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Future Watch: Toni Rajala

Flashy Finn went back overseas this past season but eyes a return to North America

Thursday, 13.01.2011 / 2:11 PM / Future Watch
By Marc Ciampa  - edmontonoilers.com
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Future Watch: Toni Rajala
Toni Rajala has six goals and 12 points in 23 games this season with Ilves Tampere of the Finnish league.

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The Edmonton Oilers this season boast more Western Hockey League prospects than they have in recent memory with eight players on the Prairie Circuit but it could have just as easily been nine had Finnish forward Toni Rajala stayed for a second tour of duty with the Brandon Wheat Kings. 

Rajala toiled in 2009-10 with the Wheaties, putting up 26 goals and 63 points in 60 games. He added four goals and seven points through 15 playoff games but then really picked it up in the Memorial Cup with seven points in five games - good enough for fourth in tournament scoring.

However, this past summer Rajala returned to Finland and back to his club team Ilves Tampere of the Finnish league. in order to fulfill the requirement that Finnish men need to serve at least six months in the country's military before the age of 30.

"I wanted to go army in Finland and get that done. That's why I went back to Finland," Rajala stated during the recently-completed IIHF World Junior Championships in Buffalo.

The speedy winger is listed at 5'10" 163 lbs and feels that his game is constantly improving. In 23 games so far with Tampere he has six goals and 12 points - a marked improvement over his last appearance in the league in 2008-09. That year, Rajala had only two goals and five points in 21 games over the entire season.

"I can always play better but now I have to keep working hard and getting better," he said. "I'm pretty happy about that. I had a pretty tough early season (last year) but now I'm healthy."

That tough start to last season was attributed to a knee injury suffered while skating for Finland. He missed all of training camp and the first month or so for Brandon.

The injury was also one of the reasons Rajala had a less-than-impressive outing at the World Junior Championships in Saskatoon. He had only three points in six games as the Finns finished in fifth place.

Ironically, the Finns were sixth this time around but had a much better tournament overall.

"We had more skill this year. It was a little bit stronger team last year but this year we had a little bit more skill," said Rajala.

"We had four or five great games. We started out pretty well against the USA, it was a great game for us," he continued. "We played very well but it wasn't enough."

In fact, Finland was the only team in the entire tournament to not lose a game in regulation. They opened with an overtime loss to the heavily-favoured USA squad and then in the quarterfinals were three minutes away from defeating the eventual gold medalist Russia. As Canadians can sympathize, they let a 3-1 lead slip away late in the third and eventually lost the game in OT.

"Second period was okay but then I don't know what happened in the third period. We didn't play our own game. They came back and tied it 3-3," Rajala said. "I'm not happy about that, it was my last year (eligible for the tournament)."

Overall, Rajala put up four points throughout the tournament but the point total wasn't entirely indicative of his strong play.

"Good to see him having a very good tournament," noted Oilers GM Steve Tambellini.

The GM went on to comment on Rajala's situation playing back overseas.

"Totally different situation for Toni," Tambellini remarked. "From last year, playing in Brandon on a small ice surface learning the Western Hockey League and the competitive nature, how hard it is to play at that level, to this year playing back in Finland."

Talking about the tournament, Rajala compared it to the Memorial Cup in terms of pacing - particularly being back on the smaller North American ice surface.

"It's almost the same. The games are pretty tough. We skate a lot and it's a fast game (with the smaller ice surface)," he said. "It's nice to have that jersey and play for your country."

However, Rajala eyes a return to North America as soon as next season.

"I think I'll try to get AHL but of course I have to play well to the end of the season and help our team in Finland get to the playoffs."

