In Finland, the World Championship is a huge event, and there has been more talk about it than the World Cup coming in September. With only two wins at the tournament (1995 and 2011) and a fantastic crop of talent coming through the system, players have actually had to fight for a place on the team.
This has led to them leaving hugely talented players like Jesse Puljujärvi and Artturi Lehkonen at home this year. Finland is one of the tournament favourites, and really should be respected by the other teams, even the host Russians and defending champion Canadians.
It seems that coach Kari Jalonen has thought long and hard about the squad. Eyebrows may be raised initially at some names, but you have to consider that players like Puljujärvi and Lehkonen would need to get regular time on the ice and not just fourth line minutes every now and then. It is probably sound logic to take in a few older players that have more experience in order to create harmony within the team, and focus on the target that will undoubtedly be gold.
|Niklas Backstrom||G||NHL||Calgary Flames|
|Mikko Koskinen||G||KHL||SKA St. Petersburg|
|Juuse Saros||G||NHL/AHL||Nashville Predators/Milwaukee Admirals|
|Juuso Hietanen||D||KHL||Dynamo Moscow|
|Tommi Kivitso||D||KHL||Avtomobilist Yekatrineburg|
|Esa Lindell||D||NHL/AHL||Dallas Stars/Texas Stars|
|Ville Pokka||D||NHL||Chicago Blackhawks|
|Anssi Salmela||D||SHL||Brynas IF|
|Aleksander Barkov||F||NHL||Florida Panthers|
|Mikael Granlund||F||NHL||Minnesota Wild|
|Jussi Jokinen||F||NHL||Florida Panthers|
|Mikko Koivu||F||NHL||Minnesota Wild|
|Leo Komarov||F||NHL||Toronto Maple Leafs|
|Karno Koskiranta||F||KHL||SKA St. Petersburg|
|Antti Pihlstrom||F||KHL||CSKA Moscow|
|Teemu Pulkkinen||F||NHL||Detroit Red Wings|
|Mikko Rantanen||F||NHL||Colorado Avalanche|
They are fast, skillful, and full of confidence. They should be one of the teams to beat, especially looking at the groups. I'd say the the only team for them to really fear from the Moscow group would be Russia, and this could very well benefit them, as it would most likely be a quarterfinal against a substantially weaker team than many of the those in the St. Petersburg group.
You could argue that they are missing elite NHL-level talent, but it wouldn't surprise me if guys like Laine and Aho can counter that in many ways.
While they did bring some veterans, the team is still relatively young and inexperienced, and will be under a lot of pressure. The Finnish media and fans already have the hype machine running full-force in expectation of winning it all. This could be a big problem in combination with the inexperience.
They play a 200-foot game, and while the defence itself might not feature big names, the help it gets from the forwards means it's not exposed as badly as one might consider from a first look at the players. Where they may struggle is in goal, as Saros is very inconsistent, and Koskinen seems to give up big rebounds.
And let's say they go with Backstrom as their starter, his .881 Save percentage and 3.35 GAA through four games with the Flames this past season don't exactly instill confidence in the goaltending situation either.
First and foremost, you have to watch Patrik Laine. While being seven months younger than Auston Matthews, he has been making quite the case to be the first-overall pick in June. In the Liiga playoffs, he was also used frequently on the penalty kill, and North American readers might be surprised of his play all over the ice, not just as a sniper.
There are a few teams that passed on Sebastian Aho last year, and he could be a big piece for his country this year. I'd recommend that any fan of hockey watch his vision and skill. Barkov is an NHL player that can make a difference, and it will be interesting to see on which line he plays on. He could really provide the x-factor if Laine doesn't step up to the plate.
It is medal or bust for Finland. The big question is if they really can play spoiler to the perceived final between Russia and Canada.