Hartikainen may not start in the NHL right away (my guess is Hartikainen makes the Oilers, Paajarvi too if there’s an injury).
Rajala’s big problem remains size. The ECHL site says he’s 5.10, 163 and lord knows what the actual numbers are before the PR department gets a look at them. The Oilers already have more than their share of average-to-small forwards on the skill lines, so Rajala would have to light up the AHL for a long time before moving ahead of other prospects.
Still, unlike several men vying for NHL futures, Rajala is actually delivering offense. I suspect the ECHL time has been a blessing for him, and perhaps players like Pitlick and Hamilton would do well to spend time in northern California in order to find the range.