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Finnish Frontenacs key to Kingston success

 

19 OHL clubs made at least one selection in the 2017 CHL Import Draft, leaving one idle on Wednesday.

The Kingston Frontenacs won’t be adding any new European talent to the roster to begin the 2017-18 season, due in large part to the big contributions made by returning Finnish standouts Eemeli Rasanen and Linus Nyman.

The latest in a successive Frontenacs line of Finns dating back to 2012 that also includes Nashville Predators pick Mikko Vainonen, Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Henri Ikonen and Florida Panthers farmhand Juho Lammikko,  Rasanen and Nyman both enjoyed productive campaigns and helped the Frontenacs reach the second round of the OHL Playoffs.

The Toronto Maple Leafs made the 6-foot-6 Rasanen their second round pick in last weekend’s NHL Draft in Chicago, adding the rangy defender to a depth chart that also includes OHL graduates in Connor Carrick (Plymouth Whalers), Travis Dermott (Erie Otters) and recent fifth round pick Fedor Gordeev (Flint Firebirds).

“He hits hard,” Frontenacs GM and Maple Leafs legend Doug Gilmour told Postmedia after learning of the selection. “When he does, guys just bounce off him.”

Kingston’s second round (113th overall) selection in the CHL Import Draft last June, the Fronts weren’t quite sure what to expect from the big Finn, but he quickly developed into a reliable source of minutes on the blue line. Rasanen’s 39 points (6-33–39) were the most by a rookie in franchise history since 1989 when Kingston Raiders defenceman Drake Berehowsky posted 46.

“We had first seen him at the Four Nations Cup and we knew he’d be a project,” Gilmour said of his first exposure to Rasanen’s play. “But when he got to our camp, he was better than expected.”

“I’m not surprised the Leafs selected him. I knew Hunts (Mark Hunter) had been sniffing around on him. I think he has a really bright future.”

Though he went undrafted to the surprise of many last weekend, fellow Finn Linus Nyman put together a great season of his own. His 26 goals were the most by a Fronts rookie since 2009.

“He’s got an elite skill set, he doesn’t need many chances to score,” said former Frontenacs head coach Paul McFarland who recently took an assistant coaching position with the Florida Panthers.

“A lot of the good goal scorers, they time it properly when to arrive at the net to get scoring chances, to find the rebound and he’s got a nose for that.”

At just 17-years-old, Nyman built off his 50-point (26-25–50) regular season with an additional 11 points (7-4–11) in as many games during the OHL Playoffs. He provided arguably the biggest goal of the season, helping the Fronts recover from a 2-0 deficit with two goals and an assist in Game 7 of their first round series against the Hamilton Bulldogs. Nyman scored the winning goal 8:48 into overtime on a quick release past Hamilton goaltender Dawson Carty.

Nyman, voted to the OHL’s All-Rookie Team with Rasanen, was Kingston’s first round (53rd overall) pick last June, was also central to Finland’s success at the 2017 World Under-18 Hockey Championship in Grand Forks, North Dakota, registering five points (3-2–5) in six contests to help secure a silver medal for his country.

While the Fronts are likely to have their two Finns back in the lineup come September, the Hamilton Bulldogs and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds are hopeful that they’ll be able to recruit new Finnish selections made on Wednesday.

The Bulldogs nabbed Montreal Canadiens second round pick Joni Ikonen with the 28th overall selection before the Greyhounds took 17-year-old centreman Rasmus Kupari with the 112th overall pick.

A total of four Finns were chosen in the 2017 CHL Import Draft out of a total of 72 selected, 25 of which were chosen by OHL teams.

The Barrie Colts led things off with the first overall pick, selecting top 2018 NHL Draft prospect Andrei Svechnikov, a Russian-born winger who spent last season with the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks.

WATCH EEMELI RASANEN AT NHL DRAFT:

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