Finland kicked off their August schedule at the 2022 World Junior Championship (WJC) with a 6-1 victory over Latvia on Tuesday. The score wasn’t indicative of the play on the ice, though, as the Latvians for the most part contained the skill of the Finns until the latter stages of the third period.
Even though Finland led 4-0 going into the final frame, the game never really felt like one team was supremely better than the other. Latvia had their share of scoring chances, but ultimately it came down to finishing and the Finns clearly have way more of that particular skill with several first and second-round picks dotting the roster. On the strength of goals by Joakim Kemell (2), Brad Lambert, Roni Hirvonen, Kasper Puttio and Aatu Raty, they eventually overwhelmed the Latvians and now have their first win of the rescheduled tournament. With all that said, here are three takeaways from the game.
Maple Leafs Fans Should Get Excited About Hirvonen
If Toronto Maple Leafs fans are not excited about Hirvonen yet, they should get on the hype train right now. The former second-round pick (59th overall) in 2020 was electric all game long as he recorded a goal and three points including a pin-point pass on a goal that never counted after Topi Niemela hit the crossbar.
While Hirvonen isn’t always the flashiest player on the ice, the 5-foot-9 forward knows how to play with star forwards (like Kemell and Raty). His playmaking is also off the charts, as he expertly set up Kemell on a 2-on-1 and Puutio for a one-timer on the 6-1 goal. He, of course, also made that ridiculous pass that never counted as an assist when Niemela kissed the crossbar. For a team that is filled with prolific goalscorers in Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, that should bode well for his future as he likely will line up alongside one of those guys in the NHL at some point.
Kemell & Lambert Shine After Falling in 2022 Draft
At one time or another, Kemell and Lambert were both touted as top-10 picks for the 2022 Draft. When the dust settled on July 8, that wasn’t the case as the former fell to 17th (Nashville Predators) and the latter to 30th (Winnipeg Jets). Yes, it was against a lower-ranked team in Latvia, but Kemell and Lambert both showed signs of being those prospects that many saw as high-end selections as early as last year.
Kemell showcased his shot and goalscoring abilities with two goals and five shots and Lambert added a goal on a one-timer set up by Ottawa Senators draft pick Roby Järventie. Kemell benefited from being on a line with Hirvonen, but watching him, you can see why he will be a 30-goal scorer with the Predators one day as his shot is clearly NHL-ready.
Raty Looking More Like a Steal Every Day
Since being selected all the way down in the second round in 2021, Raty has just continued to prove that was a mistake. With 13 goals and 41 points in 47 games in the Finnish Liiga and another seven goals and 20 points at various international tournaments in 2021-22, the New York Islanders appear to have a steal on their hands. Already with four points at the summer WJC, this might just be his coming-out party as he prepares to make his debut in the NHL.
Having already broken ground at the pro level with the Bridgeport Soundtigers in the Calder Cup Playoffs where he had four points in six games, Raty could be ready to compete for a roster spot on the Islanders as soon as next month. A continued strong showing at this year’s summer tournament could be exactly the tonic that he needs to make that dream happen.
Next Up For Finland
Finland’s next matchup comes in the form of Czechia, who took down Slovakia 5-4 on a late third-period goal by Gabriel Szturc in the opening game of the tournament. They will have to contend with the likes of 2022 first-round picks David Jiricek and Jiri Kulich, who both looked exceptional throughout.
The Czechs will definitely be more of a challenge, so the Finns will have to harness the energy and dominance they showed late in the third against Latvia in order to come away with their second-straight win. The puck drops on Aug. 11 at 2 pm ET on NHL Network in the United States and TSN in Canada.
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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.