LOS ANGELES — He didn’t score a goal or contribute an assist, but Los Angeles Kings rookie center Rasmus Kupari put in a solid, if not spectacular, performance in his National Hockey League debut in a 3-2 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues on March 5 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The 20-year-old native of Kotka, Finland, who was selected by the Kings in the first round (20th overall) of the 2018 NHL Draft, played just over ten minutes in the game, and won five out of seven face-offs.
For those who might need a refresher course on who Kupari is, and why the Kings drafted him, read his draft story here:
Head coach Todd McLellan said that Kupari put in a strong performance in his NHL debut.
“A pretty solid night,” he said. “[He was] a little nervous to begin with, but who wouldn’t be? Then he settled in.”
“He was good in the [face-off] circle,” he added. “He was responsible in his own end, I thought he forechecked, he had a couple of scoring opportunities. That was a pretty good night for a 20-year-old to have [in his NHL debut].”
“Unfortunately, it was a loss,” Kupari lamented. “But there’s a lot of good things with our line, and the team got some good chances. I just tried to keep it simple and use my speed to get the forecheck going.”
“I just tried to use my speed. That’s my biggest strength—I use my speed and keep it simple,” said Kupari. “I would say that I’m an offensive style of player with good hands.”
Kupari earned his call up from the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League by leading the team in scoring with two goals and seven assists for nine points in eight games in his second season with the Reign.
“I’m a lot more comfortable [this year],” he noted. “It was a lot easier to come in here this season. I knew a little bit about how things are done here. Last year, everything was different compared to Europe and Finland.”
Last season, Kupari missed about half the season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the 2020 World Junior Championship when he represented Finland. He underwent successful surgery and worked on his rehabilitation until this season began.
“It’s been a long ride, almost a year of not playing hockey,” he said. “When I watched the games, I tried to watch the structure that the Kings were playing, and I watched players like [Anze] Kopitar. I [also] did a lot of stretching and mobility exercises. I’ve been working hard and I’ve tried to add a little more physicality to my game.”
After the loss to the Blues, Kupari noted the differences between playing in the AHL compared to what he had just experienced in his NHL debut.
“It’s a little different than traveling with the Reign,” he said. “You have the plane and nice hotels. The game is a little faster and more organized. Guys are smarter and more skilled. I think that could be a good thing for me, as well. It could help my game.”
LEAD PHOTO: Forward Rasmus Kupari (center), shown here immediately following being selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft on June 22, 2018 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Kings.
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