Author: Marc Ciampa | edmontonoilers.com


 
2010-11 OILERS PROSPECT STATS

Forwards
Name Age GP G A PTS +/- PIM Team
Cameron Abney   19 30 4 3 7 -1 35 Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
Alexander Bumagin   23 28 6 3 9 N/A 18 Novokuznetsk (KHL)
Philippe Cornet   20 27 1 4 5 -3 4 Oklahoma city barons (AHL)
Drew Czerwonka   18 39 11 17 28 +7 45 kootenay ice (WHL)
Alexandre Giroux   29 40 17 25 42 -4 36 oklahoma city barons (ahl)
Curtis Hamilton   19 33 15 29 44 +27 6 saskatoon blades (whl)
Teemu Hartikainen   20 40 11 11 22 -8 23 oklahoma city barons (ahl)
Kellen Jones   20 23 4 8 12 N/A 29 quinnipiac university (ecac)
Milan Kytnar   21 39 3 7 10 -5 10 oklahoma city barons (ahl)
Anton Lander   19 31 7 7 14 N/A 26 timra ik (sel)
Matt Marquardt   23 29 2 6 8 -5 6 oklahoma city barons (ahl)
Ryan Martindale   18 38 24 33 57 +33 18 ottawa 67's (ohl)
Brad Moran   31 40 11 22 33 +1 22 oklahoma city barons (ahl)
Ryan O'Marra
23 25 2 13 15 +10 23 oklahoma city barons (ahl)
Linus Omark  *
28 26 14 17 31 +7 32 oklahoma city barons (ahl)
Ben Ondrus   28 40 4 9 13 -5 47 oklahoma city barons (ahl)
Kristians Pelss   18 34 4 9 13 +8 17 edmonton oil kings (WHL)
Tyler Pitlick   19 38 17 25 42 +3 27 medicine hat tigets (whl)
Toni Rajala   19 23 6 6 12 N/A 4 ilves tampere (fnl)
Liam Reddox *
24 37 18 15 33 +14 16 oklahoma city barons (ahl)
Gregory Stewart   24 35 3 3 6 -3 65 oklahoma city barons (ahl)
Chris Vande Velde   23 39 7 4 11 -13 22 oklahoma city barons (ahl)
mark arcobello
22 29 6 4 10 N/A 16 stockton thunder (echl)
Jesse Gimblett   26 23 7 4 11 N/A 44 stockton thunder (echl)
Robby Dee   23 19 9 11 20 N/A 12 university of maine (h-east)
Defencemen
Name Age GP G A PTS +/- PIM Team
Shawn Belle 
25 34 3 16 19 -11 57 oklahoma city barons (ahl)
Jordan Bendfeld   22 11 0 0 0 -1 28 oklahoma city barons (AHL)
Kyle Bigos   21 17 0 4 4 N/A 63 merrimack college (h-east)
Jeremie Blain   18 13 1 10 11 N/A 16 acadie-bathurst titan (qmjhl)
Taylor Chorney *
23 40 3 12 15 +3 18 oklahoma city barons (ahl)
Brandon Davidson   19 42 5 25 30 -2 34 regina pats (whl)
Troy Hesketh   19 22 0 0 0 -12 30 sioux city musketeers (ushl)
Martin Marincin   18 37 10 29 39 +4 39 prince george cougars (whl)
Johan Motin   21 32 1 3 4 -10 30 oklahoma city barons (ahl)
Richard Petiot   28 26 0 8 8 +6 20 oklahoma city barons (ahl)
Jeff Petry *
23 32 7 14 21 -7 18 oklahoma city barons (ahl)
Alex Plante   21 37 1 7 8 +3 82 oklahoma city barons (ahl)
Goalies
Name Age GP W L T SO GAA PCT Team
Tyler Bunz   18 30 20 8 2 0 2.42 .916 medicine hat tigers (whl)
Martin Gerber
36 24 12 10 2 0 2.71 .913 oklahoma city barons (ahl)
Bryan Pitton   22 16 10 4 1 0 2.94 .900 stockton thunder (echl)
Olivier Roy   19 22 13 9 0 0 2.95 .905 acadie-bathurst titan (qmjhl)
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