Nikkanen is one of the players getting a bigger opportunity in the Finnish Liiga because of the World Juniors.
Most of the players on Finland’s current WJC camp roster are full-time Liiga players which means less-established prospects could get bigger opportunities during the World Junior Championship tournament. This increased opportunity only lasts 5-7 games depending on the team but perhaps these players can force the issue by playing so well that the coaching staff has no choice but to give them a bigger opportunity moving forward as well. Here are some situations that are worth monitoring during that time.
Center Aatu Räty (2021) and winger Aku Räty (ARZ) at the WJC, bigger opportunity for winger Tuukka Tieksola (CAR) and maybe winger Joona Kiviniemi (2020).
The Räty brothers have been ahead of Tieksola for opportunities at the Liiga level but when they’re away, that opens up a juicy opportunity for the talented winger to play a middle-six role with power play time. Tieksola is too good for the junior league at this point but Kärpät is a stacked team, so opportunities have been difficult to get. This might end up being the opportunity he needs.
Kiviniemi has bounced around a bit this season. He started the season with Swift Current Broncos in the WHL, then returned to Finland to play with KeuPa in Mestis, and after five games there, went to the Kärpät organization to play on their junior team. He’s had success there right away, scoring seven points in five games, which may be enough to get a look at the Liiga level if Kärpät are in need of someone who could provide a spark to the team while they’re without the Räty brothers and also dealing with some injuries.
Goalie Justus Annunen (COL) at the WJC, bigger opportunity for Joel Blomqvist (2020).
Annunen is the number one goalie for Kärpät whereas Blomqvist is their number three. They will rely heavily on their number two, Patrik Rybar (DET), to carry them while Annunen is away but Blomqvist could get his first Liiga start during that time – he already made his Liiga debut some days ago when Annunen was dealing with an injury and Rybar got himself ejected from the game.
Winger Matias Maccelli (ARZ) and forward Antti Saarela (CHI) at the WJC, bigger opportunity for winger Roby Järventie (2020).
Maccelli has been a top-six winger for Ilves whereas Saarela has mostly played as their number three center. Järventie has spent most of the season in Mestis but has played a few games in the Liiga as well and hasn’t looked out of place. Normally that would mean a much bigger role for Järventie but Ilves also just signed Ville Meskanen who played in the AHL but terminated his contract with the Rangers recently, so that is going to affect things as well. But Järventie should at least be a full-time Liiga player during this time.
Defenseman Lassi Thomson (OTT) at the WJC, bigger opportunity for Oskari Laaksonen (BUF).
It feels a bit odd to include the older and more-established Laaksonen here but it is a fact that Thomson has been stealing Laaksonen’s minutes this season, especially on the power play. That has clearly affected Laaksonen’s point totals this season but now is his chance to earn those minutes back. I doubt Ilves is going to remove Thomson from their power play but perhaps there’s room for both of them.
Forward Otto Kivenmäki (DET) and winger Lenni Killinen (CAR) at the WJC, bigger opportunity for forward Roni Hirvonen (2020).
Kivenmäki and Killinen have been playing a top-six role for Ässät, and also getting time on the power play. Hirvonen has been mostly on their third line and hasn’t received much power play time. Hirvonen was perhaps the most shocking omission from Finland’s WJC camp roster, so he should be very motivated to prove them wrong. Hopefully he takes this opportunity and earns a top-six role with power play time for the rest of this season.
Center Kristian Tanus (undrafted/2020) at the WJC, bigger opportunity for center Henri Nikkanen (WPG).
Tanus has mostly played as the number three center for Jukurit. Nikkanen started the season in the junior league but has been used as their number four center lately, so this is a nice opportunity for him to earn a bigger role on the team. Tanus was expected to play a top-six role this season, so perhaps they can both move up a line.
Winger Patrik Puistola (CAR) at the WJC, bigger opportunity for winger Kasper Simontaival (2020).
It is still a bit uncertain if Puistola is actually capable of playing at the World Juniors because of his injury but let’s assume he is. When he played with Tappara earlier in the season, he was always on their fourth line. That is why he was loaned to Jukurit for a month where he played very well but now that his loan has expired, he is expected to return to Tappara’s fourth line after the WJC. While Puistola was on loan, Simontaival got some games on Tappara’s fourth line, so that is likely to continue during the WJC. But because Tappara’s head coach refuses to trust any young players, Simontaival’s opportunity won’t be better than that.
Defenseman Kim Nousiainen (LAK) at the WJC, bigger opportunity for Atte Lehikoinen (2021).
This might be a long-shot because Lehikoinen is still just 16 years old and not necessarily ready to make his debut at the Liiga level but Nousiainen has been a top-four defenseman for KalPa and they don’t have much else coming up from their junior system, so I think there is a small chance of this happening.
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