By Cassie Gage, OKC Barons on 08/19/2013

The breakout performance of the 2012-13 Oklahoma City Barons season belonged to rookie forward Toni Rajala. Rajala started the season with the Stockton Thunder but got the call-up to Oklahoma City in mid-November. He made the most of the chance, scoring first career AHL goal in his first career AHL game on Nov. 21 at Texas.

Rajala returned to Oklahoma City – this time for good – on January 11 and became one of the team’s top offensive weapons. From his return on January 11 until the end of the season, Rajala ranked third in the AHL with 43 points (16-27) in 41 games played. He finished the season tied for 10th in rookie scoring with 45 points (17-28) with 46 games played.

“It was a good year obviously,” Rajala said. “It didn’t end up like we wanted, but it was a great year. Now, I’ll go home and practice to get ready for next year. I’m really excited about (next year.) I think we’ll have a good team next year and a chance to win.”

Rajala registered his first two-point game of the year on January 18 with a goal and an assist against San Antonio. He topped that with a two-goal game on April 7 against Chicago and was second on the team with a plus-18 rating.

The Barons fell just short of playing in the Calder Cup Finals this year, and the experience has Rajala ready to return and help Oklahoma City obtain that goal next year. Rajala will be part of a young group playing for the Barons next year, but after a successful first year, he’s sure hard work and determination will pay off next season.

“I have to practice hard this summer and get better,” he said. “I want to be a team leader. It’d be nice to win the Calder Cup as a team. I would like to be a scoring leader in Oklahoma City. I just have to get better this summer.”

His second season in the AHL is just a stepping stone for the ultimate goal – a roster spot in the NHL. If his 2012-13 numbers are an indicator, Rajala is well on his way to that goal.

“It’s tough to make the Edmonton roster,” Rajala added. “But, I’m going to work hard and see if it’s enough. (Making the NHL) has been my dream since I was young. I’ll get there some day.”

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