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2020 World Junior Hockey Championship: Team Finland preview & roster

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The defending champs are looking to keep their success going.

USA v Finland: Gold Medal Game - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

The last three medals that Team Finland has won at the World Juniors have been gold. The issue for them is that there were two years in between where they struggled. The low point came two years ago when they finished last in their group and had to beat Latvia in the relegation round. The next year they lost in the quarterfinal to the Czech Republic.

The last seven years at the World Juniors were either gold medals (three times), relegation round wins, or quarterfinal losses (twice each).

Last year, they used a team effort and top goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen to win the gold medal over the United States.

This year, they will be counting on a young roster to get back and solidify once again that they are becoming one of the strongest hockey nations in the world despite having varying degrees of success at the holiday tournament.

Team Finland final roster

# Player Position League Current Team (NHL)
# Player Position League Current Team (NHL)
30 Justus Annunen G Liiga Kärpät (COL)
31 Jasper Patrikainen G Mestis Pelitat
1 Kari Piiroinen G OHL Windsor Spitfires
2 Santeri Hatakka D Liiga Ilves (SJ)
4 Ville Heinola D Liiga Lukko (WPG)
3 Anttoni Honka D Liiga JYP (CAR)
5 Mikko Kokkonen D Liiga Jukurit (TOR)
29 Kim Nousiainen D Liiga KalPa (LA)
6 Peetro Seppälä D Liiga KooKoo
33 Lassi Thomson D Liiga Ilves (OTT)
9 Toni Utunen D Liiga Tappara (VAN)
12 Eemil Erholtz F Liiga Sport
15 Lenni Killinen F Liiga Ässät (CAR)
19 Rasmus Kupari F AHL Ontario Reign (LA)
20 Matias Maccelli F Liiga Ilves (ARI)
18 Joonas Oden F Liiga KooKoo
23 Mikko Petman F Liiga Lukko
21 Patrik Puistola F Liiga Tappara (CAR)
24 Sampo Ranta F NCAA University of Minnesota (COL)
34 Aatu Räty F Mestis Kärpät
35 Aku Räty F Liiga Kärpät (ARI)
25 Antti Saarela F Liiga Ilves (CHI)
27 Kristian Tanus F Liiga Jukurit

Strengths

Despite not having a lot of experience at the World Junior level, there are a lot of top prospects on this Finnish team. Rasmus Kupari is returning and should be expected to shoulder a lot of the load offensively. They also have three returning defencemen leading the way. Ville Heinola started the season in the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets before going back to Finland. Anttoni Honka and Toni Utunen are also back.

The team captain is another first-round pick in Ottawa Senators prospect Lassi Thomson and they should be expected to win games from the defence out. In all, seven of their eight defenders have already been drafted by NHL teams.

Finland’s depth is always a strength although like everything else at the World Juniors, cyclical success is always an issue.

Although he is making his World Junior debut, Justus Annunen should be expected to be an anchor in goal for the Finnish team. He has a 1.26 goals against average and a .947 save percentage in 13 Liiga games this season with an 11-0-2 record. Annunen is a Colorado Avalanche third-round pick, drafted in 2018.

Those numbers are very strong, but they have had goaltenders with strong Liiga numbers before only to falter at the tournament.

Weaknesses

We mentioned the experience on the blue line, but there is not much experience anywhere else. Like so many other countries, Finland is affected by players who are in the NHL. Kaapo Kakko and Jesperi Kotkaniemi are technically still eligible for the tournament but will not participate meaning Kupari is the only returning forward right now.

Top 2020 NHL Draft prospect Anton Lundell is eligible but is injured and his status for the tournament is uncertain. Carolina Hurricanes prospect Patrik Puistola is also dealing with an injury. That’s a lot of eligible scoring depth that may not be available for the tournament.

Every team deals with inexperience and despite the fact they are inexperienced at the World Junior level, they are not a young team overall.

X-Factor

For Finland, Annunen and the defence may very well be the key to their success, but they are already dealing with injury concerns and how they make out on that front before the tournament even begins will be a major storyline.

Lundell and Puistola would be expected to play major roles for the Finland offence and if they are not able to go, or are not 100% they may be thankful that their goaltending and defence are so strong. Keep an eye on forward Matias Maccelli, who will be expected to pick up some slack. The Arizona Coyotes prospect has 10 goals and 15 assists in 26 Liiga games.

Finland has had a feast or famine time at this tournament and that is to be expected. Finland is a hockey nation with a lot of talent, but they don’t have the depth of some of the other countries so when they have key players age out of the World Juniors, playing in the NHL, or injured, they are affected to a higher degree.

There’s no doubt that Finland is a hockey nation with tons of talent at all age levels, but whether they can show it with 23 players in a two week event is not necessarily a guarantee. Nine players on their preliminary roster would be eligible for next year’s tournament and that doesn’t even count Lundell.