I did my first projection of Team Finland for the World Juniors about a month ago (link). But because we got some new information from the U20 Four Nations tournament that was played in Helsinki about a week ago, I figured I’d share my updated projection now. This time, I also included my projection for the power play units – and for penalty kill units as well.
Not a whole lot has changed but some things have, so I’ll focus mostly on highlighting those changes. Let’s start with the full team projection first.
My top line projection has remained the same. Rasmus Kupari (LAK) and Anton Lundell (2020) are the only returning forwards from last year and the top forwards on this team. They’re joined on the top line by Matias Maccelli (ARZ) who showed in the Helsinki tournament that he is one of the most creative offensive players on this team and therefore deserves to play high in the lineup. He’s also almost a point-per-game player in the Liiga at this point. Maccelli played two games in the Helsinki tournament and both of them on Lundell’s wing, and I thought the two of them played well together.
Patrik Puistola (CAR) is another player who showed in the Helsinki tournament that he is one of the top players on this team. I have a hard time splitting him and Kristian Tanus up because they have always had great chemistry together. Tanus didn’t play in the Helsinki tournament because of an injury, so that is the only real concern here. The two of them grew up playing in the Tappara system together and now they are both loaned to Jukurit, so I would take advantage of that familiarity. The Tanus-Puistola line was my fourth in the previous projection but in all honesty, it could be anywhere from second to fourth – it’s just a matter of personal preference.
I previously had Joonas Oden as the third wheel alongside Puistola and Tanus but I have now replaced him with Aleks Haatanen because of the Helsinki tournament where Haatanen clearly outplayed Oden. They were very close to begin with, so I think that performance is enough to tip the scales. Haatanen is very skilled offensively and he showed he can handle the increased physicality that this level brings despite his vertical limitations. I thought Haatanen deserved to be drafted last summer and nothing has changed in that front, so I’m also hoping he gets to show his talents at the World Juniors.
Roni Hirvonen (2020), Aatu Räty (2021) and Aku Räty (ARZ) played together in the Helsinki tournament, and I think that was the only line that stayed together for all three games. They scored all of Finland’s goals in that tournament, so there’s no real reason to split them up at this point. They were the fourth line in the Helsinki tournament but deserve a small bump up because of their performance. This line could be anywhere from second to fourth in rotation but I think having them playing against weaker competition in the third line could be deadly against some teams. I would also love to see Aatu Räty on the power play but I think there’s too much competition for that to happen. All three were used on the penalty kill in the Helsinki tournament, so they also have that going for them.
Wingers Sampo Ranta (COL) and Samuel Salonen play a reliable two-way game and have big bodies which helps in board-battles against the North American teams. This team doesn’t have a lot of size, so that gives those two an advantage to make the final roster – but they are also pretty good offensive players who deserve a spot nonetheless. Antti Saarela (CHI) showed he can be a good energy line player in the Helsinki tournament, so I put him in the middle on the fourth line. He played at wing in the Helsinki tournament but knows how to play in the middle as well, especially when he’s not expected to generate much offense from there. This line could play long shifts in the offensive zone and tire the opposing players and they could also bring energy to the team by playing a physical style and forcing turnovers – and all three could also be used on the penalty kill.
My 13th forward is Otto Kivenmäki (DET) because I couldn’t leave him off the roster and because he can play at center or at wing. Don’t be too discouraged about that designation, though, because Kivenmäki could easily replace Tanus as the second line center if Tanus continues to struggle and/or doesn’t get healthy. But I don’t see him as a great fit on the fourth line. If the team wanted a more defensive center in this role, their best options would be Ville Petman and Patrik Siikanen (EDM). And if they wanted a winger instead, best options would be Lenni Killinen (CAR), Joonas Oden and Eemil Erholtz. All five of them have played with Finland’s U20 team this season, so there are a lot of options to choose from.
Unfortunately it looks like injuries will keep winger Niklas Nordgren (CHI) outside this team this year, which is also his final chance to play at the World Juniors. Nordgren has a lot of talent but he still hasn’t been able to play a game this season, so it would take a miracle at this point for him to earn a spot on the final roster. UPDATE: Nordgren actually returned to junior league action on Saturday but he hadn’t played in nine months before that, so I still think it would take a miracle for him to be on the final WJC roster – it takes time to get back to full speed after not playing for such a long time.
Wingers Leevi Aaltonen (NYR), Tuukka Tieksola (CAR), Kasper Simontaival (2020) and Veeti Miettinen (2020) as well as centers Henri Nikkanen (WPG) and Juuso Pärssinen (NSH) are also players who appear to be on the outside looking in. But they’re all still eligible for the tournament a year from now.
