Photo Credit: Luke Durda/OHL Images
Ruben Rafkin is a 2021 NHL Draft eligible prospect, who hails from Turku, Finland. Rafkin is an overager defensive prospect.
Rafkin played youth hockey in the TPS organization before packing his bags for North America. Initially, he ended up at the South Kent School in South Kent, Connecticut and played 16U AAA hockey for South Kent’s Selects Academy. If you are not familiar with the South Kent School/Selects Academy, they are often regarded as one of the top prep schools for hockey development in the United States. Several NHL prospects and NHLers played for the Selects Academy including Shayne Gostisbehere (Philadelphia Flyers), Shane Pinto (Ottawa Senators), Zachary Jones (New York Rangers), Ethan Phillips (Detroit Red Wings), Dominic Basse (Chicago Blackhawks), Joel Farabee (Philadelphia Flyers), Mathias Emilio Pettersen (Calgary Flames) and Skyler Brind’Amour (Edmonton Oilers).
After two seasons with Selects Academy, he decided to play in the USHL for the Tri-City Storm and appeared in 38 games. He recorded two goals and eight assists during his stint with Tri-City. Once the season had concluded, Rafkin was drafted 14th overall in the CHL Import Draft by the Windsor Spitfires. The following season (his initial draft year), he moved up to Windsor and joined fellow Finnish draft eligible Kari Piiroinen. In 59 games played, he tallied four goals and 27 assists.
Many sites including Smaht Scouting had Rafkin ranked for the 2020 NHL Draft, but unfortunately Rafkin was not selected. After the draft concluded, Rafkin was still confident and hanging his head up high. In a tweet following the conclusion of the draft, he wrote “Tomorrow is a new day”.
This season, he re-joined TPS organization. As mentioned above, TPS was the organization that Rafkin had played youth hockey in. Throughout the 2020-2021 Liiga regular season, Rafkin was often paired with Detroit Red Wings prospect Eemil Viro. Viro and Rafkin had plenty of experience being paired together at international tournaments, so there was already a level of familiarity. In 48 games played with TPS, he recored four goals and 12 assists.
Rafkin also was part of the Finnish World Junior roster and took home a Bronze medal.
D.O.B – January 8, 2002
Nationality – Finland
Draft Eligibility – 2021
Weight –190 lbs
Position – Defense
Handedness – Right
Rafkin’s Style Of Play
In the offensive zone, Rafkin does an excellent job working the perimeter. He will jump to the perimeter when there are puck battles down low. When the puck is beyond the red line, he will find post up in an open spot along the perimeter and provide his teammates that are engaged in a puck battle with a passing option in low danger. Sometimes that will lead to one-timer goals like the one that Rafkin scored against the Pelicans on April 1, 2021.
Not only was he able to capitalize off of one-timers at the perimeter, but he was also to drain one-timer shots from the blue-line as well.
Even though Rafkin matched his goal production this season in comparison to his season with the Windsor Spitfires, there is still more work that needs to be done on Rafkin’s shot. When you go through the footage of Rafkin from this past season with TPS, you will notice that there are quite a few shots where his stick blade was not facing the net and that caused some of his shots to go wide towards the corners/boards.
From an offensive puck distribution perspective, Rafkin has shown that he can complete smooth and crisp passes throughout the offensive zone. His smooth passing has led to quite a few assists this past season with TPS and in his 2019-2020 season with Windsor.
If you pay close attention to his zone entries and his initial instincts in the offensive zone, you will notice that he enjoys pinching up to the perimeter and firing shots from just beyond the face-off circles. Rafkin thoroughly enjoys pinching up even when he doesn’t have possession of the puck. He will pinch up and dart after loose pucks in the corner, when none of his teammates are in position to do so.
While he does offer solid production in the offensive zone, I would argue that he is much stronger in the defensive zone. Rafkin constantly has quality positioning in the defensive zone. He will sit at net-front when his defensive partner, Viro is keeping close tabs on the puck carrier when the play is down low. Rafkin has formed a strong bond with Viro and adapts pretty quickly to Viro’s movements. If Viro is covering an attacking winger on the left side of the ice, expect Rafkin to play a centered role around net-front. When puck battles lure Viro in, Rafkin holds down the fort for both of them and shifts over to center-left to provide insurance incase his opponents regain control of the puck. If Viro drops back to play a loose puck behind the red line, you can then expect Rafkin to drop back as well and lend support at the trapezoid.
