After a gold medal victory at the 2019 IIHF World U20 Junior Hockey Championship, Team Finland is coming back looking for a consecutive first-place finish. If they can pull it off, it will be the first time since Canada’s five-year run from 2005-2009 that a team has won back-to-back World Juniors Championships.
Finland will be coming back with another stellar lineup in the tournament and will be a legitimate threat to win it all again. They will be bringing in numerous NHL prospects as well as a handful of draft-eligible players in the coming drafts. This will likely even include a projected first-overall pick in 2021.
It won’t be an easy road for Finland, as they’ll face off against a Pool A consisting of Switzerland, Sweden, Slovakia and Kazakhstan. That being said, this is likely to be a strong Finnish team and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them win their sixth World Juniors gold medal.
Last year, the Fins benefitted from Buffalo Sabres promising prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukonen. Through the tournament, he held a 1.80 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. Whoever takes over the net this time around will have some big pads to fill.
The number one goalie seems like a lock in my eyes. Colorado Avalanche prospect Justus Annunen has been on fire to start the 2019-20 season, playing with Kärpät in the top-Finnish league, the Liiga. That success, combined with his past with the national team (gold medal at the 2018 World U18 Hockey Championship) should see him as the starter for the World Juniors. He was solid at the U20 Four Nations Tournament and should continue that in the World Juniors.
Very likely to be right behind him is goaltender Jasper Patrikainen. He’s looked good internationally, but Annunen has remained at least one full step ahead. Patrikainen doesn’t look like he’s an NHL prospect at this point but remains a promising young goalie in the Finnish leagues. He’s coming off of a season where he was awarded the best goalie int he Jr. A SM-Liiga, but he’s struggled this season. Still, he looks like Finland’s backup at this point.
Based on Finland’s camp roster, it looks like OHL netminder Kari Piiroinen will fill in that third spot. The Windsor Spitfires’ goalie has played for Finland numerous times, including the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup and the 2019 World U18 Hockey Championship. He hasn’t been having the greatest season in Windsor statistically, but he’s helping his team put up the wins.
One goaltender held off the camp roster is 2020 draft-eligible Joel Blomqvist. A top-three eligible netminder ahead of the draft, it’s very likely that he’ll be in the net for the 2021 and 2022 World Junior Championships. Still, I found it surprising that he wasn’t invited to camp. Instead, Blomqvist should be playing at the U18 tournament held at the same time.
Finland’s defence corps is something to behold. They are going to have one of the toughest, deepest defensive units at the World Juniors. This is a puck-moving group that is heavy on future NHL talent – one of whom has already had a taste of the big leagues.
Team Finland’s defense, and arguably the team, should be led by Winnipeg Jets’ defender Ville Heinola. Heinola was just drafted back in the 2019 NHL Draft by the Jets and shocked many by making the roster right away. He didn’t eclipse nine games as to not burn a year of his contract, before being sent to the AHL and then heading back to Finland. He should be the team’s number one defender and potentially the team captain.
It’s very likely that Heinola will be joined by a few other 2019 draftees. These players are Ottawa Senators’ Lassi Thomson, Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mikko Kokkonen, Carolina Hurricanes’ Anttoni Honka, Vancouver Canucks’ Toni Utunen, and Los Angeles Kings’ Kim Nousiainen.
All of them should have very good chances to make the squad, making it a stacked all-NHL drafted defensive corps. One very intriguing player to keep an eye on is Topi Niemelä. The defenseman is eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft and is a player that could be a fixture of the bottom four.
Heinola, Honka, and Utunen should all be returning players after helping the team to gold last year. Other defensemen that could make the team are Santeri Hatakka, Miska Kukkonen, Alex Rindell, and Peetro Seppälä.
Moving up to the forward’s, Finland will be boasting a few more NHL prospects, but one player on the team’s preliminary camp roster that stands out as the most intriguing is a 2020 Draft-eligible player that might not even play. There’s also a player eligible in for the 2021 NHL Draft that I can’t see not making the team. It should be an exciting camp to follow.
That 2020 player to follow is Anton Lundell. On Nov. 23, it was announced that the highly-touted prospect would be out six weeks with an injury – which would take him out of the World Juniors. Yet, he’s on Finland’s camp roster. If he’s healthy, he would likely be the team’s number one centre in his second year in the tournament. If he has to sit out, it will be a big blow to the group. Luckily for them, they have lots of talent upfront.
The 2021 draft-eligible prospect is someone that hockey fans will start to get to know very well. Aatu Räty should be making his first of potentially three appearances at the World Juniors. He’s the early projected number-one pick of the 2021 NHL Draft and his talent should be on display in these World Juniors.
Roni Hirvonen is another draft-eligible prospect for 2020 who has a shot at the squad. As for players already drafted, another Kings prospect in Rasmus Kupari should be one of the catalysts in this lineup. Kupari is a returning player from last year’s squad, along with the defensemen previously mentioned and Lundell.
He’s joined by Carolina Hurricanes’ Patrik Puistola (if healthy – he recently took a nasty hit and was stretchered off the ice) and Lenni Killinen, Arizona Coyotes’ Aku Räty (brother of Aatu) and Matias Maccelli, Colorado Avalanche’s Sampo Ranta, Chicago Blackhawks Anti Saarela and Niklas Nordgren, New York Rangers’ Leevi Aaltonen, Edmonton Oilers’ Patrik Siikanen, Detroit Red Wings’ Otto Kivenmäki, and Jets’ Henri Nikkanen.
Other forwards who could make the team are Eemil Erholtz, Aleks Haatanen, Joonas Oden, Mikko Petman, Ville Petman, Samuel Salonen, and Kristian Tanus.
The Bottom Line
Finland has become a hockey hotbed and that has been proven through international competition. Over the last year alone, Finland won the 2019 World Juniors, the 2019 Men’s World Championships and won a controversial silver at the 2019 Women’s World Championships. Coming into the 2020 World Juniors, it’s safe to say that Finland has a mentality of “gold-or-bust.”
That being said, the group is seeing a large number of players ageing out, which is normal for the U20 tournament. Still, losing players like tournament points-leader Aleksi Heponiemi, as well as Kaapo Kakko, Eeli Tolvanen, Urho Vaakanainen, Henri Jokiharju, and goaltender Luukkonen leave big holes. This group will need to be ready to play if they want to replicate the success from a year ago.
One of the biggest questions on this roster is Lundell. If healthy, he should be a star in this tournament and Finland’s lineup. If he’s absent, other centremen like Aatu Räty and possibly Kristian Tanus will need to step up in his place.
This Finnish squad should have a very good chance of replicating their success from a year ago.
Here is THW’s prediction as to who makes the final 23-man roster for Finland:
Goaltenders: Justus Annunen, Jasper Patrikainen, Kari Piiroinen
Defence: Ville Heinola, Anttoni Honka, Mikko Kokkonen, Topi Niemelä, Kim Nousiainen, Lassi Thomson, Toni Utunen
Forwards: Aleks Haatanen, Roni Hirvonen, Rasmus Kupari, Anton Lundell, Matias Maccelli, Joonas Oden, Patrik Puistola, Sampo Ranta, Aatu Räty, Aku Räty, Anti Saarela, Samuel Salonen, Kristian Tanus
All the 2020 World Junior Championship Team Information:
*Links to come throughout December
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Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.