Introducing: Rasmus Kupari

DALLAS, TX – JUNE 22: Rasmus Kupari reacts after being selected twentieth overall by the Los Angeles Kings during the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 22, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

First Round, 20th overall: Rasmus Kupari
Position: Center
Shoots: Right
DOB: 3/15/00
Height: 6’1
Weight: 188
Hometown: Kotka, FIN
NHL Central Scouting final ranking: 11 (European skaters)
NHL Central Scouting midterm ranking: 6
TSN final ranking: 20
McKeen’s final ranking: 21
Stats (Liiga-Karpat): 39 GP, 6-8=14
Stats (Jr A SM-Liiga-Karpat): 11 GP, 3-4=7
Stats (Mestis-Hermes): 5 GP, 1-3=4

Corey Pronman’s final ranking: 12
(Subscribe to The Athletic here)
Pronman’s analysis: Kupari has shown very well at stages this season, such as with Finland’s U18 team and with Finland’s second division pro league, and as the season went along, he got a bigger role on an elite Liiga team. You can see there are a lot of tools to like in Kupari’s game. He’s a very strong skater, who explodes out of his first few strides and puts pressure on defenders using his speed. His stride is incredibly smooth, with so much power coming from every push off. I’ve heard some scouts call him a world-class skater; I’m not there yet, but he’s close. Kupari also has high-end puck skills and can make skilled plays in tight and off the rush. I’ve seen flashes of good playmaking from him, but I don’t think he’s a high-end passer. Rather, I see Kupari more often as a very good north-south attacker who can make crafty plays with the puck or use his above-average shot. He needs time to round out his game, and to learn when to play quick and when to slow plays down, but his potential is among the very best in this draft class.

McKeen’s final ranking: 12
(Subscribe to McKeen’s here)
Rasmus Kupari had a chance to join the OHL regular season champion Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds this year, after they drafted in the CHL Import Draft, but he passed up on that opportunity to stay in Finland and compete for minutes with Karpat’s senior team. It turned out to be a good choice. Kupari spent over 75% of his season in Liiga, and contributed to a league championship at home. Then he joined the Finnish U18 late for their run to the WU18 Gold Medal, scoring twice in four games in his second run at this event.

Kupari’s separator asset is his skating ability which literally allows him to quickly gain separation from opponents. His first three strides are remarkably quick and he uses his edges very well to continue to increase his speed. He is not merely a straight-line table hockey player either, as he features a lot rapid direction changes which leave defenders gasping trying to keep up. If all Kupari had was his near elite skating, he would still be a draft pick, if not necessarily a first rounder. Clearly though, he is more than his wheels. That said, while his other tools all project to at least average at the highest level, none of the other areas even approaches his skating advantage. The runner up attribute he brings to the table is his ability to play the puck. His hands are soft and quick, if not as quick as his feet. He is able to handle the puck at high speed and is comfortable pushing the pace of the game when he is in possession. He can also dish off creatively after he lures defenses to himself with his speed.

He seemed to grow in confidence as the season went on, showing more willingness to experiment. Kupari has a decent wrist shot that he can use with some success from in tight, but it lacks the power to be used much from beyond middle distance. He plays a mature game and has actually shown more natural instincts for defensive zone play than offensive, as he is less prone to unforced errors when defending. He is more patient and poised in his own zone and plays his game within a team structure. He is not really a physical player, although he demonstrates a good compete level for loose pucks and has a frame that suggests NHL average at full physical maturity. A player with Kupari’s speed and comfort in his own zone has a reasonable floor of a third line center who will keep defenses on their toes when he gets the puck and contribute to one or two scoring chances per game through pure speed. If he can learn how to better harness his reads on offense at top speed, he could grow into something much more.

Brian Babineau/NHLI

Most of Rasmus Kupari’s American initiation has taken place in Buffalo. That’s where he played as a 17-year-old Finnish forward at the 2018 World Junior Championship, and where he traveled to take part in the NHL Combine.

Next week, he’ll visit Los Angeles for the first time. “I’ve heard there’s very warm weather,” he said.

Kupari, a forward who continues to represent the Kings’ efforts to draft and develop speed and skill – efforts that began in earnest in last year’s draft – is a versatile center who rates as one of the best pure skaters in the entire draft.

“Speed is my big strength, and my game is going that way,” he said. “I want to show Los Angeles fans and coaches that I’m good and belong on that team.”

That’ll take some time. He’ll return to Oulu as a defending champion with Karpat, a Liiga powerhouse. His championship run doesn’t end there; though Finland finished a disappointing sixth at world juniors, he was part of a gold medal-winning team at U-18s this past spring, scoring the game-opening goal in the Finns’ 3-2 win over the United States in the championship.

