Just a couple weeks from the announcement of the first 16 players for the Team Finland World Cup roster, and there are certainly spots up for grabs still.
The Finns — both on offense and defense — have a strong group at the top of the roster and it thins out very quickly, with prospects, European league players and even a couple of draft eligibles vying for roster spots.
The players who Finnish management should announce on Mar. 2, when every team is required to announce their first 16 players, including two goaltenders, are marked in bold.
Jussi Jokinen – Aleksander Barkov – Patrik Laine
Leo Komarov – Mikko Koivu – Teemu Pulkkinen
Mikael Granlund – Valtteri Filppula – Joonas Donskoi
Teuvo Teravainen – Jori Lehtera – Mikko Rantanen
Potentials: Sebastian Aho, Lauri Korpikoski, Jesse Puljujarvi, Tuomo Ruutu
The Finnish forward group — Selanne-less for the first time in eons — thins out quickly and is probably going to need a few of the young Finnish NHLers to step up and pose an offensive threat.
The big surprise may come in the form of a player or two who was a part of Finland’s gold medal team at the 2016 World Junior Championship. My money is on 2016-draft eligible Patrik Laine getting a crack at the roster. However, Sebastian Aho, who is a year older, would be a good pick as well. Both have recently played for the Finnish team in friendlies leading up to the 2016 World Championship. If they make that roster — and they could — they will be the youngest players on that team in a very long time.
Laine could get the roster spot because he sports some nice size and has been successful playing in Finland’s top league this season. He increasingly looks like he’ll pass Jesse Puljujarvi to be selected second overall at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
There are some of the usual suspects for Finland, but expect Aleksander Barkov to take on a larger leadership role and for some of the other younger players to see an opportunity to prove themselves.
Mikael Granlund is an interesting case. He’s good enough to be on the roster, but he’s had a rough season with the Minnesota Wild. Getting him off of face-offs and focused on scoring may help get him rolling again. Though, it won’t be lost on Finnish management that he was explosive at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He’s going to get a shot to shine.
Olli Maata – Sami Vatanen
Jyrki Jokipakka – Rasmus Ristolainen
Esa Lindell – Juuso Hietanen
Potentials: Julius Honka, Lasse Kukkonen, Petteri Lindbohm, Atte Ohtamaa, Ossi Vaananen.
The Finnish defense is a little like the offense. There are some real strong pieces, but it thins out quickly. Guys like Julius Honka or Petteri Lindbohm have a chance of working their way onto the roster, but the team may round out the last couple of spots with some guys from outside the NHL, like KHLer Juuso Hietanen.
That may just be a question of experience. The Finnish blue line figures to be very young. Among the players who would seem to be near the top of the list are Olli Maata (21), Rasmus Ristolainen (21), Esa Lindell (21), Ville Pokka (21), Sami Vatanen (24) and Jyrki Jokipakka (24).
Even the cusp guys skew pretty young, like Honka (20) and Linbohm (22). With that in mind it’s easy to see how management may want a couple of guys with a little more international experience on the roster, opening the door for Hietanen, Lasse Kukkonen, Atte Ohtamaa or Ossi Vaananen to grab a roster spot. This will be an interesting decision for management and may tell us a lot about the how they’re thinking about the team.
No matter what direction they go, it would appear with the group listed above — and that excludes 2016 draft eligible Olli Juolevi, who could be a special defender in the not too distant future — that the Finnish blue line has a bright future in best-on-best play.
Potentials: Joonas Korpisalo, Kari Lehtonen, Antti Raanta, Juuse Saros.
The first two are locks, but that third spot will be fiercely contested. Antti Niemi has had the best of Kari Lehtonen in their competition for ice time with the Dallas Stars, but Lehtonen has started to steal some starts away from his countryman.
Joonas Korpisalo has been impressive coming in to replace the injured Sergei Bobrovsky in Columbus, but remains an outside chance at a roster spot.
The one who could surprise and get the job is Antti Raanta. His .902 save percentage doesn’t look great right now, but a few good starts in this small a sample could really turn the tables.
More World Cup Roster Projections:
Team Canada World Cup Roster Projection
Team Czech Republic Roster Projection
Team Europe World Cup Roster Projection
Team North America World Cup Roster Projection
Team Russia World Cup Roster Projection
Team Sweden World Cup Roster Projection
Team USA World Cup Roster Projection