World Juniors 2016: Finland team preview
The hosts look to bounce back from a tough 2015 tournament after their 2014 gold medal
Finland is a really good mix of top NHL Draft prospects and top Draft picks. They are the youngest team in terms of the average age of their preliminary roster, but don't let that fool you. They have 13 NHL Draft Picks and several first round talents for the upcoming NHL Draft
The 2014 Gold Medalists struggled last year with losses to Slovakia in the preliminary round and Sweden in the quarter finals but still have a chance to make some noise this year.
|Player||Pos||League||Current Team (NHL)|
|Kappa Kähkönen||G||FIN Liiga||Blues (MIN)|
|Emil Larmi||G||FIN Mestis||Peliitat|
|Veini Vehvilainen||G||FIN Liiga||JYP|
|Miro Keskitalo||D||FIN Liiga||TPS Turku|
|Niko Mikkola||D||FIN Liiga||KalPa (STL)|
|Sami Niku||D||FIN Liiga||JYP (WPG)|
|Vili Saarijärvi||D||OHL||Flint (DET)|
|Eetu Sopanen||D||FIN Liiga||Pelicans|
|Joni Tuulola||D||FIN Liiga||HPK (CHI)|
|Sebastian Aho||F||FIN Liiga||Karpat (CAR)|
|Kasper Björkqvist||F||FIN Jr. A SM-Liiga||Blues U20|
|Roope Hintz||F||FIN Liiga||HIFK (DAL)|
|Antti Kalapudas||F||FIN Mestis||Hokki|
|Kasperi Kapanen||F||AHL||Toronto (TOR)|
|Patrik Laine||F||FIN Liiga||Tappara|
|Juho Lammikko||F||OHL||Kingston (FLA)|
|Julius Nättinen||F||OHL||Barrie (ANA)|
|Jesse Puljujärvi||F||FIN Liiga||Karpat|
|Mikko Rantanen||F||AHL||San Antonio (COL)|
|Sebastian Repo||F||FIN Liiga||Pelicans|
|Aleksi Saarela||F||FIN Liiga||Assat (NYR)|
|Miska Siikonen||F||FIN Liiga||Pelicans|
The forwards on this Finnish team will be fun to watch. Last year, I had the pleasure of seeing a couple of games live in Montreal and Mikko Rantanen and Jesse Puljujärvi both caught my eye. Rantanen was Colorado's first round pick in the most recent draft and actually played six NHL games this season. Puljujärvi wasn't even eligible for the draft last year and is a top-five talent this year.
Along with Puljujärvi, they have three other players in the top-30 of the ISS Draft Rankings. Patrick Laine is another one of those prospects and both play in the top level of the Finnish men's league. This is a Finnish version of Taylor vs Tyler or McDavid vs Eichel.
They constantly get compared to one another and the Liiga's website has a Puljujärvi vs Laine tracker.
Other draft eligibles to watch are defenceman Olli Juolevi (28g-4g-19a-23pts with London in the OHL) and goaltender Veini Vehviläinen (15 games, 1.79 GAA, .938 save percentage in the top Finnish men's league).
The team is bolstered by the arrival of Rantanen, who was with the AHL's San Antonio Rampage and Kasperi Kapanen who is with the Toronto Marlies. Both get the chance to win a medal on home ice.
Scoring. Finland only had eight goals in their five games last year and Rantanen had half of them. He and Kapanen are the only players to return who had a goal last year and Kapanen had one goal.
Only Roope Hintz, Rantanen and Kapanen had a point in last year's tournament. But that is more due to their lack of scoring in last year's tournament than a commentary on their returning players.
Both their goaltenders have moved on and it was a really good duo in Ville Husso and Juuse Saros. They do have some talent in camp and if they struggle to score goals, it could be another disappointment for Finland coming off of their gold medal in 2014.
Group B will also face a tough quarterfinal challenge as teams who finish 2-3-4 will likely face Canada, USA or Sweden. It means a few good teams will not make it to the semi-finals which perhaps increases the urgency in the preliminary round.
As always, goaltending is a huge factor. I'm assuming that Vehviläinen will get the starting gig based on his strong statistics in the top level of Finnish hockey. But if you don't score like Finland does, the importance of goaltending increases drastically.
Another X-Factor will be the number of 17 year olds the Finland has on their roster. This is known as a 19-year-old tournament, players who are two years past their draft years but 18-year-olds have become more prevalent on rosters as have players eligible in the upcoming draft.
Finland is going to rely on a bunch of 17 year olds and how they perform in the tournament will go a long way to showing how they will finish on home ice.
They also need a much better performance from Kapanen. One goal in five games will not do it this year, and in his last shot at this level on home ice, will be motivated to leave last year behind him.