Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images
The World Juniors are the most wonderful time of year. The Holiday tradition of the best junior tournament in the World has a special kind of magic.
Each year the tournament has breakout players that use the tournament to propel their careers towards stardom. In turn, that raises the fantasy value of prospects as well. Just the prestige of making the team for Canada, USA, Russia, Finland, or Sweden can help raise a player’s fantasy stock and ownership.
Indeed, the WJC is a must watch tournament for many reasons. The entertainment value is always a 10/10, the hockey is excellent, and it is an opportunity to watch and scout your favourite players and fantasy prospects.
With that in mind, let’s get ready by reviewing the players that will be in this tournament.
22 players and 3 goalies will travel to Halifax and Moncton for the WJC, representing Finland. The team is pretty different from what it was in Edmonton in August, with just 6 returning players, 5 forwards and only 1 defender. Let’s see a prediction of how they could possibly line up.
Ville Koivunen – Oliver Kapanen – Joakim Kemell
Jani Nyman – Topi Rönni – Brad Lambert
Lenni Hämeenaho – Sami Päivärinta – Niko Huuhtanen
Konsta Kapanen – Jere Lassila – Kalle Väisänen
(Aleksanteri Kaskimäki / Verner Miettinen)
Topias Vilen – Aleksi Heimosalmi
Jimi Suomi – Otto Salin
Aron Kiviharju – Kalle Ervasti
(Aleksi Malinen / Ville Ruotsalainen)
Finland is always a bit of a dark horse in National Team tournaments and recent World Juniors have been a great example of that. While they never seem to have the best individuals, they still manage to play very well together, and show great team spirit. What Finland always has though, is pro experience, and this year’s team has 935 games of it. I will (again) say that the level of Team Finland’s individuals is closer to Czechia than Canada and USA, but they will probably find a way to get to semifinals and grab a medal anyway.
Aleksi Heimosalmi is the only returnee in Finland’s defense, and he’ll be the top blueliner. However, with Topias Vilen having a great season and Otto Salin showing great potential in Liiga level, I don’t think this defense is bad at all. Top 2024 NHL Draft eligible Aron Kiviharju is also an interesting name and he could surprise many people. The rest of the defenders have a solid amount of Liiga games under their belts as well, so they will be pretty experienced at least.
Finland has five returnees in offense and despite the lack of high-quality centers, its offensive unit will be dangerous with a lot of scoring threat. Considering Finland picking so many centers, I’d predict Brad Lambert playing in the wing, and Oliver Kapanen taking on the duties of top center. Kapanen is a good player, however not even close to players like Wright, Fantilli or Cooley. Joakim Kemell would bring a constant scoring threat to the first line, and Jani Nyman would bring that to the second line, where he would line up with Topi Rönni and Lambert. Rönni hasn’t been amazing this year in Finland, but he’s played with Nyman pretty much all their Jr. National Team careers. The rest of the lineup will also be pro-experienced, Niko Huuhtanen and Lenni Hämeenaho being the most notable players from there, along with the returnee Kalle Väisänen.
The most notable omissions for Finland: Miko Matikka (ARZ), who’s currently 2nd in USHL scoring with 32 points in 21 games. Samu Tuomaala (PHI), whose development trend after the draft has been very poor, until his recent stint in Mestis (10 goals and 8 assists in 10 games). Samu Salminen (NJD), who has scored 5 points in 11 NCAA games this season. Kasper Halttunen (2023), who started the season in Liiga, but just couldn’t get his offensive production going and now plays in U20 SM-sarja. If I were to decide, Matikka would’ve been in the team of these 4 players.
Let’s take a closer look at the players on Team Finland
Aku Koskenvuo, Harvard University (NCAA) – Vancouver Canucks (2021, #137)
Koskenvuo only has two games played in Harvard University this season, with 3.56 GAA and .875 %, but I’d still expect for him to be a starter for Finland. However, it’s always tricky with goalies and I think all three get a chance to start at least one game.
Jani Lampinen, Kiekko-Espoo (Mestis) – Undrafted
Lampinen has been solid in Mestis this season, with 2.21 GAA and .909 % in 14 games. I would expect him to be a backup for Koskenvuo, but he will for sure get a chance to show what has to offer.
Niklas Kokko, Hermes (Mestis) – Seattle Kraken (2022, #58)
Like Lampinen, Kokko has also spent the most of the season playing in Mestis. He has 2.88 GAA and .904 % in 12 games for Ketterä. I’m expecting him to be the third string goalie, but he could also get a start against a weaker country.