Rafkin’s gap control and defensive pressure is stronger down low. He does offer defensive pressure further out, but he tightens up his pressure when the puck carriers are driving down the lane down low. Rafkin will stay glued to the opponent if the opponent is looking to pivot his way out of a jam. He will pivot as well and stay aligned with the attacker. There is roughly one second that the attacker has on Rafkin, but you have to assume that it will take at least one second for Rafkin to follow his opponent’s skate movements before he mimics. When down low in the corners and behind the net, you can expect Rafkin to place his stick blade near the opponent’s stick blade to trap the attacker and dictate how his attacker moves the puck. He will utilize his stick in a similar matter when defending in medium danger in the face-off circles. Rafkin will place the stick blade close to his opponent’s stick blade to deflect shot attempts. If and when Rafkin is defending at the perimeter in the slot, he will keep his arms and stick in front of his stomach, take up as much space as possible when looking to block shots from low danger.
There are some instances where Rafkin will struggle with his gap control and positioning, but it isn’t a consistent problem. There are sequences where Rafkin draws in on the attacker, misreads the attacker’s intentions, assumes the attacker wants to play the puck along the boards and yet the attacker cuts to his right to avoid Rafkin. At that point, Rafkin is out of position and the attacker has a clearer path to the net. Sometimes, he will position himself too far up in the defensive zone, puts pressure on an attacker, the attacker completes a behind the back tap pass and Rafkin isn’t able to counter-attack as one of the attacker’s teammates is in perfect position to grab the puck.
While he isn’t a huge defenseman in terms of size, you can’t underestimate Rafkin’s physicality. When defending along the half-wall, Rafkin will throw his weight and use his arms for support when positioned close to his opponent. He will attempt to throw you into the boards to shut down the cycle. But, he will also lean on his physicality when he is late to a loose puck and looks to stall the attacker so that the attacker doesn’t have a clean path to the puck.
Rafkin has no issues instilling breakout passes and will lean on passing the puck along the boards when he gets into jams. When he isn’t facing a tight jam, he will either fire a tape-to-tape feed or wait till he gets closer to the blue-line.
One of the areas in Rafkin’s defensive play that needs the most defensive play has more to do with skating than defense. But, when Rafkin goes in for loose pucks in the defensive zone to net defensive recoveries, he struggles at times to manufacture the necessary speed and acceleration to hunt for those loose pucks. So, that’s when he has to lean on his physicality to separate his opponent who is also playing the loose puck from the puck.
For the most part, Rafkin is a straight-line skater, but has shown at times that he will point his toes sideways when darting after loose pucks. The toes of his skates will point sideways on the skate extension recovery.
When you look at Rafkin’s edges and crossovers, there is a lot to like. Rafkin deploys crisp inside and outside edges when completing tight turns. His crossovers are tightly-placed and he’s shown that he can garner decent acceleration with his crossovers when skating backwards. If he initiates a breakout attempt from behind his own net, he deploys multiple crossovers before going into stride.
From a stride perspective, he isn’t the fastest skater on the ice and that is apparent when going for loose pucks. His skate extensions need further development. He will use two longer extensions at the start and his ankle flexion is in-line with the toe of his skates. But, when he is chasing after loose pucks, you will notice that his skate extensions are rather short, so he doesn’t gather the necessary acceleration.
When he doesn’t want to come to a complete stop but wants to slow down a tad, he will deploy a wide glide in order to slow down his speed.
Rafkin loves to complete stretch passes for zone exit passes and will look to complete diagonal stretch passes when he finds teammates that have found open ice in the neutral zone on the left side. While he loves to attempt stretch passes, his accuracy on them is a tad inconsistent.
When taking the puck into the neutral zone himself, he will either look to play the puck himself into the offensive zone or identify the right opportunity to dump the puck into the zone to key up a dump and chase.
If there is too much pressure and Rafkin feels that a controlled zone entry will only lead to a costly turnover, he will button-hook and regroup before trying again. But, if Rafkin decides that he can out-play the pressure, sometimes he faces challenges with his stick-handling. He might try to extend the puck to the right when in the neutral zone with a man on and then extend the puck outwards to get around the pressure, but he does struggle with his reach as it’s a tad limited.
From a defensive transitional perspective, Rafkin loves to jump up high in the neutral zone and put pressure on the attack, but there has been situations where that backfires and leaves his team vulnerable at times.
When there are puck battles along the boards and Viro draws into those puck battles, Rafkin has illustrated that he will come closer, sit on the sidelines (so to speak) and play an insurance role. This way he is ready for the puck should his opponents grab the puck or he can help kick off the rush if his teammates grab a hold of the puck and look for an open teammate.
If the rush comes close to Rafkin’s blue-line, he will lower himself and widen. Rafkin will do so to force the attack to either dump the puck into his zone or control where the puck carrier goes with the puck.
Bottom Pairing NHL Defenseman.
Rafkin has proven through his play with TPS this year that he is truly worthy of a draft selection. There are some areas of his game that need further development, but he has shown to have strong physicality and exerts quality pressure when he needs to. His offensive game is sound and could provide a NHL team with a solid right handed shot on a third pairing.
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Josh Tessler. If you would like to follow Josh on Twitter, his handle is @JoshTessler_.
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