Prospect Ramblings: Team Finland WJC Thoughts

by Jokke Nevalainen on December 31, 2018

 

It’s the final day of 2018, and that means the only thing worth discussing right now is what’s happening at the World Juniors. The games are played at a terrible time for us Finns because the first games start at 11 PM whereas the last games start at 5:30 AM. Because of that, I’ve only seen a few games. Finland is the only team I’ve seen more than once, so I’m going to focus on them.

 

Forwards

 

After two games and one period, Finland finally made the line change everyone was expecting, moving Linus Nyman to the top line alongside Rasmus Kupari (LAK) and Aleksi Heponiemi (FLA), and putting Eeli Tolvanen (NSH) with the two 17-year-old stud prospects Kaapo Kakko (2019) and Anton Lundell (2020).

 

Tolvanen is better than Nyman but there’s only one puck on the ice. There wasn’t enough touches for Tolvanen because Kupari and Heponiemi play together so much. Kupari and Heponiemi have amazing chemistry, so you don’t need a guy like Tolvanen on that line.

 

Kakko and Lundell are very talented players as well but their style is a much better fit with Tolvanen. Kakko will likely go in the top two next summer, and Lundell has looked like a top five pick for a while now. A lot of people outside of Finland have been sleeping on Lundell but he’s legit, and I think people have started to notice that now.

 

These new lines are the ones many were expecting to see before the tournament but for whatever reason, the Finnish coaching staff waited a long time before putting them together. I believe these lines will stick until the end of the tournament because of how good both lines looked in the final two periods against Slovakia.

 

The third line that includes Aarne Talvitie (NJD), Santeri Virtanen (WPG) and Jesse Ylönen (MTL) has been working well since game one. They play a solid two-way game and have managed to score some goals as well. There’s no reason to make any changes there.

 

The fourth line is full of players you can ignore for fantasy purposes because it’s very unlikely any of them even reach the NHL.

 

Defense

 

Henri Jokiharju (CHI) has been Finland’s number one defenseman as expected, and he’s been solid so far. He hasn’t done anything super fancy and hasn’t taken over a game so far but he’s been reliable and very good. I think we’ll see a big game from him at some point.

 

Jokiharju has been paired with Ville Heinola (2019) who struggled a bit in the first game against Sweden but he was Finland’s best defenseman in game three against Slovakia. A lot of people are sleeping on him but he’s a talented 17-year-old defenseman who should get drafted in the first round next summer.

 

Urho Vaakanainen (BOS) is still a bit rusty because he hasn’t played much over the past couple of months but I’ve liked how active he is in the offensive zone. A lot of people consider him purely a defensive guy but he has some offensive talent as well.

 

Oskari Laaksonen (BUF) is another player who struggled in the first game but looked much improved in game three. He’s a talented offensive defenseman who still needs to add muscle and improve his defensive game but there’s definitely fantasy upside here. Pairing him with the reliable Vaakanainen has been a good decision.

 

I still can’t get over the fact Finland is using Toni Utunen (VAN) and Otto Latvala on their third pair after sending better players Mikko Kokkonen (2019) and Lassi Thomson (2019) home from camp. They could also fix some of the issues by replacing Latvala with Anttoni Honka (2019) who is currently Finland’s seventh defenseman. Latvala is good on the penalty kill but he’s a bad skater and can’t handle the puck which makes him a liability at even strength.

 

Goaltending

 

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (BUF) has been rock solid in goal for Finland. He will likely play all the remaining games which was the plan all along. I haven’t been a big fan of him in the past but I’m starting to like him a bit more based on his performance this season.

 

It’s absolutely garbage that the Finnish coaching staff has no faith in Lassi Lehtinen who should be the number two goalie for them.

 

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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