On defense, Ville Heinola (WPG) is now free to join the team after returning to Finland. The only question remaining is his health – he was injured on Saturday and at this point, we don’t know how serious the injury is. Assuming he’s healthy, there is no doubt about Heinola being the number one defenseman on this team. I partnered him with Lassi Thomson (OTT) who missed the Helsinki tournament because of an injury. Having these two studs on the top pair playing big minutes against the best opposing players seems like a smart thing to do – and I think both will be featured on the top power play unit as well.
Kim Nousiainen (LAK) keeps his spot on the second pair in my projection. He played on the top pair in the Helsinki tournament and was also used on the top power play. With Heinola and Thomson joining the team, Nousiainen’s role gets a bit smaller but he’s still an important piece on this team. I paired him with Topi Niemelä (2020) who played just two games in the Helsinki tournament but spent both of them with Nousiainen on the top pair. Despite his young age, Niemelä is an excellent player at even strength but isn’t expected to play a big role on special teams.
Anttoni Honka (CAR) slides down to the third pair but he should still be a regular on the second power play unit alongside Nousiainen. Honka hasn’t played poorly but Niemelä did outplay him at even strength. Honka is paired with Peetro Seppälä who plays a more defensive role which is perfect because it allows Honka to play his offensive style without having to worry about the defensive game too much.
My fourth pair has two left-handed shots in Toni Utunen (VAN) and Mikko Kokkonen (TOR). Both guys are pretty good puck-movers but will have to play a defensive role on this team, and both of them have shown they are capable of doing that. Both have been dealing with injuries this season but hopefully they’ll stay healthy from now on.
In my October projection, I had Antti Tuomisto (DET) on the third pair but it appears playing in the junior league is too much for the coaching staff to even consider him because he’s never given a chance to prove himself at this level. So even though I still think he deserves a spot, that doesn’t seem likely at all. In fact, I believe Axel Rindell, another offensive defenseman with a right-handed shot, is the first one added to the roster in case one of the offensive defensemen – Heinola, Thomson, Nousiainen or Honka – is unable to go.
And if there were two injuries to those players, they might add Santeri Hatakka (SJS) who somehow got to play an offensive role in the Helsinki tournament without showing a lot of offensive skill at any point. And then there’s of course also Kalle Loponen (TOR) who is playing well in the OHL but doesn’t really have any chance at this point either.
If the team needs to replace one of the other defensemen – Niemelä, Seppälä, Utunen or Kokkonen – then Miska Kukkonen (BUF) could be an option as well. Kukkonen can bring a physical element that this team needs, so I could definitely see him replace Kokkonen for example to get a different type of player – and also to get that perfect balance of having four left-handed shots and four right-handed shots.
In goal, absolutely nothing has changed. Justus Annunen (COL) had a great tournament in Helsinki and is the number one goalie without any doubt. Jasper Patrikainen also played well and deserves the number two spot. The third spot is up in the air but that goalie isn’t expected to see any games anyways, so it’s not that important. I have Joel Blomqvist (2020) there because he’s been the best goalie in the junior league this season and a rock for Finland’s U18 team. But they could also take someone like Roope Taponen for that role because Finland’s U18 team will play at a Five Nations tournament in Switzerland at the same time, so they may want to have Blomqvist there instead.
This is what my projected power play units look like:
The six forwards on the top two lines should also play on the power play, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the lines were kept together in those situations. Maccelli and Tanus would be my choices for running the power play units from the half-wall on the right side – they are both great in that role because of their creativity and passing skills. Lundell and Puistola would play in front of the net and behind the net depending on the situation – both were used in that type of role in the Helsinki tournament as well. They are both strong on their skates and can operate in small spaces very well which allows them to score from there.
Thomson and Honka have great shots which is why they would be the primary options for one-timers on the left side – no forward on this team can really match their shooting ability. Having right-handed shots in Kupari and Haatanen in the middle would add another one-timer option as well. Heinola and Nousiainen would operate on the blue line, making sure the puck gets moved from one side to the other and also that there are no shorthanded opportunities given to the opposing teams. Both are great puck-movers and very good skaters which is important in that role.
All the players who aren’t on the power play are capable of killing penalties, so every player on the roster could be used on special teams which seems to be something that the coaching staff likes to do. And I like that tactic because that allows the best offensive weapons to focus on creating offense instead of tiring themselves on the penalty kill, and it gives some additional ice time for the players who don’t get a lot of it at even strength. My penalty kill units would be:
Heinola and Thomson would play on both special teams because they are the workhorses of the team but their usage there would be limited – the other four would play most of the shorthanded time. Nousiainen and Honka are not really suited for killing penalties, so they wouldn’t have to do that at all.
And that’s all for now, thanks for reading. Feel free to add comments below. Remember to follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.
Main picture courtesy of Leijonat.fi