Weight: 205 lbs.
Drafted: 6th Round, 2009
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked
We begin this year's edition of the Top 25 Under 25 with a player who is new to the list, defenseman Rasmus Rissanen. Drafted in 2009 out of Finland's junior league, Rissanen has been with the organization for a few years now and fans are familiar with him from his two seasons with the Charlotte Checkers. It's a little hard to track Rissanen's development without watching him play because he is a stay-at-home defenseman and you can't really judge his play by goals and points. So while his nine points in 61 AHL games don't look like much, it's tough to judge him based on that.
However, one thing that is encouraging about his development is that he has been a regular defenseman in Charlotte for the last two seasons and only turned 22 a few days ago. Making the transition from juniors to the professionals is tough on a lot of young defensemen, but Rissanen was able to do it when he was only 20 years old. The fact that he played in the WHL after being drafted might have earned him a spot on the Checkers over someone who played in North America, but the fact that he has been able to stay in the lineup regularly over the last two years is enough for me to be encouraged about his development.
Now we are left to wonder what the future holds for Rissanen. He is a sixth round pick and doesn't have a skillset that really makes him standout. He plays the body well, has a powerful shot and is an effective physical player, but he may need to add more to his game to become a regular NHL-er. That being said, defensive defensemen are always sort of tough to project because every team needs them and there are a lot who make the NHL if given the chance. However, for as many players like Dan Girardi who do make it, there are just as many guys who toll away in the minors for years without sniffing the NHL.
Which category does Rissanen fall into? Seeing how he is only 22, I doubt what we're seeing from him now is what we'll get for his entire career, but it's interesting got wonder what his ceiling is and how good he can be in say, five years down the line. Right now, he is definitely ahead of the game but how far will he go and how has he progress over the past year? We'll look at those questions after the jump.
If it wasn't obvious enough here, Rissanen has never been that good of an offensive player. He also averaged less than a shot a game this past season and had fewer shots than any defenseman to play at least 50 games with the club. So despite his big shot, Rissanen didn't do much to contribute offensively but it's hard to knock him for this because it's not his job to produce points. He is a defensive defenseman and his main duties are not limited to killing penalties, getting tough with opposing forwards and keeping play out of his own zone. I was only able to see a few Checkers game last year, but going from what I saw, Rissanen loves to hit. He works hard along the boards and is one of the first guys to get in the face of the opposition.
Basically, everything you read in a typical scouting report for a defensive defenseman. Rissanen's age and the fact that he stayed in Charlotte's lineup throughout the season makes me believe that he is making progress, though. He also had to play some tough minutes with Charlotte's lineup in a constant state of change throughout the year, so he was tested a lot more than he was in the past. I'm not sure if he would make this list if Mark Alt, Jamie McBain and Bobby Sanguinetti were still eligible & with the organization, but I think Rissanen is heading in the right direction.
He also stood out to me in prospect development camp, as he looked much stronger with the puck than he did in previous seasons. He was jump into the play a lot during the scrimmage, his skating looked leagues better than it did before and his passing also looked better. I don't want to put too much weight into this because it was only a scrimmage, but if Rissanen continues to work on this part of his game, he should make even more progress in the coming seasons. Will it lead to him having an NHL career, though? That's what we'll have to wait for, but if he does make it, he'll be one of the few defensemen drafted out of a Finnish junior league to do so.
As difficult as it is to project Rissanen based on his stats, it's even tougher to find comparable players because there haven't been many players who went to the CHL after playing in a Finnish junior league. A few players have done it lately, but Rissanen is only one of two players to have done it from 1978-2009. The other players either continued to play junior hockey in Finland or played in Finland's professional league, SM-Liiga. Rissanen did neither, so it's tough to compare his track record to others who were drafted out of the same league as him.
What we can say, however, is that there haven't been a lot of NHLers drafted out Finnish junior leagues. This is probably because most of the country's best players were in the SM-Liiga or playing elsewhere when drafted. Players who were lower in the draft rankings probably had to play in Europe for a couple of years before moving to North American some made the adjustment better than others. Does Rissanen's experience in North America set him apart from the pack? I can't say, but one would think that the SM-Liiga offers better competition than the CHL since he is playing against professionals, but his opportunities there could have been limited compared to the minutes he played in Everett. It's also tough to say how the AHL compares to SM-Liiga in terms of the quality of opponents, especially in during the lockout this season.
Either way, the comparables don't give us much of a glimpse into Rissanen's future since the best case scenario is Toni Lydman and the worst case scenario is for him to be a career AHL-er or go back to the SM-Liiga. Like I said earlier, Rissanen has made progress and is slightly ahead of the game with two years of AHL experience, but he has a bit of a ways to go before cracking an NHL roster. It'll be awhile before Carolina knows what they have in him.