Lauri Pajuniemi speaks with the 4B team on Kakko, playing style, and more
When the Rangers drafted Kaapo Kakko in June, not a lot of fans realized, but it marked the 4th consecutive year the Blueshirts drafted a player from TPS. The team from Turku, Finland, has produced some great players in recent years and with one of the Rangers scouts, Mikko Eloranta, having a history with the team, the connections were there.
Tarmo Reunanen was drafted in 2016 and the defenseman signed his entry level contract this year. The following years they picked Patrik Virta (2017) and Kaapo Kakko (2019) with Lauri Pajuniemi in 2018. Add Alexandar Georgiev to that list who came over from TPS as an undrafted free agent and the link between the 2 teams is clear.
Zak Chiger reached out to Pajuniemi and asked him a series of questions about his game, being drafted, and playing with Kaapo Kakko.
I was lucky to be drafted by the Rangers. It’s a day I will remember for the rest of my lifePajuniemi on being drafted
As a first-time draft eligible player, Pajuniemi, he did not hear his name called in 2017. While it was a slight disappointed, he was also one of the youngest players eligible for the draft, missing the cut off by 3 days. He is only 4 days older than the 4th overall pick in 2018, Brady Tkachuk. The Rangers drafted the then 18-year old Finn in the 5th round and he couldn’t be happier. Pajuniemi praises the organization and cherishes the experiences from prospect camp he has attended twice.
It’s a great experience to meet the other prospects and the coaches. It was also nice to see the training facility and New York in general. I stay in touch with some of the prospects throughout the yearOn training camp and other Ranger prospects
Last season he played in Kakko’s shadow. The 2nd overall pick in the 2019 draft took the world by storm with his performance, and it gave Pajuniemi the chance to work on his game while on the 3rd line. His production went up from 7 in 32 to 13 in 44. With Kakko stealing the spotlight, it took some of the pressure off Pajuniemi. Playing with such a high-end prospect was definitely a positive experience for not just him, but the whole team.
It was nice to work and train with Kaapo. We’re all happy he is in the NHL nowOn Kaapo Kakko
This year, it seems to be Pajuniemi taking the league by storm. Seemingly out of nowhere, ranking 2nd in the league in goals. What makes it even more impressive is that he is only 20 years old. As shown below, he leads all u21 players in G/GP average in Liiga since 2000.
Emergeing from the shadow, filling the void left by Kakko at least in the goal-scoring department, the young winger is having a great season so far. His biggest strength is his ability to beat goalies with his shot, and especially the velocity on those shots. When he is on the ice, at the top of that circle it is sometimes reminiscent of Alex Ovechkin. That’s not to say he will be as good as Ovechkin, we should be very careful managing expectations but his shot is lethal. As his team’s leader in goals, he now has the honor of wearing the golden helmet. A long-running tradition in Finnish hockey.
This year my shot has been my biggest weapon. I still have to work on my defensive game in our own zone. I get more ice-time this season so I have a bigger roleOn his strenghs and weaknesses, and what is different this season
His favorite player growing up was Patrick Kane. Leading the NHL in points over the last decade, the Blackhawks winger has left his mark on hockey and it’s no surprise a winger like Pajuniemi admires him. The path to the NHL is there for the 20-year old, and it’s up to him to make it there. Playing with former Ranger Lauri Korpikoski, the two Lauri’s talk regularly. Drafted by the Rangers in 2004, “Korpedo” played in the NHL for 9 years, before returning to Europe to play in Switzerland for a year. The last 2 seasons he has captained TPS in Liiga and been a mentor to both Pajuniemi and Kakko. Korpikoski is just another one in a long line of conections between the New York Rangers and TPS Turku.
But what’s next for Pajuniemi? And when can fans expect him to make the move to North America? It’s important to understand that late-round picks usually need a bit more time to reach their potential. Drafted in 2018, his rights don’t expire until June 2022 which gives the Rangers time. The most likely scenario is the one with Jesper Fast. Drafted at age 18, Fast played in the SHL for 2 full seasons before signing his entry level contract and being loaned back to his Swedish team for a 3rd year. If that scenario is used for Pajuniemi, we should expect him to stay in Finland at least 1 more year after this season. Whether the Rangers sign him in 2020 or 2021 remains to be seen but with the way Pajuniemi has developed, it’s not a question of “if” but it’s a question of “when”.