Estonia's 19-year-old prospect Robert Arrak ready for the next step in a burgeoning career. Photo: Sarunas Mazeika
Estonia's other Robert aiming high
For long Robert Rooba has been Estonia's lone player in Europe's top leagues. Now following in his footsteps comes Robert Arrak.
Having turned 19 earlier this month and clearly on an ascent upwards, the Tallinn-born center and winger recently penned a two-year deal with Finnish top division team Vaasan Sport. Despite sealing a move to Finland's Liiga, his ambitions don't stop there.
"Now I aim to get playing time with Vaasa, then I will look at my options to try and play in KHL or NHL. The main goal would be NHL," said Arrak who is on Estonia's second line at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Kaunas. Arrak's Estonia has enjoyed a flying start to the tournament. They came out of the traps to push Japan to overtime before blanking Ukraine 2-0 in their second game.
Just as the current Champions Hockey League winner Rooba was once spotted when playing against Finnish opposition as a youngster, Arrak got noticed in a similar way as an opportunity arose to continue his development across the Bay of Finland.
"I was around 13-14 and I played in a tournament in Tallinn where Espoo Blues also took part. It went well for me and then came a call to ask me whether I wanted to come over and play junior hockey in Finland," he said.
From their base in the western metropolitan region of Finland's capital Helsinki, Blues was by then starting to make a name for themselves as a fine breeding ground for promising Estonian players, Rooba had been among the players who made the jump across to Espoo and was at the club when Arrak arrived in Finland with his father in tow.
"After playing four years for Blues I was then contacted by an agent on how to continue my development. We agreed on the USA where the plan was to play college hockey, but things didn't go as planned, so I soon decided to return back to Finland instead," said Arrak.
Leaving the state of Iowa ahead of this season, he returned back to Helsinki and suited up for Jokerit's U20 team where he quickly got up to speed again. Scoring for fun at the top level in the Finnish junior league, he was called up to Jokerit's affiliate partner Kiekko-Vantaa to try his luck with the seniors in Finland's second tier, Mestis.
"Around Christmas time this season I was first offered to practice with Kiekko-Vantaa and it went well so I got playing with the team," he said of an eventful 2018 so far which seen him suit up for Kiekko-Vantaa in Metsis before his raw talent caught the eye of Liiga's Vaasan Sport.
"In my opinion, he has really big potential. His development was halted a bit by his decision to go to the USHL. Since coming back ahead of this season he became the top scorer for Jokerit's U20 and played senior hockey in Mestis and I believe that he will at least be a player in Liiga but could get even higher," said Estonia head coach Jussi Tupamaki as he lines up Arrak's attributes that will come to good use in years to come for the Estonian national team.
"He is very versatile, able to play both as center or on the wing. He is tall and skillful but still can play a physical game but needs more kilos and power," continued Tupamaki.
Behind the emergence of Arrak, more promising signs are coming from Finland which in the near future could be benefiting the Estonian national team.
Joining Arrak to Vaasan Sport for next season is 18-year-old Tallinn-born netminder Conrad Molder. Having moved to Finland in his teens to pursue his future prospects, Molder is eligible for both Estonia and Finland, but yet to feature for either country.
Another player Estonia harbour high hopes for is Kristjan Kombe, a tall center hailing from Estonia's Saaremaa island who just turned 18 and is showing good promise in HPK Hameenlinna's U20 set-up.
The lone Estonian national team player selected so far in the NHL Entry Draft was Toivo Suursoo as 283rd overall back in 1994. Narva-born Leo Komarov of the Toronto Maple Leafs was born in what today is Estonia but represents the country he was brought up in, Finland.
For Arrak any talk of whether or not he one day will be mentioned in the same breath as those two appears not to face him as he wants his hockey to do the talking.
"Yes, sometimes I look at my NHL-draft ranking, but my dream is not to be drafted but to actually play there one day," said Arrak.