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Rangers' Lauri Pajuniemi says time was right to make leap to North America

Lauri Pajuniemi gets ready to shoot on goal

Lauri Pajuniemi gets ready to shoot on goal during a Rangers prospect camp scrimmage at Mthe adison Square Garden Training Center in Greenburgh, N.Y. on June 29, 2018. Credit: James Escher

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Lauri Pajuniemi knew, at the end of last season, that the time had come for him to leave Finland and make the leap to North America.

"Yeah, I played there four seasons with the men's (professional team),’’ Pajuniemi said Thursday at the Rangers’ prospect development camp at their MSG Training Center. "The first two seasons I played a smaller role, third and fourth line. And the last couple seasons I played over 20 minutes, all the time. So I think this is the good step for me to come to the AHL (with the) smaller rink, or the NHL, and improve my game.’’

Pajuniemi, who turned 22 on Sunday, had 22 goals and 16 assists in 48 games last season for TPS of Finland’s Liiga, after putting up 26 goals and 14 assists in 49 games the season before. But he is aware the odds are against him to make the Rangers’ NHL roster for opening night.

Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Ryan Strome, Alexis Lafreniere, Barclay Goodrow, Sammy Blais, Ryan Reaves, Filip Chytil and Pajuniemi’s former TPS teammate Kaapo Kakko are expected to fill 10 of 12 available spots at forward. Vitali Kravtsov, who is not at prospect camp, but is skating in voluntary sessions with the veterans, likely will be the 11th. Morgan Barron will have a shot to make the roster, though he’d likely have to beat out veteran Kevin Rooney to earn the spot as the fourth-line center.

So, barring injury, a trade, or something unforeseen, there doesn’t appear to be a spot on the roster for Pajuniemi, a 6-foot, 196-pound right wing.

That means Pajuniemi will most likely start his North American professional experience in the AHL with Hartford Wolf Pack. There, he would learn how to play the game on the smaller, 200-by-85-foot rink, while also polishing his English and adjusting to life is on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

He already knows it will be different than in Finland. One trip into Manhattan with the other prospects Monday night told him that.

"It's huge. So much bigger than all Finland,’’ he said of New York. "(New York has) more people than the whole of Finland. I think Finland, we have like 5 million people. And, yeah, and then we went on a boat cruise and it was awesome. That city is so big, so nice. And even when the sun is going down, you see though all those lights there, and it's wonderful.’’

Notes & quotes: Forward Brody Lamb, the Rangers fourth-round pick in the 2021 draft, left camp to join his USHL team… First-round pick Brennan Othmann did not practice. The Rangers called his absence "maintenance.’’

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