Our annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown has begun! The rankings were determined by a combination of reader voting and our staff’s own voting. We then combined the reader rankings (50%) and the staff rankings (50%) to determine the top 25. To be eligible for the countdown, a player must be 24 or younger on October 3, 2018, when the 2018-19 NHL season begins.
We’re taking a look at the best and the brightest in the Los Angeles Kings organization in our sixth annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown. Making his debut at #6 is Rasmus Kupari.
Age: 18 (March 15, 2000)
2017-18 Team: Kärpät U20 (Jr. A SM-liiga), Kärpät (Liiga), Hermes (Mestis)
2017-18 Statistics: U20: 11 GP, 3 G, 4 A, 7 P (Playoffs: 3 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 P); Liiga: 39 GP, 6 G, 8 A, 14 P (Playoffs: 6 GP, no points); Mestis: 5 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 4 P
Jewels Reader Ranking: 6
Jewels Staff Ranking: 5
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked
We’re high on Rasmus Kupari. You are too. Why shouldn’t we be? We’ve learned to trust the Kings’ drafting by now, especially in the first round, where LA hasn’t whiffed on a pick in about a decade. And since Derek Forbort, LA’s first round choices have all been forwards with scoring upside, albeit forwards of different styles. 2012 selection Tanner Pearson, as you well know, is a winger and a pinpoint shooter. Adrian Kempe is a gifted offensive player with speed who played in a top European league heading into his draft and has tremendous room to grow. Gabriel Vilardi is polished, well-rounded, and scores in bunches. And Rasmus Kupari is a gifted offensive player with speed who played in a top European league heading into his draft and has tremendous room to-
... wait, I said that already. If LA gets some Kempe-level production from Kupari in a couple years I’m sure they’ll be happy, but it probably does us some good to try and evaluate LA’s 2018 first-rounder on his own merits.
We’ll start with the tool that he probably has Kempe beat on already: speed. His stride is effortless and his pace is excellent, so much so that a common criticism of Kupari is that he needs to learn “when to play quick and when to slow plays down.” Even those who thought Kupari was a risky draft pick couldn’t help but be impressed by the skating ability. He pairs that skating with excellent puck control and a decent shot, and he is more than capable of filling up scoresheets at the highest level.
The all-around game is more important for a Kings prospect, though, and it needs some work. While it feels like nitpicking to gripe about a 17/18-year-old’s possession numbers in the midst of his first season in a first-tier league, there’s room for improvement after posting a 46.3% Corsi For percentage this season for Karpat. Kupari’s defensive work was not a selling point, and his job this year will be to make it a selling point. Centers on the Kings play in all situations, after all.
It wasn’t all about Karpat this year, though, and his efforts at the World Juniors Summer Showcase certainly helped his stock. The young Finn was impressive and literally skated circles around his opposition. His ability to wheel around the net and around the outer edges of the offensive zone is, at times, Carter-esque:
Kupari also shined at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup this past year, leading Finland’s U-18 squad in scoring ahead of the more highly touted (and more highly drafted) Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
What’s the expectation for Kupari in 2018-19? We already know he’ll stay in Finland, and he’ll have a larger role for Karpat, but what kind of scoring output will I be happy with? For the sake of comparison, Kristian Vesalainen (Winnipeg’s first-round choice at #24 in 2017) found himself in a similar situation. He put up 6 points in 26 games in Sweden’s top league and was traded to Kupari’s Karpat squad, where he scored one goal in nine games. Vesalainen exploded for 39 points in 44 games during his post-draft season. That might be a best-case scenario. Adrian Kempe, on the other hand, went from 11 points in his pre-draft campaign to 16 points in his post-draft campaign, but he did so on a lackluster MODO team in a tougher league, while Kupari plays for a title-winning team in Finland.
Regardless of output, though, Kupari should take some long, effortless strides forward this s season. On a team which is probably going to be less patient with its young talent going forward, Kupari is an exciting piece and could make highlight reels in a Kings jersey sooner rather than later. This year? I’m hoping to stay up late watching Finnish league highlights instead.