Oklahoma City Barons: Young Toni Rajala relying on speed instead of size
Rajala is only 5-foot-9 and 163 pounds, but his speed and stickhandling have helped him rise through the minor leagues.
ROCHESTER vs. BARONS
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Where: Cox Convention Center.
Tickets: Starting as low as $10 at box office or by calling (405) 232-GOAL.
Radio: KXXY-FM 96.1, Jim Byers play-by-play.
Scouting report: Oklahoma City is in ninth place in the Western Conference, one point out of eighth, the final playoff berth. ... Rochester is in sixth, two points in front of the Barons. ... OKC signed defenseman Kendall McFaull on Monday. McFaull has played the past four seasons with Moose Jaw in the Western Hockey League. ... Yann Danis, the Barons top goaltender, has returned after a brief stint in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers. ... The Americans, the Triple-A affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres, are led by Mark Mancari, who has 55 points, including 36 assists.
Rajala returned to Finland for two more pro seasons in his home country. Last summer the Oilers informed him they felt he was ready to play professionally in the United States.
The biggest adjustments are rinks are smaller and games are more physical. Playing one season in the WHL made the transition easier.
“I got used to playing on the smaller ice,” Rajala said. “Everything here happens faster. You have less time to make a play. Here you have to make moves quicker.”
Making moves is Rajala's strong suit.
Rajala made so many moves he played only three months in Double-A. He was named an ECHL All-Star after scoring 38 points, including 18 goals, in 29 games with Stockton.
Promoted midseason, Rajala has continued to produce. He's scored 25 points in 29 games with the Barons.
“He's is a really smart player who has a great feel for the game,” Scott said. “He doesn't panic with the puck. Where people don't think he can do it at the pro level, he continues to put up points like he did as an amateur.”
The average NHL player is 6-foot-1. But players like Tampa Bay star Martin St. Louis (5-8, 175) and Montreal's Brian Gionta (5-7, 175) have paved the way for players like Rajala.
“Smaller guys can make it,” Rajala said. “The NHL is everybody's dream. I hope I get to do that some day.”
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