Speaking with LA Kings Insider, and later with a group of reporters back in Southern California via conference call, Kupari and Kings Head European Scout Christian Ruuttu discussed the factors that led the 6-foot-1, 188-pound forward into Los Angeles’ sights.

Rasmus Kupari, on being drafted by Los Angeles:
I’m very excited and happy right now. I’m thankful to all of my family and girlfriend and my home team in Finland, Karpat. I want to thank my agent. This is a big moment for me.

Kupari, on whether he has one year left on his contract with Karpat:
Yeah, one more season with Karpat. It’s a good team. I’m learning a lot there and getting better with the team.

Kupari, on what he’d like to focus on in the upcoming year:
I think mostly one big thing is physicality, more strength, power forward, balance, and also being smarter and getting all kinds of situations.

Kupari, on how he’d describe himself:
I think I’m an offensive kind of player and like to play with the puck. Those are my biggest strengths. I’m also a very fast guy, and a big strength of my game is going that way. I like to stay on the puck and making plays that way.

Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images

Christian Ruuttu, on becoming familiar with Kupari over the last two years:
At the end of the last two days, we were looking at who would fall into our park, and he was one of the two guys. As a player, we always knew he was a first round talent. He’s got the speed, he’s got the skill, he’s playing with men in the pro league. We’ve seen him a lot, and we knew what the new game is going towards. Rasmus is part of that game – the speed, the skill and the playmaking, all that. What he really does have, he’s got a good shot on the fly.

Ruuttu, on Kupari playing on a veteran Karpat team:
Karpat, they won the championship … What’s impressive is that he did get ice time. It’s usually a team that buys a lot of players. It’s a wealthy team, so they have money. Their forwards are usually top of the league. … He was playing center. They started using him more and more in the center, and his defensive game got better and better, so he got more chances to play and he earned trust. I did see their GM’s quote. Sebastian Aho’s dad is the GM there. He actually said he’s a mix of Puljujarvi and his son, Sebastian Aho.

Ruuttu, on whether Kupari projects as a center or a wing:
I don’t mind him at either spot. I think that’s just being a rich thing to have, that your kid can play center or wing.

Ruuttu, on whether Kupari has a similar skill set to Adrian Kempe:
Skating-wise. They skate a little bit different, but they both have very good speed. This kid, because of his glide, he can play a ton. Is an Adrian Kempe-type? Adrian’s probably a little bit meaner. One is left shot (Kempe), the other one is right shot (Kupari). I think there are a lot of similarities.

Ruuttu, on gauging where Kupari will play after the coming year:
He’s playing with men, and it’s one of the better leagues in Europe. It’s always individual what the best fit is. We left Adrian for a year in Sweden. I think that could be something that we look at next year, but I’m not the one who makes the decision. That’s Robbie and Mike and those guys who make it. It’s not a bad thing if you say it’s one more year. He’s going to play World Juniors this year.

Ruuttu, on how Kupari trended over the past year:
I’ve seen Rasmsus for the last two years. He’s actually from the south of Finland, and he moved to Oulu to become a better hockey player up north. Talking to his teammates, he’s almost like a sponge. The team has big leaders. He wants to learn. His skating has always been very good, but he’s also grown a little bit more size. He’s 6-1 right now, and I think he might even get a little bit bigger. He has the skill and he has the speed, and what we really like is that he’s able to play center or wing and he can play different roles and he’s a power play kid too. He has a very good shot on the fly.

Ruuttu, on Kupari’s skating:
He’s one of those kids who has a natural glide in his skating. His speed is more deceiving. He does have a little bit like Kempe, he has the long horse speed, but his edges are very good at the same time. Plus, he’s got better skill than he gets credit for.

Ruuttu, on whether Kupari climbed on his list:
Rasmus was kind of a little bit up and down. I think he was a little bit higher on the list earlier in the year. I think the early list, the list that came out, he was very high. He dropped a little bit because it’s tough when you play in the pro league and you don’t get the ice time, you don’t get the power play time to really put big numbers up. But then again, his game got better and better, the defensive part of his game. That’s one of those things you have to always seek when you’re looking at a Euro, that he’s actually playing with men at his own age group. You’ve got to be careful looking at the points only. But he has a good shot, and he can produce and he can make plays.

Rasmus Kupari, selected 20th overall by the #LAKings

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-Quotes from Assistant General Manager Michael Futa to come
-Lead photo via Jeff Vinnick/NHLI

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