It was a heck of a year for Matias Rajaniemi. It started with being drafted by the New York Islanders in the sixth round, a trip to Canada where he played for Team Finland at the World Junior Championships, winning the bronze medal, playing a big role for a top-six Liiga side, and being one win short of advancing to the semi-finals.
And he’s not even 19 yet. The tall defenseman will be 18 until September.
It’s been a big year for the young man who still has a lot to learn but who has a ton of potential. I caught up with Matias after his 20-21 season came to an end to chat about his year, his season, and what’s coming next for him.
New York Islanders prospect Matias Rajaniemi on his incredible 2020-21 season
“Active rest” that’s what Matias Rajaniemi plans on doing during his offseason after a busy year in 2020-21. Even in a year where he hasn’t stopped, Rajaniemi won’t sit still per se. He plans on fishing and playing golf when he isn’t at the rink working on his game and getting ready for the 2021-22 season.
His busy year started by being drafted in the sixth round by the New York Islanders. Something that still stands out as the biggest moment of his already impressive year.
"The draft was maybe the biggest moment for me. The bronze was a big thing for sure too.I watched NHL games [groeing up] and it’s been like a big goal for me. Being drafted is something that has always been my dream."
From the draft, the big defenseman played his first full season with the Lahden Pelicans. In 46 games he put up three goals and nine points while averaging 15:31 of ice-time. With a strong end to the year, the Pelicans finished sixth and made the playoffs.
Finishing sixth in the league may not sound too great, but consider that they finished 14 of 15 teams in 2019-20. Moving up eight spots in a year is a big deal.
But with more seasoned players around him, Rajaniemi played like a 6-7 defenseman. Even seeing the scratchpad a few times during the year.
If you’ve followed my daily prospect updates you’ll know that there was a stretch at the end of the regular season where Rajaniemi didn’t play and I had no idea why. I asked the team a few times and they never let me know why he wasn’t in the lineup. Well, the mystery was solved today:
"I was little sick for that time. I had a fever and I had to distance."
Now that the season is over the focus shifts to next year. Rajaniemi may have been a third-pair guy this year, but he expects his role to increase next year for the Pelicans.
"They [Pelicans] haven’t told me anything (about next year). I beleive that I showed this year that I can be the top defenseman for my team and I believe that they think so too."
A place in the Pelican’s top-four is clearly the aim for next season. And while exit interviews for the 20-21 season haven’t yet been conducted between the team and their players, Rajaniemi expects that’s where he’ll play next year, as a 19-year-old.
But for now, Rajaniemi will have a chat with the Islanders player development squad (he was calling them right after our chat) and then some much deserved “active rest”. Sorta. Rajaniemi will be back on the ice in a week to start preparations for next season.