Draft pick gets drafted

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:40 AM ET

Before Maple Leafs' first-round pick Tuukka Rask plays goal in the National Hockey League, he'll have to play soldier in Finland.

Rask, 18, is old enough for six to nine months of compulsory military service. It can vary from rigorous combat training to playing trombone in a service band.

"It's different for everyone," said ex-NHLer Kari Eloranta, who coaches Rask's club team in Ilves. "We have some players stationed at an (air) base in Lahti, about 130 kilometres from here in Tampere. He'll spend his first month or two months there and then be away about once a week. Usually they try and make it in the summer months so he doesn't miss much hockey. The (military) will also hold practices for all the hockey players in the service."

At the draft, Rask suggested he might be ready to come to Toronto as early as 2006-07, but the Leafs are thinking at least two years. Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson was aware Rask still had military service to perform when he drafted the 6-foot-2 goalie 21st overall in June.

"It should not present any issue for his career," Ferguson said. "That type of thing has never adversely impacted the aspirations of others."

Rask is busy, splitting time with both the Ilves senior and junior teams and the Finnish national juniors, where he's the No. 1 goalie.

"We have a veteran goaltender on the senior team in Juha Pitkamaki and one of the things I want to make sure is that Tuukka is not over-matched or tired out (playing for three teams)," Eloranta said.

The Leafs' European scouts are keeping close tabs on Rask, while player personnel director Mike Penny will be seeing him this month. In six games with Ilves, Rask had a 2.83 goals-against average and an .897 save percentage.

"We're getting good reports," Ferguson said. "They have a good program over there, with goalie coaches at a young age and it's reflected in (NHL grads such as Miikka Kiprusoff and Kari Lehtonen). "Their goalies get a great deal of technical expertise, off-ice training, strength training ... It's real sport-specific stuff."


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