Team Finland Players to Watch at 2023 WJC

What do Juuse Saros, Jesse Puljujärvi, Teuvo Teräväinen, Sebastian Aho and Patrick Laine all have in common? They are all Finnish players who have had massive World Junior performances that have led to gold medals at the tournament. Now the next generation of high-powered Finnish prospects are ready to take the stage and try to win gold for the first time since 2019 at this year’s World Juniors.

2023 World Junior Championship Guide
2023 World Junior Championship Guide (The Hockey Writers)

At the 2022 Summer tournament, Finland came so close to gold after falling to Canada in overtime. If not for a Mason McTavish goal-line save and Kent Johnson’s overtime heroics, Finland would have been celebrating their fifth gold medal at this storied tournament. Led by 15 NHL-drafted prospects, the Finns will look to exact revenge for last year’s tournament and get the job done this year.

Joakin Kemmell – Right Wing

Nashville’s 2022 first-rounder Joakin Kemmell is expected to have a massive tournament after the performance he put on in the summer for Finland at the 2022 World Juniors. In seven games, he put up 12 points and was named to the All-Star Team. That wasn’t the only international success he had, as during the U18s he recorded eight points in five games, walking away with a bronze medal. He also put up 23 points in 39 games as a 17-year-old during the 2021-22 Liiga season and was named rookie of the year. Some may say it was a pretty good year for the Finnish sniper, as it also led to him being drafted 17th overall.

Related: Nashville Predators Draft Joakim Kemell 17th Overall

After his performance less than six months ago, expectations are high for Kemmell as he will be expected to lead Finland’s offence. He is once again scoring at an impressive clip for an 18-year-old with eight goals in 24 Liiga games and will be the trigger man for the Finns on the power play. There is no doubt he has one of the best shots in the tournament but will need to show off his playmaking skills if Finland wants a chance at gold. There is little doubt he will be a focal point for the opposition, so finding open teammates will be a key to the team’s success.

Brad Lambert – Center

Another returnee to the team, Brad Lambert will be looking to make up for a poor performance in 2022, where he recorded just one goal in five games. This will be his third World Juniors, as he recorded four points in seven games back in 2021, helping Finland to a third-place finish. He has a bronze and silver at this tournament, so he will be motivated to complete the collection with a gold this year.

Lambert has had a slow start to the season in the American Hockey League (AHL), with just three points in 14 games. This World Juniors could be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Winnipeg Jets 2022 first-rounder, as a strong tournament could give him the boost in confidence he needs to kick his play up a notch. A great playmaker, he and Kemmell could cause nightmares for the opposition throughout the competition.

Aleksi Heimosalmi – Defence

The leader of Finland’s blue line is expected to be Carolina Hurricanes’ 2021 second-round pick Aleksi Heimosalmi. During the 2022 tournament, he recorded seven points in seven games, scoring his only goal of the competition in the gold-medal game. During the tournament, he was also able to demonstrate how reliable he is in his own end at even strength, as he finished with a plus-4 plus/minus rating while playing over 20 minutes in most games.

Related: Guide to 2023 World Junior Championship

So far this season, Heimosalmi has been solid in Liiga, playing for Ässät with 12 points in 25 games. He also comes into the 2023 World Juniors with points in five of his last seven games. Look for him to be in the 22-25 minute range per night as he is projected to play in all situations for the Finns.

Aron Kiviharju- Defence

Normally at the World Juniors, the discussion revolves around drafted players or those in their draft year. That is not the case for Aron Kiviharju, as he is not eligible until the 2024 NHL Draft. The 16-year-old defender is the youngest player in the tournament, but he will be worth watching as he has the potential to be the next great Finnish defenceman.

Kiviharju is already a star in the Finnish U20 league and has also seen ice time in Liiga this season. The question going into the tournament, however, is how much he will actually play. While he may start off the tournament being the low-minute man on the blue line, he is a player that could see his ice time elevated throughout the event to the point where he is up in the 18-20 minute range by the end of the competition.

Niko Huuhtanen – Right Wing

Niko Huuhtanen has the potential to be the breakout star of the tournament. Drafted by Tampa Bay in the seventh round of the 2021 NHL Draft, the winger has 16 points in his first 24 games this season with Jukurit of Liiga and is coming off a 77-point campaign with the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League (WHL). He is a strong, two-way forward that can rack up goals, so don’t be surprised if he sees time on the power play for Finland.

Related: 2023 World Junior Championship: Team Finland Final Roster

Another reason why Huuhtanen could have a massive tournament is that he is not afraid to shoot the puck. He has 10 shots in his last two games in Liiga and has registered 10 and 14 shots in games this season. Not many people will be talking about him prior to the start of the tournament but do not be surprised if he steps up for Finland.

Never Count Finland Out

There is something about the way Finland plays that makes them so dangerous at these types of tournaments. Although they are not the tournament favourite, it is hard to bet against them going on a run and potentially capturing gold. They are a solid team, top to bottom and should once again be a difficult out at the 2023 World Juniors.

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