Kalle Ervasti, Lukko (Liiga) – Undrafted
Ervasti is a well-rounded two-way defenseman, who has also shown some offensive production in U20 SM-sarja in previous seasons. He’s spent the season with Lukko’s Liiga team and has put a few points on the board. I’d predict him being a reliable bottom-pairing defender for Finland in this tournament.
Aleksi Heimosalmi, Ässät (Liiga) – Carolina Hurricanes (2021, #44)
As the only returning defender for the Finns, Heimosalmi will have a big role, probably in 1st pairing and the top power play unit as a blue liner. The mobile, puck-moving two-way defender has played well in Liiga this season and has showed more offensive upside with 12 points in 25 games. He had 7 points in 7 games in WJC in August, and he’s expected to lead Finland’s defense.
Aron Kiviharju, TPS (Liiga) – 2024 NHL Draft
Kiviharju is noticeably the youngest, and the only 2006-born player in the tournament. Many people in the hockey world already know his name as he’s projected to be one of the first picks of the 2024 NHL Draft. Kiviharju should get some solid ice time and could even see some power play minutes in the tournament, and could surprise many on how good he already is. His game is based on great skill, exceptional hockey sense and elite passing ability, but he also defends very well, especially with his stick.
Aleksi Malinen, JYP (Liiga) – NY Islanders (2021, #189)
Malinen’s development curve hasn’t looked very good after he was drafted in 2021, but it’s not a disaster either as he’s been mostly playing with JYP’s Liiga team this season. He’s a mobile skater with solid puck moving skills, and I’d predict him to be fighting for the roster spot with Suomi and Ruotsalainen.
Ville Ruotsalainen, KalPa (U20 SM-sarja) – Undrafted
Ruotsalainen’s selection to the team was a bit surprising for me after only getting a few pro games under his belt before the tournament. However, I haven’t been watching Finland’s exhibition games, so maybe his showings have been strong there. I’ve never actually scouted Ruotsalainen much, as he was never special in any teams he played, but I can say that he’s a smallish, well-rounded defenseman.
Otto Salin, HIFK (Liiga) – LA Kings (2022, #148)
Salin’s development has been looking very positive this season, as he has solidified his spot in HIFK’s Liiga team’s defensive core. The offensive-minded defender has been able to notch 6 points in 23 Liiga games, so there’s certainly room for more offensive production as well. Mobility is Salin’s biggest strength and I’d expected him to make a good appearance in WJC, being a good middle-pairing blueliner for the Finns.
Jimi Suomi, TPS (Liiga) – Undrafted
Suomi has always been one of my favourite undrafted prospects and he still remains that. While I don’t think he has much draft value at this age, I think he should get a chance to play in this tournament. He’s been mostly playing with TPS’s pro team this season. Suomi’s biggest strengths are his excellent skating ability and strong puck skills.
Topias Vilén, Pelicans (Liiga) – NJ Devils (2021, #129)
Previously Vilén always seemed more like a stay-at-home defender, but this season he has brought real solid numbers on the table, as he’s notched 10 points in 21 Liiga games. Vilén’s a real solid puck mover and very reliable defensively, and I’d expect him to play big minutes alongside Aleksi Heimosalmi as the top pairing of Finland.
Niko Huuhtanen, Jukurit (Liiga) – Tampa Bay Lightning (2021, #224)
Huuhtanen was the last pick of 2021 NHL Draft, but has had really solid development since that. After spending the last season with Everett Silvertips in WHL and notching 77 points in 65 games, he returned to Finland to play as a pro for Jukurit. The production’s been real solid, as he has 9 goals and 7 assists in 24 games. It’s interesting to see in which line Huuhtanen will play, but he has potential to score good points in the tournament, as he possesses a very heavy shot. He’s a right-handed power forward with solid offensive toolkit.
Lenni Hämeenaho, Ässät (Liiga) – 2023 NHL Draft
Hämeenaho is an interesting player and the only 2023 draft-eligible for Finland in the tournament. This right-handed winger has scored a solid 13 points in 28 games playing for Ässät’s Liiga team, and has proved that he can already play at the pro level. I don’t expect him to get huge minutes in the team but especially on the power play, his great net-front game could be very useful.
Oliver Kapanen, KalPa (Liiga) – Montreal Canadiens (2021, #64)
Oliver Kapanen has had a pretty strong season with KalPa’s Liiga team with 14 points in 32 games. The cousin of Kasperi Kapanen is a very different kind of player, as he’s a smart, well-rounded center with a responsible two-way game. He’ll likely be Finland’s 1st center with a big role and responsibility and might draw a big attention of lot of new fans.
