With the Liiga on Christmas break, let us turn our attention to the upcoming World Junior Championship tournament that is set to begin on Dec. 26th in Buffalo.
Team Finland was a dumpster fire last year, barely avoiding relegation and firing their head coach in the middle of the tournament. The year before that, they won gold. What to expect from this years team then? I think we will see team Finland in the finals battling against USA or Sweden for the gold.
On paper this is one of, if not the strongest team Finland has ever had in this tournament. Head coach Jussi Ahokas did not go all in with offence when he compiled this years roster. There were more offensively talented players left out of the roster, like Jesperi Kotkaniemi, in favour of more defensively responsible players. Then again, this is the way Finland has built its roster for ages.
Here is the preliminary roster of the Finnish U20 team from Eliteprospects.
The strength of this years team lies in their defense corps. With first round NHL draft picks Miro Heiskanen, Olli Juolevi, Henri Jokiharju and Juuso Välimäki patrolling the blueline, the Finns are set down low. They also have one of the best goal scorers of the tournament in Eeli Tolvanen.
The trio of Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Niilo Halonen and Lassi Lehtinen should provide solid goaltending for the Finns. Luukkonen seems to be the one-A going in to the tournament. The second round pick of the Buffalo Sabres was with the Finn’s Championship U18 team that won gold back in 2016. Halonen and Lehtinen enter the tournament as 1B options, ready to challenge Luukkonen.
Halonen was the third goalie on the same U18 team in 2016. When Leevi Laaksonen got ill, Halonen became the number two goalie on the team. Even though he did not play a game on the tournament, the play style of the narrower rink is something that Halonen is familiar with.
Lehtinen is currently playing in Mestis, which is the tier two mens league in Finland. Last season in junior-A, he received awards for the best goalie and the best player in the league.
One concern is the depth on offence. Finland should be able to keep the pucks out of their own net, but will they be able to score enough to keep them in the race against opponents like USA, Sweden, Canada and Russia?
Niklas Nordgren had a 7-point performance (1 G, 6A) as HIFK U20 beat Sport 12-2 today. The skilled and instinctive RW has a good chance to be one of the first Finnish forwards picked in the #2018NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/4Y144wwAdk— Finnish jr hockey (@FINjrhockey) 9. joulukuuta 2017
Niklas Nordgren has eight goals and 26 points in 18 games for the season with the HIFK U20 team. The Helsinki native leads the Finnish U20 league for first time draft-eligible players in primary points-per-game (1.0).
'00 F Matias Maccelli will be joining #USHL's @fightingsaints according to @Kiekkoareena. They already have one Finnish forward in Jets pick Santeri Virtanen and add another good one. https://t.co/txSza7JvIE— Finnish jr hockey (@FINjrhockey) 20. joulukuuta 2017
One of the top Finnish prospects for the 2019 NHL entry draft, Matias Maccelli is moving to USHL Dubuque Fighting Saint for the rest of the season.