It was quite a disappointing World Championship tournament for the Finnish team. Not only did they lose in the quarterfinals to the hosting team Czech Republic – exiting without chances to play for a medal, they also had to face a tough loss in their first tournament game against Team USA with a score of 1-5. Meanwhile though, Pekka Rinne set a new world championship shutout record when he was not allowing a single goal in over 237 minutes. But this remarkable record was overshadowed by the early exit of the Finnish Lions.
However, two NHL teams watching the Finnish games had reasons to be impressed. The Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators both had prospects suiting up for Team Finland. In 2012 the Stars have drafted defender Esa Lindell in the third round and signed him to an entry level contract. One year later the Predators selected goaltender Juuse Saros with their fourth round pick. Both players have impressed with their good performance at the tournament as well as in the Finnish Liiga. With Pekka Rinne as their starting goalie it was clear that Saros will see only limited ice time but came up big in his lone start when he shut down Team Slovakia and stopped all 22 shots and made sure he was named the best player of the game. Esa Lindell was the most productive Finnish defender in the tournament and impressed with 6 points in 8 games.
Where is Esa Lindell playing next year?
Lindell had a break out season this year with Ässät Pori in Finnish Liiga. He notched 35 points in 57 games and was the most productive defender in his team. In fact it was a great season for the young Finnish blueliner. The Pekka Rautakallio Award, given to the best Defenseman of the league, was handed out to Esa Lindell and he was also selected into the Liiga All-Star Team. The last young Finnish defenseman who won this award together with an All-Star Team selection was Anaheim Ducks Sami Vatanen. Lindells strong season was noticed by his NHL Team and therefore he joined the Texas Stars for 5 games where he managed to get one assist before joining his home country Finland to participate in the World Championship. He seems to be ready for the next step, meaning most probably AHL with maybe few first NHL-games in Dallas.
Really impressed by the jobs that Esa Lindell and @johnklingberg did at the WCs.
— Geoffrey U. (@thepsychogeoff) May 15, 2015
Lindell is a towering defenseman listed at 6’3 and 198 lbs. He uses his big body perfectly to neutralize attackers along the boards and is effective in corner battles. His long reach helps him to protect the puck very well and keep forecheckers away from the puck. His understanding of the game is decent and he likes to join rushes and get involved offensively. He possesses a hard and accurate pass and has an ability to take a not so good pass and continue break out rushes with high speed while still handling the puck well.
20 year old Dman Dallas prospect Esa Lindell had a solid Worlds. 2nd in TOI among Finns (Barkov 1), 6 pts in 8 games, top 3 player by coach.
— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) May 16, 2015
Juuse Saros might be the next Finnish goalie in Nashville
There is no doubt Finland is one of the elite goaltender factories and therefore it isn’t surprising there are several Finnish starters on NHL level. One next Finnish goalie prospect who might soon cross the pond and give it a try is 20 year old Juuse Saros. The Predators haven’t signed their goalie prospect so far and one of the reason might be the lack of size. He is smallish at 5’11 but this is more or less the only concern the Predators should have. Saros is only 20 years of age but has already played over 90 games in Liiga plus exhibition games with the Finnish national team as well as one game at the 2015 World Championship where he recorded a shutout. He impresses with his athleticism and agility and is one of the better European goalie prospects but his size is still a big concern and might keep the Predators away from signing him!
There was one other Finnish player who might have drawn some interest to NHL teams with his good performance. Joonas Donskoi had 8 points in the tournament. His name might ring a bell to some Florida Panthers fans. He was drafted by them back in 2010 and is now a Free Agent. He had a great season with Kärpät in Liiga and was chosen the playoff MVP. His stock will probably keep rising and some Finnish experts are seeing him as one of few players in Liiga who has NHL potential. He brings good energy to the ice and is very strong on his skates. Has good stickhandling skills and plays a good two-way game. He plays a North American style of game and it will be interesting to see if any team signs the Free Agent in the coming summer to add size.
Independent Scout covering European Hockey and Prospects for TheHockeyWriters. Located in Switzerland and blogging on www.scouting-factory.blogspot.com. Opinions on blog are my own