Finland enters the 2015 World Junior Championship as the defending champions, but can they repeat their amazing performance from last year? Habs prospect Arturri Lehkonen will captain the team throughout the tournament, and will attempt to bring home consecutive gold medals for the first time in Finland's WJC history.
|Player||Pos||Draft Year*||League||Current Team (NHL)|
|Ville Husso||G||2014 (94th)||SM-liiga||HIFK (STL)|
|Juuse Saros||G||2013 (99th)||SM-liiga||HPK (NSH)|
|Julius Honka||D||2014 (14th)||AHL||Texas Stars (DAL)|
|Mika Ilvonen||D|| |
|NCAA||St. Cloud State University|
|Alex Lintuniemi||D||2014 (67th)||OHL||Ottawa 67's (LA)|
|Joonas Lyytinen||D||2014 (132nd)||SM-liiga||KalPa (NSH)|
|Aleksi Mäkelä||D||2013 (182nd)||SM-liiga||Ilves Tampere (DAL)|
|Atta Mäkinen||D|| |
|Sami Niku||D||2015||SM-liiga||JyP HT Jyvaskyla|
|Juuso Ilkonen||F|| |
|Aleksi Mustonen||F|| |
|Otto Rauhala||F|| |
|Hannes Björninen||F|| |
|Antti Kalapudas||F|| |
|Kasperi Kapanen||F||2014 (22nd)||SM-liiga||KalPa (PIT)|
|Artturi Lehkonen (C)||F||2013 (55th)||SweHL||Frolunda HC (MTL)|
|Niko Ojamäki||F||2013||SM-liiga||Ässät Pori|
|Otto Rauhala||F||2016||SM-liiga||Tappara Tampere|
|Julius Vähätalo||F||2014 (166th)||SM-liiga||TPS (DET)|
Coach: Hannu Jortikka
Goaltending will be a major strength for the Finns with two 19-year-olds in Juuse Saros and Ville Husso. Having backstopped the Finns last year to a gold medal against the host Swedes, Juuse Saros is slotted as the starting goalie by most Finns who anxiously await the start of this tournament where they will defend their championship for the first time since 1999. Though Saros has last year's experience to draw upon, and has excellent numbers for his club team HPK in the Finnish Elite League (0.924 sv %, 2.30 GAA in 24 games), his role as starter may be contested by Ville Husso who has also been dominating the Finn’s top hockey league with similar numbers (0.920 sv %, 2.14 GAA in 26 games).
Saros will have his work cut out for him to repeat the sparkling numbers he put up in last year’s tournament where he had a record of five wins, one loss, a .943 sv% and 1.57 GAA. Some notable absences on the blue line this year may make it too difficult for the 19-year-old Nashville Predator’s prospect to repeat his performance from 2014. Coach Hannu Jortikka has not made his choice of who will start between the pipes, as this year’s Finnish team will only have four skating players returning to the roster (six in total, including Saros and Husso).
In a tournament such as the World Junior Championship where star players are drafted by pro teams and are not made eligible to play, it doesn’t do much good to compare to last year’s roster; in the case of the champion Finns, any analysis of their current roster will lead even the most cautiously optimistic person to wonder whether their lack of experience on the blueline will be a major detriment to repeating last year’s golden success. The Finnish defense will rely heavily on the experience and skill of Julius Honka, the only returning D from last year’s squad and the 14th overall pick at last year’s NHL draft. Honka has spent the year playing for the Dallas Stars’ AHL affiliate Texas Stars and has posted two goals and six assists in 25 games. Though this blue line is inexperienced at the World Junior Championship level, they are "no slouches," having filled their roster with talented offensive D with great lateral skating and passing ability. Look out for 19-year-old LA Kings prospect Alex Lintuniem to provide a physical presence (6’3, 230 lbs) and play a ton of important minutes. The only other NHL drafted D, Nasvhille Predator prospect Aleksi Makela, should also provide some size, and will be relied upon heavily to lead a D squad that is otherwise without NHL calibre defensemen, however, look for prominent prospect Sami Nikuu to try to make his mark in his NHL draft year.
With so much uncertainty as to what to expect from this team’s defense, Team Finland’s back end appears to be their greatest weakness, though having two of the strongest young goalies in the world between the pipes may prove to neutralize this perceived weakness.
Team Finland is icing a group of core forwards that is both mature and very capable of providing some offensive flair. Team captain, and Montreal Canadiens prospect Artturi Lehkonen will be looking to re-establish himself as a upward-trending prospect with his strong leadership and noted hockey sense.
The most exciting player to watch on this team - aside from Julius Honka – is going to be slippery RW-er Kasperi Kapanen. His quick feet, insane agility and goal scoring prowess, if activated during this tournament, will surely be a catalyst for a deep run for Team Finland. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ first overall pick in the 2014 draft (22nd overall) and son of former Philidelphia Flyer Sami Kapanen is coming into the tournament with some excellent numbers playing for KalPa in the Finnish Elite League (SM-liiga) with nine goals and seven assists in 19 games and a plus-minus rating of +4. He may just provide the offensive spark needed to overcome some of the strong defensive teams Finland will be facing in their quest to repeat as World Junior tournament champions for the first time in their country’s history.
It is likely Finland will make it out of the preliminary round, though they are playing in what some may call the stronger of the two preliminary round groups which is occupied by host-nation Canada, the United States, Slovakia and Germany. Finland may take some knocks in the preliminaries if it takes them time to get their engines firing on all cylinders with their first game being against the United States on December 26. However if veteran coach Jortikka is able to get his group to come together quickly, and can rely on his key players to perform some of the same magic they displayed last year, it’s very hard to count out the Finns from finding a way to get their mitts on a medal.