This year’s World Junior Championship has really illustrated just how quickly things can turn around during short-term competitions. Nowhere was that more evident than with the Russian team’s dramatic upset win over Finland in the quarterfinal.
Down two goals with only four minutes left to play, the Russians managed to emulate what Switzerland had done to them a year earlier and pushed the Finns to an agonizing overtime loss.
Finland was strong all tournament long and was poised to challenge for a medal once again, even without arguably their top offensive player in concussed Minnesota Wild first-rounder Mikael Granlund. But a few timely mistakes proved to be their undoing, which will be a good lesson for a relatively young core group of players who should be able to make some noise again next year.
Detroit Red Wings draft pick, and a personal favorite prospect of mine, Teemu Pulkkinen could easily be considered as one of the tournament’s breakout stars with his explosive playmaking abilities and dangerous shots that came from all over the ice. Pulkkinen looks poised to be another one of those amazing Detroit draft day steals we have all become so familiar with. The Red Wings took a chance on a kid who had a tough couple of years, sustaining injuries that kept him out of this tournament last year and most of last season. How could a top-round talent fall to the mid-rounds? It was thought this elite player was losing one of the most crucial years of development and that scared a lot of teams off.
What ended up happening, though, was something dramatically different: Pulkkinen grew up. Facing such adversity at a young age, along with the pressure of being one of the country’s new generation of offensive saviors, Pulkkinen really matured during his battles with multiple tough-luck injuries. His demeanor changed. His outlook broadened and his work ethic off the ice, which was already good, got even better.
Pulkkinen has been playing against men in Finland’s SM-liiga and is a cult hero around the country, but even more so for his club team in Jokerit. He plays the stereotypical Finnish style with an excellent hybrid of technical skill that complements a North American style of grit and passion. Although the Finns tasted bitter disappointment in this tournament, expect Pulkkinen to take it in stride and learn yet another hard lesson for a teenager.
There is no doubt this kid will parlay the failure into a strength and will undoubtedly enjoy the taste of success in his bright future. As for the scouts, this tournament isn’t always just about the prospects who haven’t been drafted yet, but also about the ones who got away.
Ross MacLean is the head scout for International Scouting Services and is considered one of the rising stars of the business. A young, diverse and versatile hockey mind, MacLean leads ISS’ network of scouts and puts his domestic and international hockey experience and knowledge towards ranking and providing industry-leading profiles and information on draft eligible players around the world.