Konsta Kapanen, KalPa (U20 SM-sarja) – Undrafted
Another Kapanen in the Finnish WJC team? Yep, and it’s now the little brother of Kasperi, and the cousin of Oliver. Konsta is a small winger and like his brother, has very fast feet. He’s mostly spent the season with KalPa’s U20 team, but has also got a few games in both Liiga and Mestis. He’ll have a small role in the team, but could bring some good energy in bottom-6.
Aleksanteri Kaskimäki, HIFK (Liiga) – St. Louis Blues (2022, #73)
Kaskimäki’s D+1 season has been very underwhelming as he’s only been able to produce 2 assists in 20 Liiga games. He’ll be looking to get back on track, but I don’t think he’ll have a very big role in the team and even getting into the lineup might not be easy. Kaskimäki’s a skilled forward with a good offensive toolkit.
Joakim Kemell, JYP (Liiga) – Nashville Predators (2022, #17)
Kemell was Finland’s leading player in Edmonton in August, when they claimed the silver medal. His 12 points in 7 games trailed just Mason McTavish and awarded Kemell a spot in tournament’s all star team. So, it comes as a no surprise that he joins the 2023 tournament as one of the most notable returnees. Kemell’s elite goal scoring ability and strong offensive toolkit make him a possible all-star in second tournament in a row.
Ville Koivunen, Kärpät (Liiga) – Carolina Hurricanes (2021, #51)
After getting drafted in 2021, Koivunen had a great D+1 season with 29 points for Kärpät in Liiga. He was also very good in cancelled World Juniors last December with 4 points in 2 games. However, after the summer Koivunen went scoreless in August’s 6 WJC games, and didn’t get a good role at all. After that, he’s been struggling a bit in Liiga as well, scoring 13 points in 30 games. The intelligent winger could get back on track and redeem his confidence back with good showing in this tournament.
Brad Lambert, Manitoba Moose (AHL) – Winnipeg Jets (2022, #30)
Unfortunately, Lambert’s trend has gone down from all the way his D-1 season, and this season hasn’t been looking that great either. The elite-skating puck virtuoso has only notched 3 points in 14 AHL games and his trend just doesn’t seem to turn upwards. Lambert still has a huge upside and a ton of offensive potential, and it is to be hoped that he could play well in Finland’s top-6 and boost his confidence to get back on track.
Jere Lassila, JYP (Liiga) – Undrafted
Lassila has always been strong playing for Finnish junior national teams, and the U18 Worlds were a good example of that as he notched 8 points in 6 games. After going undrafted in last summer’s draft, he’s been a regular in JYP’s Liiga lineup, mostly playing a bottom-6 role, though. He should be a solid well-rounded depth center for Finland’s bottom-6, but I definitely wouldn’t expect as much production from him as in last spring’s U18 Worlds.
Verner Miettinen, Fargo Force (USHL) – Undrafted
Miettinen was a bit surprising selection for the team, and I couldn’t really find a role for him in the lineup. This playmaking and skilled center has scored 14 points in 18 games this season for Fargo Force in USHL, so maybe he’s kind of a replacement if there are injuries or other absences.
Jani Nyman, Ilves (Liiga) – Seattle Kraken (2022, #49)
Nyman has had a solid D+1 season with Ilves in Liiga, as he’s scored 7 goals and 3 assists in 21 games. He’s a big winger with a great shot, and will probably be a power play force for Finland, along with Kemell. Nyman might be one of the biggest sleepers for Finland, as he’s not as well-known as names like Lambert and Kemell, but has some sneaky scoring potential.
Sami Päivärinta, Lukko (Liiga) – Undrafted
Päivärinta has been splitting the season in Liiga, U20 SM-sarja and Mestis, and hasn’t really produced at men’s levels at all. He won’t have a big role in the tournament, and will likely be a solid depth player for Finland, with ability to play center if necessary.
Topi Rönni, Tappara (Liiga) – Calgary Flames (2022, #59)
Rönni has only played for about a month this season, after he was out for a long time with an injury. He’s been mostly with Tappara’s Liiga team, but also had a couple of U20 SM-sarja games, where he notched 5 points in total. Rönni plays a responsible two-way game but also possesses a solid offensive toolkit, but will probably be relied as a defensive-minded center in this tournament.
Kalle Väisänen, TPS (Liiga) – New York Rangers (2021, #106)
Even though Väisänen is a returnee, I don’t expect him to have a huge role in the tournament. However, he’s a good bottom-line player with his power forward style of play. Väisänen’s been spending the past two seasons mostly with TPS’s Liiga team, but hasn’t really got much responsibility and only has a bunch of points.