The third point of the three-sided World Junior Hockey Championship champion triangle is also the third medallist from last year’s tournament. Finland, like Canada and the United States has three gold medals over the last nine years, and will expect to battle for the top spot once again.
The small country continues to churn out elite hockey talent, and this year is no exception with a roster that may be a perfect mix of tournament veterans and top 2022 Draft prospects.
Team Finland final roster
|#||Player||Position||League||Current Team (NHL)|
|#||Player||Position||League||Current Team (NHL)|
|30||Joel Blomqvist||G||Liiga||Kärpät (PIT)|
|1||Leevi Meriläinen||G||OHL||Kingston Frontenacs (OTT)|
|21||Aleksi Heimosalmi||D||Liiga||Ässät (CAR)|
|7||Topi Niemelä||D||Liiga||Kärpät (TOR)|
|4||Ville Ottavainen||D||Liiga||JYP (SEA)|
|10||Kasper Puutio||D||Liiga||KalPa (FLA)|
|6||Eemil Viro||D||Liiga||TPS (DET)|
|20||Samuel Helenius||F||Liiga||JYP (LAK)|
|22||Roni Hirvonen||F||Liiga||Ässät (TOR)|
|13||Roby Järventie||F||AHL||Belleville Senators (OTT)|
|27||Oliver Kapanen||F||Liiga||KalPa (MTL)|
|37||Joakim Kemell||F||Liiga||JYP (2022)|
|24||Ville Koivunen||F||Liiga||Kärpät (CAR)|
|33||Brad Lambert||F||Liiga||JYP (2022)|
|32||Joel Määttä||F||NCAA||University of Vermont|
|29||Kasper Simontaival||F||Liiga||KalPa (LAK)|
|23||Kalle Väisänen||F||Liiga||TPS (NYR)|
Make no mistake of what Finland’s strength is: In a tournament usually called one for 19 year olds, they won bronze last year with a relatively young team and what that means is that they enter this tournament with an experienced group.
Their 56 games of tournament experience are second only to Slovakia. In all, 10 players return from last year’s team including Ruben Rafkin, who played one game, and third goaltender Joel Blomqvist.
Among those 10 is also last year’s top defenceman Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Topi Niemelä. Niemelä had two goals and six assists at last year’s tournament, and will be looking to improve on that this year. Not only was he the top scoring defenceman in last year’s tournament, he’s also the top scoring returning player this year. His scoring has just gotten better. His six goals and 18 assists in 31 Liiga games leads all defenders in the league and is 10th in overall league scoring. As a teenager.
To make things even more dangerous, Finland also has the returning player with the second most points in Kasper Simontaival. The 5’9” Los Angeles Kings third-round pick had seven points in last year’s tournament and has played 15 games in the Liiga this year.
Another Maple Leafs prospect, Roni Hirvonen had six points in last year’s tournament, and, yes, that’s tied for third among returning players.
The Finns have a ton of experience to draw from at both defence and up front.
The question, then, will be in goal. Blomqvist has always been seen as a top goalie prospect, but has struggled at the U18 and U20 levels internationally. This season, he will likely be leaned on by this Finnish team. He is having a tremendous Liiga season at the senior level. In eight games, he has a 4-1-1 record with a 0.73 goals against average and .964 save percentage with three shutouts.
This Finland team is so good, he probably won’t have to steal games, but if he can make the saves he needs to, watch out.
The other goalies on the team, Leevi Meriläinen and Juha Jatkola don’t have great numbers for their club teams. Blomqvist is likely the goalie they will ride.
The crazy thing is that for as good as this Finnish team is, they could be even better. Aatu Räty is not on the team, as he had to quarantine with his club team in Finland. He was projected to be the team’s top line centre.
The defence also lost some key names from a year ago, including Ville Heinola, Santeri Hatakka and Mikko Kokkonen.
We’ve gotten this far without even mentioning the two draft eligible players on this year’s roster. Brad Lambert is likely more well known to casual tournament fans as he was on last year’s team. In seven games, he had a goal and three assists as a 16-year-old.
He was projected to be one of the top prospects in the 2022 draft, but has struggled this season. In 24 Liiga games, he has two goals and four assists, and has fallen down draft boards. Seeing what he can do as an 18-year-old in this tournament can possibly change the current narrative surrounding his draft year.
Lambert may no longer even be the top Finnish prospect eligible for this draft. That honour goes to Joakim Kemell. The 5’11” winger is known for his shot and scoring ability, as evidenced by his 12 goals and six assists in 21 Liiga games this season. He may be more relatively unknown to casual fans, but this tournament has a history of Finnish snipers making names for themselves for the upcoming NHL Draft.
With Räty gone, it means that the other centres on the team will have to step up. That includes Hirvonen, as well as Juuso Mäenpää and Montreal Canadiens second-round pick Oliver Kapanen, among others.
Another forward to keep an eye on is Roby Järventie. He is a rare Finnish teenager who has chosen to play in North America, and is currently with the Belleville Senators in the AHL. The son of former Canadiens player Martti has three goals and six assists in 21 games.