With goaltenders Tuukka Rask, Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen finding their ways to the Finnish Olympic roster, chances are that other teams will struggle to score when playing Sweden’s neighbor to the East. But that isn’t the only strength on Finland’s roster.
The offense, which is led by six-time Olympian Teemu Selanne, stands to be a powerful force that complements the steady goaltending. Combined with the two strengths, Finland can expect to win any high-scoring contests.
Included in the offense is Jori Lehtera, a Blues third-round selection, 65th overall, in the 2008 draft. The left winger has spent time in the SM-liiga and the KHL, while also dabbling in seven games for the Peoria Rivermen in the AHL (2008-09). Most recently, the native of Helsinki has spent time with Novosibirsk Siber in the KHL. This season, he has recorded seven goals and 25 assists in 37 games to lead his team with 32 points.
Lehtera, who stands at 6 feet, 2 inches, combines the scoring touch of a power forward and the skill of a crafty center. His abilities could land him in a scoring role with Mikael Granlund or on a checking line with Tuomo Ruutu. If he can provide skill like he did in his shootout move in the 2013 KHL All-Star Game, he will warrant plenty of time in scoring situations.
Says fellow THW writer Mike Poepping:
Lehtera is a very skilled center who makes those around him better. He seems to have a knack for finding the puck and getting it to the open man to put it in the back of the net. His presence on Team Finland will definitely give them a real boost, as it has been said that Lehtera makes those around him much better.
His early years were met with some skepticism as Lehtera was labeled a “puck hog” and sometimes a “show boat” but he shut those critics’ mouths by constantly working on his game and leading all Finnish Jr. A players with 66 points in just 24 games in the 06-07 season. He could’ve been an instrumental part of their 2007 World Juniors team, but was sidelined due to injury. He’s been playing with a chip on his shoulder ever since, and can be expected to make the most of his chance to play for an Olympic medal.
The Finns easily have the best goaltending in the entire tournament. It will be difficult to contest with the likes of Rask and Co., so opposing teams will just have to pile it on offensively. The Finns have plenty up front to score timely goals, as Selanne, Olli Jokinen and Valtteri Filppula have all proven to be international dynamos in the past.
The weakest part of Finland’s game will be their defense as Sami Salo and Kimmo Timonen lead a group of youngsters and non-NHLers into the tournament. But with the aforementioned goaltenders, an average defense can still get the job done.
Battling the likes of Russia, Canada and the U.S. will prove to be troublesome, but if anyone is to upset the favorites for a medal, it is likely the always opportune Finnish roster.
Many analysts are leaning towards Finland sneaking into medal contention as the dark horse of the tournament. Their goaltending presence has got to be tops overall in the Olympics, with Team USA and Team Canada following closely behind, but up front they may have some holes. Mikko Koivu will be a game-time decision to make the roster after being placed on the IR recently, and aging stars such as Teemu Selanne and Tuomo Ruutu may not be as effective on the large international ice.
I think that Finland does have a very good shot at a medal, but it will all depend on how their defense holds up against the world’s best, and if they can find the back of the net consistently on offense. Ultimately, I think they will find themselves on the outside looking in and finish around fifth overall, but they could very well sneak a bronze medal so don’t count them out.
Be sure to check out the other parts of this series highlighting the Blues heading to Sochi: