In the past nine years at the U20 World Hockey Championships, Canada, the United States, and Finland have all won three gold medals and none in consecutive years. In the past 10 years, a myriad of talented Finnish players have found a home in the NHL, and if you look at the 2022 version of Team Finland, there are more on the horizon. This year’s Finnish squad is again the prototypical roster fully laden with speed, agility, and skill with the ability to move the puck quickly and transition in a seemingly effortless fashion. They will once again challenge for a podium place and indeed have the tools to claim their fourth gold medal since 2014. Let’s take a look at three of these forwards in more depth, two of whom are highly touted 17-year-old who are both possible top-10 selections in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.
With the goal of improving on last year’s bronze medal, the 2022 version of Team Finland is solid on the blue line with the return of last year’s Top Defenseman at the tournament and Toronto Maple Leafs’ draft pick Topi Niemelä. The team has two strong options in goal with Joel Blomqvist (Pittsburgh Penguins) likely to see a majority of the action. But it’s up front where the Finns are considerably stronger than last year and should be a problem for the teams in their pool. That was until Aatu Räty, a second-round selection of the New York Islanders, recently tested positive for Covid-19. Regardless, the depth of this team will allow it to recover from this disappointing news. So, here are the three forwards I think you should be paying attention to throughout this year’s championship. I think they are all going to have an impact on the success of this team and their search for another medal.
Roni Hirvonen – 2020: Toronto Maple Leafs (59th Overall)
In the 2020 Draft, the Maple Leafs selected Roni Hirvonen in the second round and acquired a 5-foot-9, 165-pound left-handed forward. However, this undersized centre, who has been used on the wing by HFK Helsinki in the Finnish Elite League (SM-Liiga), plays bigger than his frame would indicate. He is a playmaker who plays a physical game as his numbers at the 2020 World Junior Championship indicate.
In seven games, Hirvonen had six points – two goals and four assists – combined with 18 penalty minutes. Those are impressive numbers, which indicate a high level of intensity, and his return to this year’s tournament should see those numbers increase. In SM-Liiga this season, he has accumulated 16 points on six goals and 10 assists and is consistently included on the team’s top two forward lines.
Related Article: Maple Leafs Prospects Will Play Big Roles at 2022 World Juniors
In the upcoming tournament, Hirvonen will be the team’s captain and is expected to carry his share of the scoring and power-play duties. With his physicality for a slightly smaller forward, he will be a notable player that the opposition will have to prepare for and should be among the tournament’s top scorers as Finland looks to make another deep run this year.
Joakim Kemell – 2022 Draft Eligible
The youngest player on this year’s Finnish roster, Joakim Kemell, is the entire package. The 5-foot-11 highly-skilled forward is currently ranked in the top-10 of every prospect website out there and in the top-3 of most. If you don’t notice this kid during the tournament, you’re simply not paying attention. In 21 games for JYP in SM-Liiga this season, the 17-year-old has already scored 12 goals in 21 games, and with 25 games left to play, he is currently on pace to score 26 goals. Compare that to Patrik Laine, who had 17 goals in the same number of games in his draft-eligible year, and that alone gives him immediate and legitimate credibility.
Kemell is an open-ice threat on offence as soon as he touches the puck. He loves to rush the puck but also possesses a soft delicate passing touch and can hit the tape anywhere inside the blue line. A bigger asset is his shot, and he has been consistent at every level of play, including this year in Liiga, where he is a regular on JYP’s first power-play unit. His playmaking ability and willingness to unleash his loud one-timer make him a constant threat for goalies. He is also a trustworthy defensive player who plays the entire length of the ice and will be present in every late-game situation.
Brad Lambert – 2022 Draft Eligible
Brad Lambert is a 6-foot, 180-pound right-handed forward who, like Kemell, is also in most prognosticators’ top-10 draft-eligible players’ lists. He turns 18 years old one week prior to the tournament and is a returning player who should find himself on the scoresheet more often than the one goal and three assists he scored in last year’s bronze medal run.
His size and versatility, combined with his ability to skate and move the puck efficiently and effectively, make him a player that will force other teams to pay serious attention. He is a dynamic player with excellent puck handling skills and good offensive instincts who can be very dangerous if given the time and space to move.
You should see plenty of Lambert in this year’s tournament as he is one of Finland’s best players at the centre-ice position. He will see his fair share of power-play time and will be a constant at even strength. This kid has nothing but upside and will be an NHL team’s first-round selection in the 2022 draft.
Team Finland, as one of the dominant countries at this level in the past decade, continues to look to be more than just competitive; they are looking to win. They have the horses to do that again and will be a team that should score on a regular basis. Kemell and Lambert are both top-10 prospects, which suggests depth on a team that has been at the top of the junior hockey world for the past 10 years. These three gentlemen are just my picks to keep an eye on but there are plenty more.
All Your THW 2022 World Junior Championship Coverage
Keith Forsyth is a freelance writer and sports junkie from rural Manitoba who is covering the Winnipeg Jets for The Hockey Writers. Keith loves all sports and is a huge fan of the NFL (Skol Vikings… if you know, you know) and the Montreal Expos (they’re coming back… you watch!). He recently retired from the education world teaching high school, where his greatest passion was coaching young athletes. He brings that same logical, behind the bench type of approach to you as he delivers an insightful look into the NHL and specifically the Jets. For interview requests or content info, follow Keith on Twitter or his social media accounts. They appear under his photo on articles like this one.