Blueshirt Banter 2018 NHL Draft Rankings: #21 Rasmus Kupari
Rasmus Kupari, Kärpät (SM-Liiga)
Age on Draft Day: 18.28 Years Old
Height/Weight: 6’1.5, 189 pounds
2017-2018 Stats (Including Playoffs): 45 GP, 6 G, 8 A, 8 PIM, -3
NHL Central Scouting: 11th (European Skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic): 12th
ISS Hockey: 15th
Future Considerations: 16th
Canucks Army: 18th
Scott Wheeler: 23rd
Craig Button (TSN): 27th
Rasmus Kupari is one of the hardest prospects for me to project. He’s a center with borderline elite skating and silky smooth hands, yet it doesn’t really translate into production yet. Kupari started the season being a consensus top-10 pick after a strong Ivan Hlinka Tournament, but then he had a bit of a rough start in Liiga, which isn’t that concerning given that he was a young rookie in a men’s league.
I was pretty low on Kupari mid-season but he grew on me. His tools are very enticing and he did improve his production quite a bit going, from around 0.25 points-per-game mid season to close to 0.35 at the end without a significant increase in time-on-ice. Another big thing is his growth spurt over this past year. He’s been listed at around 5’11 and under 170 pounds all year, but at the NHL Combine he measured at 6’1.5 and 188.7 pounds. That’s a big difference.
His frame in combination with his skating, hands, and playmaking ability all give him a very high ceiling. What leaves me skeptical is that he’s really inconsistent from my viewings along with him having pretty bad underlying numbers. His Corsi For percentage is low (46.3%), His relative CF% is really bad (-6.7%), and his individual shot generation is also pretty low (around 1.8 shots-on-goal-per-game).
Rasmus Kupari was the Flavor of the Month at the start of the 2017-2018 season. He was one of the top players at August’s Ivan Hlinka Tournament, leading Finland with seven points in five games. That performance carried him for a while despite unremarkable play in Liiga, and as winter approached most scouting services - for example, Future Considerations and ISS - projected Kupari as a top-10 pick.
However, Kupari had a poor showing at the U20 World Junior Championship, and from that point the hype started to cool down. He was better at the U18 World Championship, but in my mind still did not assert himself in a meaningful way. Many other Finnish forwards had an equal or more significant role in Finland’s Gold Medal achievement.
Nonetheless, his performance at the Hlinka was not a fluke. Kupari is a very talented player. He is an extremely good skater; particularly for a center. “Skating” can mean a number of difference things in hockey. It can refer to straight-line speed, acceleration, lateral agility, pivots, and so on. Kupari is a good skater overall, but in particular he is one of the fastest players in the draft when carrying the puck. Defensemen take notice, leaving a decent gap and conceding space in the neutral zone and at the blue line fear of being burned by Kupari.
Unfortunately, the zoom-in doesn’t help for analysis purposes. You can see here that #23 (Danila Zhuravlov, who is no tree stump) starts off in a decent position but realizes quickly that he’s in trouble. He is forced to concede the zone entry and transition into a forward stride just to keep up with Kupari and attempt to salvage the situation.
He also has quick hands and can make plays in tight spaces. Here is one moment from the Hlinka tournament which stood out to me in this regard.
This is Noah Dobson, arguably the best defensive defenseman in the draft, going up against Kupari. You see initially that Dobson has very good positioning on him; outside shoulder to inside shoulder and the stick forcing Kupari to stay to the outside.
But in a flash, Kupari changes the angle. Kupari makes a slight fake the outside before quickly dragging the puck towards his body. Before Dobson even knows what is happening, Kupari is snapping off a quick wrist shot. Here’s a slowed-down look.
What really sticks out to me is how there’s almost no “tell” from Kupari. There’s nothing in his body movement that tips off what is about to happen. Also impressive is how quickly he was able to transition from dragging the puck towards his body into firing off a shot. There’s no labor in his movement and that also likely contributes to why the screened goaltender gives up a juicy rebound, leading to an assist for Kupari.
In essence, Kupari has a ton of tools and he hasn’t quite figured out how to make use of them on a consistent basis. There’s a strong argument to be made that Kupari should have spent the season in the Canadian Hockey League, where he would have played against a high level of competition but against players who match him in terms of size, strength, and maturity. Even still, he survived in Liiga, which isn’t a small feat, and showed flashes of his potential.
I know Alex Nunn is very low on Kupari to the point that he might rank him at the end of the first round or outside of it altogether. I understand his reasons. He did not have a very good season in Finland. Tools are nice, but plenty of players with skill lacked the brain or total product to succeed in the NHL.
I do wonder if there is some anchoring effect going on with Kupari. He made such a strong first impression to start the season that evaluations have been tied to that starting point ever since. Teams also feel the need to add centers, which they aren’t necessarily wrong about, but I do wonder if Kupari is getting an undeserved bump due to 2018 being a weak class for centers.
On the other hand, though, Kupari was a 17-year-old thrust into a league he probably wasn’t overly prepared for. He has a ton of offensive talent; he can skate with the puck and create offense off of the rush. He has quick hands and a good shot for a center. Whatever team drafts him is going to have to work hard to figure out the best path for Kupari the next few years, whether that is with a particular team in Finland, the CHL, the AHL, or some combination. Because he is going to need the right environment and people around him to cultivate his skill and help him find ways to fit into a system and make plays on the ice.
We have him 21st, and but he is a justifiable pick in the later teens as well, in my opinion. There are more polished centers who will be available, but acquiring centers with top-six ability is a headache for most teams. Kupari offers that upside. It’s hard to imagine him being on the Rangers’ radar. He’d be a major reach at 9th overall and is unlikely to drop to them at 26 or 28. However, the Rangers are very likely to do something, whether that’s trade up or down, or move a roster player for more draft picks. Nothing can be ruled out.
What Others Have Said
Asko Huuki, FinnProspects:
“Kupari is a flashy player. His fantastic skill level is easy to notice because he likes to dangle and carry the puck. His passing game is not on the level of his stickhandling and he could try to play simpler game.”