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 just finished his rookie season with the Florida Panthers where he had 18 goals and 44 points in 65 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 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 had a heck of a season in the Liiga with Karpat where he finished with a sparkling 1.32 goals-against average (GAA) and .940 save percentage (SV%) along with five shutouts. He also played well in the playoffs with a 1.10 GAA and .950 SV%, even though his team got eliminated in seven games. 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 3.29 GAA and .891 SV% in 53 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 was solid in the Liiga last season would be a massive understatement. With 10 goals and 32 points in 48 games, he was 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 did not rip up their respective leagues last season, but if Puutio can replicate what he has done in the previous tune-up tournaments, he might surprise everyone when it comes to offence.
Forwards: All-Around Skill With a Dash of Stardom
Without the services of Lundell, Joakim Kemell will the headliner of Finland’s offence. Surprisingly selected all the way down at 17th overall by the Nashville Predators at the recently completed 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 and finished the 2021-22 season with 15 goals and 23 points in 39 games. He also starred at the 2022 U18s where he potted six goals.
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.
Also, don’t sleep on Raty, who clearly played with a chip on his shoulder last season. Dropping all the way down to the New York Islanders at 52nd overall in the 2021 Draft, 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 had seven goals and 20 points in 11 games and ripped it up with Jukurit as well where he had 13 goals and 40 points in 41 games. Clearly, he wanted everyone to know that he should not have been a second-round pick.
Finland Will Be a Medal Contender
Finland may not be as strong offensively as Canada, Sweden, 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 and Canada with Sebastian Cossa, 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 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 Canada||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team USA||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Austria||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Czechia||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Finland||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Germany||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Sweden||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Switzerland||Players to Watch||Roster|
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Matthew Zator is the assistant managing editor at THW and a writer who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.