2022 IIHF World Juniors Preview: Finlandby Liz Pendergraft December 18, 2021 0 comments
Looking at Finland’s finalized roster for the 2022 World Junior Championship, we find a few players returning from last year’s bronze medal team. However, they will be without Anton Lundell, who led the team in points in last year’s tournament. This year finds the rosters leaning toward those who are draft-eligible. There are at least ten players looking to put on a performance to show NHL teams what they have to offer.
Last year, Finland defeated Team Russia 4-1 to obtain the bronze, with two of those goals coming from Lundell. Therefore, replacing him is no small task. However, Finland has quite a few tricks to be a formidable foe up its sleeve. Players like Joakim Kemell will be up for the job, as well as Roni Hirvonen and Kasper Simontaival, who were both on the same line with Lundell.
Looking to improve on last year’s bronze medal finish, head coach Antti Pennanen has an arsenal at his disposal on both sides of the ice and in goaltending. Finland has the tools to make a deep run this year; there’s no reason they shouldn’t find themselves with a medal in hand at the end of the tournament.
Make sure to check out all of our other IIHF World Juniors Previews.
Players like Kemell, Hirvonen, and Brad Lambert are the ones fans will need to keep their eyes on. Lambert is one of Finland’s best players at the center position, and he has the ability to move the puck efficiently and effectively. Hirvonen and Lambert should center the top two lines. It would come as a surprise if they didn’t.
They are by no means the only talented forwards but expect them to make it happen for Finland. The depth of the team will be key to Finland’s success this year. The top two lines are ready and set to go, but it takes four lines to stay the course.
In the bottom six, the players are hard to play against and are considered shut-down players. Samuel Helenius and Joel Maatta are possibilities at center, with Kalle Vaisanen providing size and grit. Be on the lookout for Juuso Maenpaa and Sami Paivarinta to bring skill to the bottom six, along with defensive ability.
Thanks to several key players from last year’s team no longer being eligible, Topi Niemela will have to step up this year. However, Niemela is no slouch this season; he’s been solid in the Liiga, racking up six goals and 24 points in 31 games.
Joining him in the top six will be Kasper Puutio, Ruben Rafkin, and Eemil Viro, who are decent players but not as on fire as Niemela is. However, they will have to find that fire if they want to make it back to a medal round and try to capture the gold. Despite his size, Viro is a more physical player thanks to playing against men in the Liiga.
The defense for Finland will de challenging to play against. Their excellent skating ability helps them in their transition game, where they can surprise their opponent with how easily they change from defense to offense.
It’s not surprising that Joel Blomqvist is more than likely to get the nod to be the starting goalie. After not having any playing time in last year’s tournament, it’s time for him to show what he can do. He’s cool, calm, and collected in net and is on point with his technical skills. Blomqvist is currently boasting a 0.73 goals-against average (GAA), a .964 save percentage (SV%), and three shutouts.
If Blomqvist does not get the nod, then it would be Leevi Merilainen as the starter. He’s doing quite well in the OHL with a 3.19 GAA and .897 SV% in 21 games. Juha Jatkola is unlikely to see any action, just like Blomqvist last year. All three goalies may not be the break-out stars in net, but they are players you can trust in net.
Player to Keep an Eye On
Joakim Kemell, 17, Right Wing, JYP (Liiga)/2022 NHL Draft Eligible
Even though he is one of the youngest players on the team, he is quickly showing everyone that he is the complete package. His play this season has revealed why he is a top ten prospect. Kemell is a high-scoring, two-way winger who is a threat the moment he enters the offensive zone.
He is always moving and appears to be in control, no matter what’s going on around him. There is consistency in his scoring, using his wrister or a one-timer, no matter which team or level he’s at. On defense, he is a defensive player who plays the entire length of the ice and sacrifices his body when needed.
When looking at Finland, they may appear less threatening when compared to the United States, Russia, Canada, or Sweden. However, you don’t want to sleep on them. Their defense is solid, and they have players on either side of the puck and in net who are able to push those around them to be better.
It’s expected, barring any catastrophic implosion, that they will come in second behind Canada in Group A. Finland’s roster is fully laden with speed, agility, and skill with the ability to move the puck and transition. They are looking to win and should have no issues with doing so over teams like Austria, Germany, or the Czech Republic. If they met Switzerland or Slovakia in the Quarterfinals, Finland should have no difficulty with dispatching them.
Prediction for Finland: Silver Medal
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