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2016 World Hockey Championship: Team Finland Preview

There are high hopes in Finland, and their young team will be expected to come home from Russia with a medal.

Matej Divizna/Getty Images

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.

Roster

Player Position League Current Team
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
Topi Jaakola D KHL Jokerit
Tommi Kivitso D KHL Avtomobilist Yekatrineburg
Laase Kukkonen D Liiga Kärpät
Esa Lindell D NHL/AHL Dallas Stars/Texas Stars
Atte Ohtamaa D KHL Jokerit
Ville Pokka D NHL Chicago Blackhawks
Anssi Salmela D SHL Brynas IF
Sebastian Aho F Liiga Kärpät
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
Patrik Laine F Liiga Tappara
Jani Lajunen F Liiga Tappara
Antti Pihlstrom F KHL CSKA Moscow
Teemu Pulkkinen F NHL Detroit Red Wings
Mika Pyorala F Liiga Kärpät
Mikko Rantanen F NHL Colorado Avalanche
Tomi Sallinen F SHL Djurgarden

Strengths

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.

Weaknesses

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.

X-Factor

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.