New York Rangers defense prospect Tarmo Reunanen has two goals and two assists in his first three games of AHL hockey with the Hartford Wolf Pack. It’s way too early to get too excited here but that doesn’t mean we can’t be intrigued by a hot start for the 22-year-old Finn playing his first hockey in North America.
After all, isn’t getting excited about prospects half the fun?
Reunanen picked up goals in his first two games with the Wolf Pack on Feb. 7th against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, and on Feb. 11th against the Providence Bruins. On Wednesday, he picked up his first primary assist against Bridgeport in the Wolf Pack’s first loss of the 2021 campaign.
That’s three primary points in his first three games as a pro in North America. Not a bad start for the 98th overall pick of the 2016 Draft. Thus far, he’s looked mobile and comfortable at the AHL level, which is exactly what the Rangers want to see out of him. What’s stood out the most to me thus far is his quick decision-making. He looks, well, smart. He has a good sense of where he has to be to make plays at both ends of the ice and has no issues with throwing the puck at the net.
The buzz surrounding Reunanen as a Rangers prospect has increased over the last two weeks but he’s been on the radar long before this month. His stock stunted a bit due to some injuries, but after recovering he put up some decent results overseas. Blueshirt Banter Foreign Correspondent Alex Nunn interviewed him back in 2019, and it is worth revisiting now.
Reunanen was conspicuously absent from Corey Pronman’s summary of the Rangers’ farm system in September, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that he’s been somewhat overlooked. Even though he played pretty well, but that may just be a circumstance of the Rangers having a retooled and reloaded prospect pool.
Prior to the AHL season getting underway, Reunanen was playing hockey in his native Finland for HPK in Liiga and TUTO Hockey in Mestis. He skated in seven games for HPK, averaging 24:48 TOI/GP and averaging 4.28 SOG/GP. He picked up a goal and an assist in those seven games, which was modest production by his standards.
If we take a closer look at Reunanen’s 2019-20 campaign in Liiga, it becomes easier to get a better idea of what our expectations should be for him in Hartford. Remember, he’s 22, so he’s not exactly a ‘kid’ anymore. The clock is definitely ticking on him as an NHL prospect and the ceiling is a few stories below where Adam Fox is. It’s also important to note that he’s left-handed, especially in light of the recent injury to Jacob Trouba.
In 2019-20, Reunanen averaged 19:21 TOI/GP and finished with 19 points in 51 games with Lukko. He had eight primary points at even strength and five primary assists on the power play. Reunanen’s 53.6 CF% was the third-best among Lukko’s defense last season — Winnipeg’s Ville Heinola led the pack with a 59.0 CF% in 29 games. His 104.0 PDO definitely catches the eye but all of Lukko’s D had a PDO comfortably over 100. This is where it’s important to point out that Lukko finished the season 40-13-6 with a +69 goal differential in 59 games.
So, Reunanen had really promising underlying numbers on a very strong team as a fixture in its top-four last year. Needless to say, Liiga is less competitive than the NHL, KHL, and SDHL but it’s still an encouraging sign to see Reunanen produce early in his AHL career, even if we are looking at a sample size of just a few games. Looking at the Wolf Pack’s roster now, it’s not a stretch to say that he will be an important player on the team this year.
Something to keep an eye on moving forward will be how much offense is generated by the Wolf Pack’s blueliners in the shortened season. Through three games, the defense has put 14 shots on net — four of those have come from the stick of Reunanen. Thus far, Reunanen has primarily been paired with Darren Raddysh, an AHL veteran. It’s worked so far but, again, it’s early.
Reunanen doesn’t need to keep piling up points to keep his window to the NHL open. The best thing he can do is continue to make good reads and move the puck for the Wolf Pack. If he does that, and if he continues to get some time on the power play, more points are sure to come. That should be all he needs to make a path to his NHL debut.
The bottom line is that if Reunanen continues to look solid in the AHL he should get a look in the NHL sooner rather than later, especially considering what the Rangers’ blue line looks like right now. At the very least it is worthwhile to get a look at a prospect like Reunanen, even though it is a weird 56-game season limited to divisional play. There are things that can be learned. This team could definitely use another d-man on the left side who can move the puck. There are questions about how he’ll fare in his own zone at the NHL level but that shouldn’t prohibit him from getting an opportunity.
Data courtesy of liiga.fi, theahl.com, pick224.com.