2022 World Junior Championship Team Finland Preview

Team Finland has a chance to win a medal every year because of their work ethic and defence-first mentality. Their goaltending is usually pretty good too. Last year they came away with a bronze medal after dispatching Team Russia 4-1 on the back of a pair of goals by Anton Lundell. He finished that tournament with a team-high six goals in seven games and is now starring in the NHL with the Florida Panthers where he has five goals and 11 points in 20 games. Now 20 years old, he will not be returning to help in their medal pursuits this year.

Fortunately for the Finns, they have some intriguing players that could potentially replace his offense and then some. 2022 top prospect Joakim Kemell, who just recently returned from injury, will be a major x-factor in this tournament considering his level of talent and goal-scoring prowess. Kasper Simontaival is also returning and former-first-overall favorite Aatu Raty will be looking to show everyone that they were wrong to overlook him in the 2021 Draft. On defence, they still have Liiga standout Topi Niemela, who won the tournament’s best defenceman last year and their goaltending is nothing to sneeze at with the solid Joel Blomqvist manning the crease.

Related: Guide to the 2022 World Juniors

Even though they don’t have the star power of Lundell, they will have a strong team to challenge for a medal. Let’s take a closer look at them now.

Goaltending: It’s Blomqvist’s Time

Kari Piiroinen was the goaltender of record in 2021, now it’s Blomqvist’s turn. Selected 52nd overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2020 Draft, the calm, cool and collected demeanour of the 19-year-old could frustrate teams trying to score on the pesky Finns. He’s having a heck of a season in the Liiga with Karpat where he has a sparkling 0.44 goals-against average (GAA) and .980 save percentage (SV%) along with two shutouts. Like most Finnish goaltenders, he is rarely out of position, thanks to a very solid technical game. Barring a collapse, he will be the de facto starter for this team.

If Blomqvist falters, it will be Leevi Merilainen picking up the pieces. Selected by the Ottawa Senators in the third round of the 2020 Draft, he could give Blomqvist a run for his money if he gets hot. His 3.22 GAA and .895 SV% in 18 games with the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) don’t scream all-star, but his overall skillset definitely does. At 6-foot-2, he has the frame of an NHL goaltender and his athleticism is something to behold at times. Like Blomqvist, he is also calm in the crease and reads the play very well.

Defence: Topi Niemela Leads the Way…Again

To say that Niemela has been solid in the Liiga this season would be a massive understatement. With five goals and 22 points in 27 games, he is one of the top defencemen in the league and could very well repeat as this tournament’s best yet again. The Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2020 third-rounder is looking like an absolute steal right now where he was drafted. Recently named more untouchable than Nick Robertson and Rasmus Sandin by THW’s own Alex Hobson, he will look to lead the Finns to a medal brighter than bronze this year.

Joining Niemela will be four returnees in Kasper Puutio, Matias Rajaniemi, Ruben Rafkin and Eemil Viro (from ‘World junior 2022 roster projections: Scott Wheeler picks the teams and medals’ The Athletic, 11/11/21). Apart from Rafkin, all of them are NHL draft picks. Unlike Niemela, they are not ripping up their respective leagues, but if Puutio can replicate what he has done in the previous tune-up tournaments, he might surprise everyone when it comes to offence.

As for the remaining spots on the d-core, Vancouver Canucks prospect Joni Jurmo and Seattle Kraken fourth-rounder Ville Ottavainen will probably battle it out for playing time in the top six.

Forwards: All-Around Skill With a Dash of Stardom

One of the biggest pieces of good news that came out of Finland in the last few days was the return of Kemell to JYP’s lineup. After missing a month of action, the 17-year-old phenom was back just in time for the 2022 WJC. Without the services of Lundell, that was probably music to head coach Antti Pennanen’s ears. Ranked to go as high as second overall in the upcoming 2022 Draft, his forechecking prowess and lethal one-timer on the power play will be welcome additions to this year’s squad. Before getting injured, he was leading the Liiga with 12 goals in 18 games.

Joining the stardom of Kemell will be several other threats in Simontaival, Raty, Samu Tuomaala, Ville Koivunen, Samu Salminen and Roni Hirvonen. Without Lundell, Hirvonen will likely take over as the club’s number-one center. He has been a force internationally this year with 12 goals in 11 games and could fly under the radar as a potent source of offence.

Roni Hirvonen Team Finland
Roni Hirvonen of Team Finland (Pasi Mennander / Finnish Ice Hockey Association)

Also, don’t sleep on Raty, who clearly has been playing with a chip on his shoulders in the past few months. Dropping all the way down to the New York Islanders at 52nd overall in July, he has done nothing but rack up the points in the Liiga and for his country since then. In various tournaments throughout the 2021-22 season, he has seven goals and 20 points in 11 games and has been ripping it up with Jukurit as well where he has six goals and 11 points in nine games. Clearly, he wants everyone to know that he is not a second-round pick.

Finland Will Be a Medal Contender

Finland may not be as strong offensively as Canada, Sweden, Russia and the United States, but they still have players that can score when given the chance. Simontaival scored three goals last year behind Lundell, Kemell has intriguing potential as a two-way force and every line will be a threat to score. Their defense is solid enough to withstand waves of attack and their goaltending is better than most. Not as good as Sweden with Jesper Wallstedt, Canada with Sebastian Cossa and Russia with Jaroslav Askarov, but the tandem of Blomqvist and Merilainen should be able to hold their own.

In the end, Finland will have a well-rounded team with a good chance of medaling again this year. They probably won’t be able to upset the likes of Canada, Sweden, Russia or the United States, but they will hang in there. With their work ethic and sound system, it’s best to never count out the pesky Finns. So, with all that said, here is my prediction for who will make the final roster.

THW’s Projected Final Roster for Team Finland

Goaltenders – Joel Blomqvist, Juho Markkanen, Leevi Merilainen

Defence – Joni Jurmo, Topi Niemela, Ville Ottavainen, Kasper Puutio, Matias Rajaniemi, Ruben Rafkin, Eemil Viro

Forwards – Samuel Helenius, Roni Hirvonen, Aatu Jamsen, Roby Jarventile, Oliver Kapanen, Joakim Kemell, Ville Koivunen, Brad Lambert, Eetu Liukas, Juuso Maenpaa, Aatu Raty, Samu Salminen, Kasper Simontaival, Samu Tuomaala

All the 2022 World Junior Championship Team Information:

Team CanadaPreviewRoster
Team USAPreviewRoster
Team AustriaPreviewRoster
Team CzechiaPreviewRoster
Team FinlandPreviewRoster
Team GermanyPreviewRoster
Team RussiaPreviewRoster
Team SlovakiaPreviewRoster
Team SwedenPreviewRoster
Team SwitzerlandPreviewRoster

Guide to the 2022 World Junior Championship

Draft Eligible Players to Watch

One Player to Watch From Each Team

10 Things to Watch For

Breakout Candidates & Sleeper Prospects

Predictions for the 2022 World Junior Championship

Award Contenders and Predictions

Roster Breakdown by NHL Team

Selection Camp Invites by NHL Team

All Your THW 2022 World Junior Championship Coverage