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OKC Barons: Toni Rajala has been a pleasant surprise for Barons

Although small by AHL standards, the rookie forward has produced 48 points in 48 games with OKC.
by Michael Baldwin Published: April 30, 2013
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photo - HOCKEY / AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE / PLAYOFFS / OKLAHOMA CITY BARONS / CHARLOTTE CHECKERS / COX CONVENTION CENTER: Baron's Toni Rajala comes from behind the net with Rob Madore in goal in the first period during Game 2 of the AHL hockey playoff series between the Oklahoma City Barons and the Charlotte Checkers at the Cox Center in Oklahoma City, on Saturday, April 27, 2013.  Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman
HOCKEY / AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE / PLAYOFFS / OKLAHOMA CITY BARONS / CHARLOTTE CHECKERS / COX CONVENTION CENTER: Baron's Toni Rajala comes from behind the net with Rob Madore in goal in the first period during Game 2 of the AHL hockey playoff series between the Oklahoma City Barons and the Charlotte Checkers at the Cox Center in Oklahoma City, on Saturday, April 27, 2013. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman

If there wasn't an NHL lockout, Toni Rajala probably would have started the season with the Oklahoma City Barons.

Instead, the 22-year-old forward from Finland maximized his opportunity with Stockton in Double-A.

Named an ECHL All-Star, Rajala (pronounced rye-AL-uh) was promoted after the lockout ended. He's continued to rack up points in the Triple-A American Hockey League.

Wrapping up an outstanding rookie season, Rajala has scored 48 points in 48 games with the Barons. He's played so well that he's on Oklahoma City's No. 1 forward line in the playoffs, which continue Wednesday night with Game 3 in Charlotte.

“That's pretty remarkable for a rookie,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “Who knows how many points he would have had if he had been here all season? He might've been a candidate for Rookie of the Year. We're extremely pleased with the way he's produced.”

Rajala is small (5-foot-9, 164 pounds) but has electric skills. He has exceptional speed and sometimes unveils acrobatic spin moves to shake a defender. He's the closest skill-wise to Oilers stars Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall, who played in Oklahoma City during the lockout.

“His skill set is very high,” Nelson said. “Besides seeing the ice well and setting up other guys for goals he has a knack for putting the puck in the net. It seems every game there's something new he tries. And he actually ends up completing the move.”

The Oilers' fourth-round draft pick in 2009, Rajala remained in Finland three seasons, playing professionally with Ilves Tampere. He also represented Finland in 2010 and 2011 at the world junior championships.

Last summer, Edmonton officials asked Rajala to begin his pro career in the United States.

“Early in the season it was a little tough because they really didn't have a spot here,” Rajala said. “But I really didn't mind it. I got to play a lot (in Stockton). I got my confidence and came back.”

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by Michael Baldwin
Redhawks, Barons, MLB, NFL Reporter
Mike Baldwin has been a sports reporter for The Oklahoman since 1982. Mike graduated from Okmulgee High School in 1974 and attended Oklahoma Christian University, graduating with a journalism degree in 1978. Mike's first job was sports editor...
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