"That's a little bit of a sad story..."
Rangers' 2016 fourth-round pick Tarmo Reunanen endured a disappointing draft year as significant injury sidelined the Finnish defenseman for more than five months of key development time last season.
"I was in very good physical condition a year ago and developed day-by-day, but then I had a pain in my buttock and thigh. DC specialists had the opinion that it was a gluteal tear and said it would take time to get better. I trained nearby as normal for three months when they found the truth of my problem; it was a disc prolapse."
"I did recovering physiotheraphy for nine weeks but it was too late."
Reunanen had surgery twice, the second after a "bad luck" complication, and it's apparent just how frustrating that spell on the shelf was for him at such an important time.
"I think you can imagine how difficult it is going nearly five months without normal training. I was in very good physical condition a year ago and was waiting for the golden season including Under-18 and Under-20 tournaments [with Finland]. I lost 8kg in weight but now I have got nearly all of it back."
Inability to get on the ice at both club and international level for much of the 2015/16 season did, as expected, see Reunanen's draft stock take a hit. The left-handed offensive blueliner, who matched Olli Juolevi's production in Liiga Under-20 as a 17-year old, is another upside-heavy mid-round pick by Gordie Clark.
Reunanen hopes to attend prospect development camp next season and says that he was not completely surprised to see the Rangers select him.
"Rangers' European scout has been actively looking at me in-person at HK Areena [home of Reunanen's TPS club], interviewing me and (AC Hockey) agent Mika Westerberg. He contacted more than once so I had an idea."
"There was a thought that I would go to visit prospect camp this week, but I have special practice for back surgery last season and the Rangers released me to join this. I really hope to go to the next one."
Reunanen still managed to post six points in 11 games last year despite his injury problems. He's an attack-minded defenseman that likes to trigger offense, and as such has some of the d-zone warts that you would expect at his age. Importantly, Reunanen will make the leap to playing against Men for the first time this season and he aims to address those weak areas.
"I'm going to start in the TPS Men's team and hopefully I will get a place. If not, then I will join TuTo which plays in the second highest league [Mestis] in Finland. I'm not going to return to juniors."
Finnish hockey has been on a major upswing over the past year or two, particularly at junior level, and Reunanen commends the Finnish Ice Hockey Association for their ground-roots contribution. Like a number of NHL clubs, the Rangers have drafted a Finn in back-to-back years, following their 2015 third-round selection of Aleksi Saarela.
"The Finnish Ice Hockey Association has done a great job during the last few years, giving money and professional help to local teams and junior organisations. Many old stars have given their time as consultants."
Reunanen, who says he has followed NHL hockey and "especially" the Rangers a lot, is a welcome addition to a prospect pool that sorely lacks puck-moving defenseman. He's excited to be a part of things, too.
"I'm very, very proud to be drafted by the Rangers. This really is a dream come true for me."